It’s mostly for show, of course. Mostly.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly is close to finalizing a rule that would allow President Trump’s team to move to dismiss the articles of impeachment in the Senate quickly after some evidence has been presented, as a sort of safety valve in case Democrats try to drag out the trial for weeks…
Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, for example, said he would be “very, very surprised” if McConnell’s resolution didn’t include that kind of kill switch.
“I am familiar with the resolution as it stood a day or two ago,” Hawley told Axios. “My understanding is that the resolution will give the president’s team the option to either move to judgment or to move to dismiss at a meaningful time.”
I’m trying to imagine the circumstances under which the Collins contingent in the GOP caucus would agree to a motion to dismiss. As I understand it, there are four phases to the trial:
1. Opening arguments
2. Senators’ questions
4. Closing arguments
During which phase might there conceivably be 51 votes to dismiss the articles of impeachment? Is there one? Hardcore Republican populists like Hawley who are planning to run in 2024 support dismissing the articles right up front, a supreme act of owning the libs by nuking their impeachment attempt before it gets rolling. But that won’t work. The goal of the Collins crew is to show their constituents that they took the evidence against Trump seriously and weighed it carefully before voting to acquit him, believing that that’s the only way to make swing voters who wanted removal comfortable with the verdict. There aren’t anywhere near 51 votes to dismiss the charges at the beginning of the trial, the moment when having the option to do so is most valuable. Trump’s team probably won’t even demand a vote on it, partly because McConnell won’t want Collins and Cory Gardner to have to take that vote and risk pissing off MAGA fans back home by voting no and partly because it’ll be a minor embarrassment to Trump to lose that initial vote so decisively.
So, no upfront dismissal. Opening arguments would then be held over several days. Could Collins et al. maybe support a motion to dismiss then? Seems doubtful, as they’d at least want to let their Senate colleagues ask questions about the evidence. Those questions are going to be asked in TV interviews by Democrats anyway, after all. If Collins doesn’t let them be asked during the trial itself then, again, it would look like she’s short-circuiting the process instead of taking it seriously.
So they’ll do the Q&A. The next stage, witnesses, would be a better opportunity to dismiss the charges: If Collins etc. decide that they don’t want to hear witnesses after all, they could squelch the process right then and there by voting to dismiss the charges. Except … why would they want to do that when the trial would almost be over at that point? All that would remain is a day or two of closing arguments. Better to push through to the finish line and deliver a proper verdict than give the Democrats any opportunity, however lame and unconvincing, to claim that the process was deliberately truncated because Republicans were afraid of the evidence. (“They wouldn’t even hear our closing arguments!”)
Obviously they’re not going to dismiss the articles after closing arguments since all that would remain at that point is deliberations and a verdict. So again I ask: When is the option of a motion to dismiss in the impeachment trial resolution actually supposed to be utilized?
It isn’t. I think it’s there to give the Hawleys and Cruzes something to grandstand about, to show Trump fans that they hated impeachment soooooo much that they demanded there be at least a possibility of dismissing the articles of impeachment at trial even if that possibility is never realized. E.g.:
Hawley added that if the final resolution does not allow Trump’s lawyers the option to dismiss or move to judgment at a “meaningful point” in the trial, he would be “very, very surprised,” and might not vote for the organizing resolution.
Hawley also said he worries that if Trump doesn’t have the option to move to dismiss or move to judgment then Adam Schiff would have too much control over the trial.
I’m trying to imagine what Schiff could do that would cause the Senate to lose so much control over the proceedings that even Collins and Gardner would vote to nuke the trial instead of proceeding to a verdict. Since everything that happens on the Senate floor will be subject to a majority vote, wouldn’t there need to be at least four Republican votes to begin with to empower Schiff to gain “control”? If so, what reason is there to think those four would then turn around and support a motion to dismiss to punish him for it?
Hawley wants the option of a motion to dismiss, I suspect, in case Schiff’s grandstanding irritates the MAGA base to the point where he senses there’d be some political benefit to him to at least force a vote on it, however uncomfortable that vote might make Collins and Gardner. Hawley doesn’t have the numbers to nuke the trial but he can at least ingratiate himself to Trumpers (and maybe Trump himself) by making the effort at some point. No doubt to the great annoyance of McConnell, whose top priority in this mess is protecting his most vulnerable incumbents from unnecessary tough votes.
By the way, Ted Cruz told Fox yesterday that he thought the trial could run eight weeks(!) if the Senate decides it’s open season on witnesses. That’s ludicrous. As much as the Collins crew wants to convince people that they’re taking the evidence seriously, they don’t want to extend their own political pain a moment longer than they need to in order to do that. Each new witness brings some political risk, after all, in terms of what they might say in their testimony. Clinton’s trial had three witnesses; that’s as many as Republicans would be willing to call, I suspect, and since Cruz and other GOPers are insisting on one-to-one reciprocity between prosecution and defense witnesses, they probably won’t even agree to three. We’ll probably end up with two, Bolton and Hunter Biden. Worst-case scenario is that the trial runs three weeks instead of two, and maybe not even that long. Exit quotation:
Two Republican sources tell @LACaldwellDC Senate rules will allow each side 24 hours for presentations, BUT it will be crammed in to 2 Senate days.
— Heidi Przybyla (@HeidiNBC) January 20, 2020