Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday pushed back strongly against Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s request to simultaneously agree to witnesses and the parameters of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, calling it a “strange request” that breaks with recent impeachment precedent.
McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Schumer of trying to “short-circuit” their plans to negotiate the trial together. The GOP leader said he still hopes to meet with Schumer but scolded him for releasing his letter to the press before their meeting.
“It is not the Senate’s job to leap into the breach and search desperately for ways to get to ‘guilty,’” McConnell said, in a reply to Schumer’s request that the Senate agree to call several Trump administration officials as witnesses for the impeachment trial in the same resolution that lays out the trial’s rules of the road.
Yet Schumer replied that McConnell’s clear coordination with the White House disrupted any hint of bipartisanship. McConnell met with the White House counsel last week and on Wednesday the cooperation will continue. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway will attend a Senate Republican lunch on Wednesday, said a spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who organizes the Wednesday Steering Committee gathering.
McConnell also unnerved Democrats after he went on Fox New’s “Hannity” to declare Trump will be acquitted and that there’s no daylight between the White House and Senate GOP on trial strategy.
So on Sunday, Schumer made his move. In a letter to McConnell, Schumer asked for four Trump administration witnesses, including acting White House chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, to testify during the Senate trial. He also asked for relevant documents blocked by the Trump administration that would reveal information on the delay of aid to Ukraine and the president’s demands that the country announce an investigation into Joe Biden, a 2020 rival
Following McConnell’s floor speech, Schumer said he “did not hear a single sentence, a single argument as to why the witnesses I suggested should not give testimony.” He suggested he will use his procedural powers to force votes on his preferred witnesses in January and said the “American people will be watching.”
“The leader seems obsessed with ‘speedy’ and wants to throw ‘fair’ out the window. To simply repeat the arguments that were made in the House and Senate when there are witnesses and documents that could shed light on what actually happened? Why not have them?” Schumer said.
The dueling floor speeches suggest a chilly dynamic between the two leaders ahead of delicate bipartisan negotiations surrounding the trial. With the House set to impeach Trump on Wednesday, many senators hope party leaders can at least agree on basics like how much time will exist for debate and when the trial will start in order to provide some modicum of bipartisanship.
After the floor kerfuffle, McConnell went on Fox News Radio and said he’d prefer to hear from the House impeachment managers and the president’s lawyers.
“And then the Senate will have to make a decision: Do we know enough,” McConnell said on the radio. “Obviously, I think we’ve heard enough. After we’ve heard the arguments, we ought to vote and move on.”
Twenty years ago, the Republican-controlled Senate passed a resolution with unanimous support laying out the rules of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, followed by a partisan vote to subpoena witnesses. Both leaders say that in general they want to follow the format of the 1999 trial, but have very different ideas about how to do it.
Schumer said because the administration did not make officials like Mulvaney available to House investigators, the Senate should call them as witnesses and subpoena withheld documents when it lays out the timing and structure of the trial. Schumer opposed allowing witnesses in Clinton’s trial, but argued that many key witnesses had already been heard from by the time that matter came to the Senate.
McConnell, however, said Schumer’s request this time around is “dead wrong.”
Schumer “wants to volunteer the Senate’s time and energy on a fishing expedition to see whether his own ideas could make Chairman Schiff’s sloppy work more persuasive,” McConnell said referring to the House Intelligence Committee chairman. “The trajectory that the Democratic leader apparently wants to take us down, before he’s even heard opening arguments, could set a nightmarish precedent for our institution.”
McConnell has hinted he can use his 53-seat majority to pass a partisan impeachment framework if talks with Schumer fall through. Passing a resolution requires 51 votes, meaning McConnell can only lose two members of his caucus.
But Schumer has leverage too: Namely the ability to offer politically difficult motions that could become electoral ammunition in the battle for the Senate. Peeling away four Republicans could prove difficult, however.
“We will have votes on whether these people should testify and whether these documents should be made public and part of the trial,” Schumer said. Americans “will be watching. Who is for an open and fair trial? Who is for hiding facts, relevant facts, immediate facts? Who is for covering up?”