Mitch McConnell has one message for his Senate Republican caucus on impeachment: This is no dream — this is really happening!* In fact, the Senate Majority Leader has begun briefing his colleagues on the process of a presidential impeachment trial and the strategies needed to defend Donald Trump. The Washington Post reports that McConnell envisions the trial taking place as soon as Americans sit down to a turkey dinner:
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican senators Wednesday to be ready for an impeachment trial of President Trump as soon as Thanksgiving, as the Senate began to brace for a political maelstrom that would engulf the nation.
An air of inevitability has taken hold in Congress, with the expectation Trump will become the third president in history to be impeached — and Republicans believe they need to prepare to defend the president. While McConnell briefed senators on what would happen during a Senate trial, House GOP leaders convened what they expect will be regular impeachment strategy sessions.
The inevitability of an impeachment trial isn’t a shock. Nancy Pelosi’s alea iacta est declaration last month all but committed her to impeaching Trump. Even though the whistleblower complaint that prompted her call turned out to be less than advertised by Adam Schiff, she’s now stuck with it. To shut down an inquiry now would risk tearing her party apart ahead of the 2020 election, and Pelosi knows it.
Nor is the timeline for impeachment too surprising. The last thing Pelosi needs — well, besides impeachment itself, anyway — is an impeachment and/or trial that takes place in the middle of Democratic primary voting. That’s not just for presidential candidates, but also for incumbents in House districts and Senate candidates in red-to-purple states as well. Thanksgiving might be a little ambitious, especially since Pelosi won’t even hold an authorization vote on the full House floor for an impeachment inquiry, but she will want to hand this off to the Senate before Christmas, anyway.
What might be the most surprising is McConnell’s apparent estimate for the time needed to deal with the trial:
McConnell said the Senate would likely meet six days a week during the trial, lawmakers said.
“There’s sort of a planned expectation that it would be sometime around Thanksgiving, so you’d have basically Thanksgiving to Christmas — which would be wonderful because there’s no deadline in the world like the next break to motivate senators,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said.
Six days a week for four weeks? That’s a much longer trial than McConnell hinted might take place late last month. While speaking to CNBC, the Senate Majority Leader acknowledged that the upper chamber’s rules require a trial in any case of impeachment, but also that “how long you are on it is a different matter[.]” That appeared to suggest that McConnell was considering a quick dismissal motion or perhaps a call to go directly to a verdict vote, dispensing with the rest of the trial — either of which would be allowable under Senate rules.
It now sounds as though McConnell believes Senate Republicans will need to put on a defense of President Trump. That would allow Republicans to seize the narrative back again after House Democrats have controlled it with leaks from their closed hearings, a smart if ethically questionable strategy employed by Schiff. Senate Republicans can demand all of those interviews and publish the full transcripts, identify witnesses, and call even more in rebuttal. Senate Democrats will largely be stuck with the case presented by House Democrats without much room to add to it, since the articles of impeachment will have already been set.
The risk is that the transcripts and the witnesses might not paint a very pretty picture of the president or his administration, even in the full context of the testimony. The media will largely want to reaffirm its earlier reporting based on the selective leaks from House Democrats and may not add much context for their consumers regardless of what Republicans expose. However, unless McConnell and his caucus can expose falsehoods by Trump’s accusers and blatant hypocrisy, Senate Republicans might end up winning a Pyrrhic victory in an extended trial — keeping Trump in office but leaving him mortally wounded politically, and perhaps themselves as well.
If McConnell thinks it’s necessary to run that risk, it says something about what he’s seeing in the House, and what it says is nothing good for the White House.
Note* – I assume everyone understands this reference …