Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and top Democrats indicated Friday that they remain at an impasse over President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
The Democratic-led House voted to impeach Trump on Dec. 18, but the exact timing for a Senate trial on the charges against him isn’t clear because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has delayed transmitting the articles of impeachment to the Republican-controlled Senate, signaling that Democratic lawmakers want to see that the Senate’s process looks fair.
McConnell, for his part, has repeatedly rejected Democrats’ requests that he commit to having new witnesses and documents in the trial. He didn’t budge on that point Friday.
“About this fantasy that the speaker of the House will get to hand design the trial proceedings in the Senate — that’s a obviously a nonstarter,” McConnell said Friday on the Senate floor. “So, for now, we’re content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate while House Democrats continue to flounder.”
The Kentucky Republican added that if House Democrats “ever muster the courage to stand behind their slapdash work product and transmit their articles to the Senate, it will then be time for the United States Senate to fulfill our founding purpose.”
Schumer also didn’t change his stance when he spoke Friday on the Senate floor after McConnell’s remarks.
“Will we conduct a fair trial that examines all the facts or not? The country just saw Sen. McConnell’s answer to that question. His answer is no,” Schumer said.
“If we don’t get a commitment up front that the House managers will be able to call witnesses as part of their case, the Senate will act as little more than a nationally televised meeting of the mock-trial club,” the New York Democrat added.
Schumer argued that the case for calling witnesses has only gotten stronger since last month, pointing to developments such as a report that a Trump official wrote in an email that the president was giving “clear direction” to hold up aid to Ukraine.
The Democrats’ impeachment push centers on Trump’s pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, as well as into a theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump has repeatedly attacked Democratic lawmakers for their efforts to remove him from office, saying in a letter to Pelosi last month that “more due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.”
Pelosi, meanwhile, said McConnell’s comments on Friday “made clear that he will feebly comply with President Trump’s cover-up of his abuses of power and be an accomplice to that cover-up.”
“Leader McConnell is doubling down on his violation of his oath, even after the exposure of new, deeply incriminating documents this week,” she said in a statement. Pelosi called for the Senate to “immediately proceed in a manner worthy of the Constitution.”
The lawmakers’ remarks came after a U.S. airstrike in Iraq early Friday that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The U.S.-Iran conflict could affect impeachment-related proceedings, said Michael Gerhardt, an impeachment expert and law professor at the University of North Carolina.
“The president will no doubt argue that his focus, for the sake of the nation, must be on the international situation, but Democrats will remind him and his defenders that President Clinton launched air strikes on Iraq during his impeachment — and the process kept going,” Gerhardt said in an email to MarketWatch. It’s “too soon to know when the trial will actually start,” added Gerhardt, who was among the Democratic-called impeachment experts who spoke at a key House hearing a month ago.
Trump, charged with abuse of power and obstructing Congress, is only the third American president to have been impeached, joining Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon resigned before an impeachment vote could take place.
But impeachment by the House doesn’t mean removal from office. Neither Johnson nor Clinton was found guilty in impeachment trials in the Senate, and the same outcome is widely expected in the impeachment of Trump, whose Republican Party occupies 53 of the chamber’s 100 seats. That helps explain why the stock market
hasn’t reacted much to impeachment-related developments.
The Senate had been getting ready to try the president in January, with its legislative calendar for this month cleared to make way for the proceedings. Chief Justice John Roberts has been expected to preside over the Senate trial, and Trump has been expected to be asked to address the charges.
House Democrats are set to serve as the prosecutors in the trial, and in this role are called impeachment managers, while the president’s lawyers defend him.
A two-thirds majority of senators would be required to vote to convict Trump in order to remove him from office.