Mitch McConnell delivered a message to Nancy Pelosi from the Senate floor this morning, and that message was — no haggling. In a speech somewhat overshadowed by Donald Trump’s address on Iran, McConnell declared, “the House Democrats’ turn is over” on impeachment, and so is his patience with dilatory tactics over perceived “leverage.” McConnell has no intention of negotiating away the Senate’s constitutional authority to set its own rules, and Pelosi’s delusional if she thinks she has any “leverage” to use on this point:
MCCONNELL: Supposedly, the explanation for this shameless game-playing is that Speaker Pelosi wanted “leverage” to reach into the Senate and dictate our trial proceedings to us. I’ve made clear from the beginning that no such “leverage” exists. It’s nonexistent. And yesterday we made it clear it will never exist.
A majority of the Senate has decided that the first phase of an impeachment trial should track closely with the unanimous bipartisan precedent that all 100 senators supported for the first phase of the Clinton trial back in 1999. There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure. We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment. The House Democrats’ turn is over. The Senate has made its decision.
Just how much leverage does Pelosi have? Senate Democrats aren’t convinced she has as much as she thinks she does, either. In fact, NBC News reports this morning that a few of them have also tired of this effort, with at least one of the independents calling for a witness vote after the presentment — as McConnell proposes:
A growing number of Democratic senators are saying it’s time for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to submit the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Senate.
“We are reaching a point where the articles of impeachment should be sent,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters Wednesday.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday, Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he believes “it is time for the speaker to send” the articles.
“I don’t think her holding them puts any particular pressure on” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., King said. “I think the key vote will come in the middle of the trial.”
Count Dianne Feinstein among the unimpressed, too:
Dianne Feinstein says it’s time for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to send the impeachment articles to the Senate.
“If we’re going to do it, she should send them over,” the California Democrat said. “I don’t see what good delay does.”
— Laura Litvan (@LauraLitvan) January 8, 2020
When you’ve lost DiFi …To add insult to injury, CNN did an entire segment on how Pelosi’s losing credibility in the upper chamber rather than gaining leverage:
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) January 8, 2020
Anyway, McConnell agrees with King’s point about the potential for calling witnesses. In fact, he notes that the rules allow for such a debate to take place once the House presents its case:
MCCONNELL: The 1999 precedent does not guarantee witnesses or foreclose witnesses. Let me say that again: it neither guarantees witnesses nor forecloses witnesses. It leaves those determinations until later in the trial where they belong. I fully expect the parties will raise questions about witnesses at the appropriate time. I would remind my friends on the other side: I strongly suspect that not all the potential witnesses would be people the Democrats are eager to hear from.
So the Senate will address all these questions at the appropriate time. That is for the Senate, and the Senate only, to decide. Period. …
We all know that senators have a diversity of opinions about President Trump; about the House inquiry; about the optimal structure for a trial. But notwithstanding all this, no senator — no senator — should want the House of Representatives to steamroll institutional norms and dictate our business to us.
Haven’t enough toxic new precedents been set in recent months? Hasn’t the House broken enough constitutional china already?
Good question. The more that Pelosi tries to “leverage” her way to dictating terms, the worse this will look to voters, especially given the partisan debacle that Pelosi set in motion to produce the articles. That only helps McConnell, as I wrote in my column for The Week:
This decision in light of Bolton’s statement signals that Senate Republicans have reached consensus on more than just the rules. If they thought Bolton had testimony to truly impeachable conduct, neither Murkowski nor Collins would have gone out on a limb for McConnell at this stage — especially Collins, who faces a tough re-election fight this fall. Even if Bolton could provide direct testimony about a quid pro quo for the aid to Ukraine, Republicans have argued that such an action doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
Therefore, testimony on these points is likely to be largely irrelevant anyway. Republicans view the articles of impeachment as the partisan fruit of a poisoned process, an impression no doubt fueled by Pelosi’s attempts to withhold their transmission to force concessions out of McConnell. In fact, Murkowski specifically referenced the House delaying action while discussing her decision to vote in support of McConnell’s plan. When asked about Bolton’s testimony, Murkowski said that issue should be taken up after the House presents the case to the Senate, adding, “So do you have any interesting news for me on that? Like when we might be able to get articles?”
McConnell didn’t waste any time after getting Collins and Murkowski on board, and later getting a renewed pledge of support from Mitt Romney as well. The rules package will likely pass on a strict party-line vote in contrast with Republican cooperation with Daschle 21 years ago. That too will likely sit poorly with the GOP majority after watching the House rush through its investigation to reach its predetermined conclusions. They may vote to allow witnesses to testify, but it seems very unlikely that anyone in the Senate will change their minds on removal now. Or anyone else, for that matter.
This is all Kabuki theater anyway, but Pelosi’s making that a lot clearer with her bizarre tactics — and making McConnell’s job easier to boot.