Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is preparing to move ahead to a Senate impeachment trial regardless of whether or not Senate Democrats sign off on ground rules for the proceeding.
McConnell’s plan, which was reported by Politico on Tuesday, is to introduce a rules package that mirrors the one the Senate passed for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, which provided for a full vote to open the trial and then a later vote on whether or not to call additional witnesses.
The GOP leader has made it well-known that he prefers such a setup. Senate Democrats, however, are pushing for assurances that the impeachment trial will include testimony from witnesses that the White House blocked from cooperating with the House’s impeachment investigation.
The Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, has made that demand in initial discussions with McConnell. With Schumer’s backing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declined to send articles of impeachment to the Senate—effectively preventing them from beginning the trial—until the rules become clearer, in an attempt to put pressure on McConnell to give in. Neither leader has budged from their positions since December.
McConnell’s move makes the picture a little clearer. While it does not mean that he’s preparing to bypass Pelosi and begin the trial, it’s a sign he believes he will have enough support among the 53 members of his conference for a vote to shut down any prospect of a bipartisan compromise on trial rules and simply move forward with the structure he has in mind.
While that structure sets up a trial that would look a lot like Clinton’s, the rules for his trial were crafted through painstaking negotiations between Republican and Democratic senators and ultimately were approved on the floor by every single senator.
Such unanimity was always highly unlikely for the Trump trial, and it’s basically a pipe dream now: Whenever Pelosi does send over the articles of impeachment, the rules are likely to be approved on a party-line vote.