The day after the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump, the person who will be leading Democrats in the impeachment trial, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), said that he backs the idea of withholding the articles of impeachment until Senate Republicans offer them more favorable terms for the trial.
In his office on Thursday, Schumer told reporters that he and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are on “the same page” when it comes to the speaker’s decision to sit on the articles of impeachment instead of immediately sending them to the GOP leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Pelosi shocked impeachment observers after the votes were held on Wednesday night by announcing that she would not immediately send the two freshly passed articles of impeachment over the Senate. Instead, she told reporters, the House would retain them until they feel that McConnell, who has said he’s coordinating the trial with the White House, has offered acceptable terms.
“We’re both going to work as hard as we can to get a fair trial,” said Schumer. He declined, however, to say just how long Democrats are prepared to wait in order to secure better terms. “I think it's premature to map out what will happen two, three, four weeks from now,” he said.
Schumer also did not answer whether no Senate trial at all was better than having one where the terms were dictated by McConnell. “I'm not going to get to that at this point,” he said. “I want to put all our emphasis on getting the fair trial.”
The political reality is a bit more complicated. While some Democrats believe that withholding the articles will increase the pressure on Republicans and the president by stalling a process they are anxious to get in the rearview mirror, it’s unclear if that urgency will materialize.
Still, in the Senate, where Democrats have little control over the process - it’s one of the only tools they have to try to pull the process their way.
On Sunday, Schumer sent a letter to McConnell asking the GOP to subpoena testimony for four witnesses—including two key figures in the Ukraine impeachment inquiry, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton, who were blocked from testifying by the White House and refused to defy that order.
That entreaty was dismissed out of hand by McConnell, saying it was not up to the Senate to “do their homework” for them.
Instead, Senate Republicans and the White House have coalesced around the idea of a short Senate trial that would feature arguments from each side but no new witnesses.
Both leaders confirmed they will meet on Thursday afternoon for their first sit-down discussion of the impeachment trial.
Schumer told reporters he believes that several GOP senators could put pressure on McConnell to at least allow new witnesses at trial—and he plans to force votes on those measures. “When you ask [Republicans],’ are you willing to have some witnesses,’ it's a much harder question for them,” said Schumer.
Impeachment, said Schumer, “sits on different shoulders differently” and the universe of lawmakers who could press for an expanded trial is “larger than you think.”
Some GOP senators, he said, “are worried about elections, some have conscience clauses, some are retiring, and some are just thoughtful.”
With impeachment in something of a limbo between both sides of the Capitol, Schumer told reporters he is working closely with Pelosi but said they are not making a joint decision about whether terms would be favorable enough to proceed with a trial.
“She has certain roles, I have certain roles,” said Schumer. “We talk to each other all the time and we'll talk about these things, but that doesn't mean we're going to do everything the same.”