McConnell: We have no choice but to hold a trial in the Senate if the House impeaches Trump

McConnell: We have no choice but to hold a trial in the Senate if the House impeaches Trump

Liberals on social media have spent the past few days spitballing scenarios in which McConnell somehow shuts down the impeachment process without following through with a full trial on the merits. What if instead of holding a trial he decides to dispense with the matter by calling a snap vote on the Senate floor as soon as the articles of impeachment arrive? Party-line, 53/47, and just like that it’s all over? Or what if McConnell screws them again like he screwed them in 2016 by refusing to even take up the matter? He ignored Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court; he could ignore the House’s articles of impeachment, thus sparing the purple-state Republicans in his caucus who are facing reelection next year from a difficult vote. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution says that “The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.” But the Senate also has the sole power to confirm SCOTUS nominees. McConnell declined to exercise the latter power. Why wouldn’t he decline to exercise the former?

No doubt Trump will end up pressuring him to do so, privately and maybe publicly. “The Senate should not dignify the Democrats’ witch hunt with a hearing! PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” McConnell could even analogize to court proceedings to justify his refusal to hold a trial, insisting that the evidence produced by the House is so thin that he’s going to use his authority as majority leader like a judge and dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim.

But no, he surprised everyone by telling NPR today that the Senate will indeed hold a trial.

Whether he feels duty-bound by the Constitution to do it or bound by political reality is unclear. Cocaine Mitch may figure that impeachment is simply too momentous to sneer at it by refusing to even hear the evidence. Americans might get angry at that show of scorn, and certainly Schumer would leverage it by insisting that the only way to hold Trump accountable in a second term is to elect a Democratic Senate majority. It would be the ultimate statement of how deep in the tank Senate Republicans are for the president — so deep that they won’t even deign to formally consider the charges against him. It’d be a bad look. McConnell’s going to at least check the box of holding a hearing.

But maybe not do much more than check the box:

[Trump] heads into what appears to be a rapidly unfurling impeachment inquiry unprepared temperamentally, and with a depleted staff, many of whom are shrugging off the seriousness of what the president faces…

Having a formal war room, or rapid response operation, “would be overreaction on our part,” said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president. “It would be playing on the Democrats’ turf.” And if impeachment succeeds, Trump officials are anticipating a Republican-held Senate that would not permit witnesses to testify at length and would not convict him.

Mr. Trump, aides said, shares that view, and on Thursday he expressed no interest in building a war room to respond to what he views as an effort by congressional Democrats to harass him. In contrast to the Mueller investigation, which required the White House to turn over millions of documents, his aides feel there is little for them to do at the moment.

Being as unprepared as possible and counting on his ability to bullsh*t his way through a crisis is extremely on-brand for POTUS. In any case, a cursory Senate proceeding seems likely, with McConnell doing just enough so that Republicans can say to voters back home, “We looked at the evidence, okay?”, but not so much that it risks producing uncomfortable testimony that’ll make the acquittal vote more uncomfortable for the GOP. McConnell’s as eager to move on from this as Pelosi is; the shorter the trial, the sooner the vote, the better for the party in putting this all behind them.

One thing Trump *is* reportedly doing to help his defense is meeting this afternoon with the head of the NRA to discuss, er, a quid pro quo:

President Trump met on Friday with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, to discuss how the N.R.A. could provide financial support for the president’s defense as he faces political headwinds, including impeachment, according to two people familiar with the meeting.

It was not clear whether Mr. Trump asked Mr. LaPierre for his support, or if the idea was pitched by the N.R.A. But in return for the support, Mr. LaPierre asked that the White House “stop the games” over gun control legislation, people familiar with the meeting said.

Hand the president a check and maybe your legislative priorities will become his legislative priorities. That’s how political fundraising generally works, but rarely is cash exchanged for a specific political favor as plainly as is alleged here.

Meanwhile, Democrats are moving quickly to build a case:

The big news is that they’ve subpoenaed documents from Mike Pompeo with an explicit warning that “The subpoenaed documents shall be part of the impeachment inquiry and shared among the Committees. Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry.” If Pompeo refuses on grounds of executive privilege, this will go straight to court for a test of whether Congress’s power of impeachment trumps (no pun intended) the president’s power to conduct foreign policy as he sees fit, without legislative interference. Imagine Trump’s reaction if/when Gorsuch and Kavanaugh side with Congress on that.

Watch the clip below, which Trump tweeted out this afternoon and which apparently is going up on television as an ad. He might not be preparing an extensive legal impeachment defense but he’ll certainly eagerly participate in the messaging war. Exit question: Is Rudy Giuliani trying to do PR damage to the president? Turn on cable news at any hour this week and you’re apt to find him there ranting and berating his critics. Sometimes he sounds borderline nutty, yammering at an Atlantic reporter yesterday, “It is impossible that the whistle-blower is a hero and I’m not. And I will be the hero! These morons—when this is over, I will be the hero.” His role in the Ukraine matter is Trump’s chief liability; if POTUS had gone through official channels like the DOJ and State Department to contact Ukraine about evidence of corruption by the Bidens, it’d be much harder to claim that his interest in the matter was aimed at benefiting himself politically. Sticking his crony Giuliani on the case as some sort of unofficial “corruption” envoy working outside of U.S. diplomacy makes the matter look much shadier than it had to. Republicans in Congress are now openly begging Giuliani to go away and Rudy himself is in some legal jeopardy for his role in the Ukraine process. There’s a nonzero chance if damning evidence emerges of a quid pro quo that Trump will try to make him the fall guy in order to protect himself. What will Rudy do then?

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