McConnell Has the Votes to Begin Impeachment Trial Without Witnesses

Ol’ Mitch hangs tough and wins another round. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Nancy Pelosi–Chuck Schumer effort to mousetrap Mitch McConnell (in which some deal to call the witnesses denied to the House during its impeachment proceedings would definitely appear during the Senate trial) may have been worth a shot, but it seems to have fallen short, according to the Washington Post:

McConnell told Republican senators in a closed-door party lunch Tuesday that he is prepared to proceed with Trump’s impeachment trial with no agreement on witnesses, according to two officials familiar with his comments.

McConnell said he has the minimum of 51 votes to begin the trial in the format that he has long envisioned: opening arguments for both the House impeachment managers and for Trump’s defense team, as well as ample time for questioning by senators, said the two people on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

The vote would be held after the Senate receives the articles from the House, and a decision would be made on whether to call witnesses once the first phase of the trial is over, under the majority leader’s plan.

Schumer had sought a pretrial deal providing for four witnesses Democrats wanted to hear (John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Robert Blair, and Michael Duffy), offering in exchange the kind of bipartisan impeachment-trial procedures package the Senate enacted prior to Bill Clinton’s 1999 trial. Pelosi backed up Schumer’s demands by threatening to delay transmittal of the House-passed articles of impeachment until McConnell seriously considered witnesses. But McConnell was able to respond that in the Clinton case, witnesses were voted on one by one after the initial arguments had ended, and proposed to follow the same process for Trump. And what he’s signifying today is that he needs no Democratic votes to adopt the pretrial procedures package. That’s true even though Bolton threw a surprise into the fray yesterday by announcing he would be willing to testify if subpoenaed by the Senate:

Bolton’s announcement did not appear to move any of the Republicans who may have sided with Democrats such as Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Both indicated Monday that a decision on witnesses could be made further into the trial.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said he would like to hear from Bolton, but did not endorse subpoenaing him to do so.

“The Clinton trial process provided a pathway for there to be witnesses,” Romney said Tuesday. “And presuming we have a process like that, again I would be able to support the Clinton impeachment process.”

So: With or without Democratic votes, when the articles of impeachment arrive, the Senate will adopt a pretrial procedures package and begin the trial. Decisions on witnesses will wait. And some Democratic senators are asking Pelosi to proceed:

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Tuesday that Pelosi should go ahead and send the articles of impeachment to the Senate since it appears that McConnell is holding the GOP in line against a deal with Democrats on witnesses for a Senate trial….

Asked whether the time has come, Murphy said: “I think the time has passed. She should send the articles over.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), meanwhile, said Pelosi “has to make a decision based on her own judgment, but my (Republican) colleagues will be in effect aiding and abetting a coverup.”

Asked if there was any point in continuing to hold the articles if Republicans are dug in, Blumenthal said, “Well, there has to be a trial, the Constitution requires it.”

The ball is back in Pelosi’s court, but there’s no reason for additional delay in batting it back to the Senate for good.

McConnell Set to Begin Impeachment Trial Without Witnesses