WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top Republican in the U.S. Senate on Thursday called on his fellow senators to correct what he called the “toxic” impeachment of President Donald Trump, sending the strongest signal yet that lawmakers will not remove Trump from office.
In a harsh attack, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the Democratic-dominated House of Representatives of succumbing to “transient passions and factionalism” when it voted on Wednesday to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Trump, only the third U.S. president to be impeached, is likely to go on trial in the Senate early in January on the charges related to his attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic political foe Joe Biden.
It was unclear exactly what the trial would look like or when it would happen, however. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday she will not send the case to the Senate until she gets a sense of the trial’s parameters, comments seen as an effort to win concessions for Democrats who want high-profile witnesses who might embarrass Trump to testify.
Republicans control the 100-member Senate and none of them has indicated a willingness to remove Trump, who is running for re-election in November 2020.
Dismissing the impeachment vote as “slapdash,” McConnell made it clear that he did not think the Senate should find Trump guilty.
“The vote did not reflect what had been proven. It only reflects how they feel about the president. The Senate must put this right,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
“This particular House of Representatives has let its partisan rage at this particular president create a toxic new precedent that will echo well into the future,” he said.
McConnell has already said he is working in tandem with the White House on trial preparations, drawing accusations from Democrats that he is ignoring his duty to consider the evidence in an impartial manner.
Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said on MSNBC that Democrats were concerned McConnell may not allow a full trial.
“It’s very hard to believe that Mitch McConnell can raise his right hand and pledge to be impartial,” Hoyer said.
Trump, 73, is accused of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, a former U.S. vice president, as well as a discredited theory that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to meddle in the 2016 election.
Democrats say that as part of his pressure campaign, Trump held back $391 million in security aid for Ukraine and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as leverage to coerce Kiev into interfering in the 2020 election by smearing Biden.
Trump is also accused of obstruction of Congress for directing administration officials and agencies not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
A Senate trial would kick off a politically-charged year heading into the presidential election, which will pit Trump against one of a field of Democratic contenders, including Biden, who have repeatedly criticized Trump’s conduct in office and promised to make it a key issue.
Trump’s presidency has polarized the United States, dividing families and friends and making it more difficult for politicians in Washington to find middle ground as they try to confront challenges like the rise of China and climate change.
‘ROGUE LEADER OF THE SENATE’
Pelosi, who angered Trump by leading the impeachment process in the House, accused McConnell of being a “rogue leader.”
“I heard some of what Mitch McConnell said today and it reminded me that our founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected that there could be a rogue president. I don’t think they suspected that we could have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time,” she said.
Pelosi said after Wednesday’s vote that she would wait to name the Democratic House “managers,” who will prosecute the case, until she knew more about the Senate trial procedures. Those comments were widely interpreted as an attempt to pressure Republicans into agreeing to Democratic demands.
Democrats want a “fair and speedy trial” that hears testimony from four high-ranking administration witnesses and allows senators to review some documents related to the case, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.
He said McConnell on Thursday “did not make one argument why the witnesses and documents should not be part of the trial.”
Trump has denied wrongdoing and called the impeachment inquiry launched by Pelosi in September a “witch hunt.”
He said the ball was now in the Senate’s court.
“Now the Do Nothing Party want to Do Nothing with the Articles & not deliver them to the Senate, but it’s Senate’s call!” Trump wrote on Twitter. “If the Do Nothing Democrats decide, in their great wisdom, not to show up, they would lose by Default!”
Trump’s political future now rests with McConnell, a self-proclaimed “Grim Reaper” who is widely known as a shrewd negotiator who plays hardball politics at a level unusual even by Washington standards.
On the surface, the 77-year-old six-term senator from Kentucky could not be more different from the president. The laconic McConnell eschews Twitter, sometimes sits silently listening in meetings, according to those who have attended, and can repel reporters’ questions by refusing to utter a syllable.
Trump regularly telephones McConnell, according to a former aide to the senator.
Slideshow (7 Images)
Graphic: Articles of Impeachment, here
Graphic: U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Full Impeachment Report, here
Graphic: Impeachment inquiry against President Trump, here
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker, Susan Heavey, and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Sonya Hepinstall