McConnell's warning shot: Senate Dems better cooperate in impeachment rules, or else

To be fair, Mitch McConnell put this a little nicer yesterday, but don’t mistake a genteel manner for timidity. If House Democrats send over articles of impeachment on Donald Trump, McConnell told reporters yesterday, he would make an effort to craft rules for the trial that would get bipartisan support. However, Cocaine Mitch made it clear that he’s going to be in charge, and that he’s almost as happy to follow House Democrats’ example in dictating the rules to the minority:

Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said that if he’s unable to reach a deal with Democrats to set the rules for a Senate impeachment trial then he will try to to do so solely with GOP votes.

A Senate trial is expected to last as long as five or six weeks, depending on how much time the resolution allows House impeachment managers to make their case and the president’s defense team to offer a rebuttal.

McConnell said he’ll try to negotiate a deal with Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) but that if it fails he’ll try to muster 51 votes in the Senate Republican Conference to set the rules of the trial.

“It would depend on what we could agree to,” McConnell told reporters when asked if he would prefer to reach a bipartisan deal to set the parameters of the trial.

“That failing, I would probably come back to my own members and say, ‘OK, can 51 of us agree [on] how we’re going to handle this?’” McConnell said.

We’ll get back to McConnell’s cat-herding challenges, but the subtext of this is pretty clear. McConnell’s warning Schumer that he has no problem pushing forward on a partisan basis to answer impeachment articles produced by an even more partisan and ahistorical process. In fact, some in his own caucus might prefer that kind of arrangement after watching Adam Schiff’s imperious charge into impeachment.

Vanity Fair didn’t miss that subtext, although they’re certainly not cheering it. They headline the news by noting that McConnell is “fully prepared to shut Democrats out of impeachment,” although it’s been Democrats who have shut Republicans out it up to now:

But while the process has so far been a Democratic-dominated affair—no Republicans on the Intelligence Committee voted to advance the report—Republicans may soon be the ones calling the shots. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested Tuesday that when impeachment makes its way to the Senate for a trial, he’s prepared to let his slim GOP majority take the reins on setting the rules.

McConnell told reporters Tuesday that he’s preparing a “back-up plan” for figuring out the Senate rules, in case he’s not able to strike a bipartisan deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on how to structure the proceedings. And that plan, apparently, is to try and cut Democrats out entirely. “The first thing Sen. Schumer and I will do is see if there’s a possibility of agreement on a procedure,” McConnell said. “That failing, I would probably come back to my own members and say: ‘OK, can 51 of us agree how we’re going to handle this?’” The Majority Leader added that he wasn’t sure if he’d prefer a bipartisan deal or working solely with Republicans, telling reporters, “it would depend on what we would agree to.” Should both the bipartisan and partisan negotiations fail to figure out the trial procedure, the task would fall to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will be presiding over the trial. Roberts would submit motions to the Senate about the procedure, which could then be passed with 51 votes.

McConnell’s potential decision to force the impeachment procedure through with only Republican support would stand in stark contrast to former President Bill Clinton‘s impeachment trial, in which a bipartisan compromise on the trial rules passed in a vote of 100-0.

It’s quite a stretch to compare McConnell’s potential action here to what happened in 1998. In the Clinton impeachment, there was an actual statutory crime established in fact (perjury) that came out of a special-prosecutor investigation by Ken Starr. The investigation was highly controversial, but the House Republican majority used existing precedent to debate and vote on impeachment, with far more deference to the White House than is currently on display by Adam Schiff. The decision to impeach was still a mistake, as it became clear that no consensus for removal was to be found in either Congress or the electorate.

House Democrats have upped the partisan ante even further in this case, pursuing an impeachment without a statutory crime and basing it on hearsay without any sort of direct evidence. McConnell’s warning Schumer that either Democrats had better apply the sauce-for-the-gander rule when it comes to majoritarian rule or prepare to get steamrolled as McConnell’s House colleagues have been.

Of course, this only works if McConnell can get to 51 votes for whatever rules the Republicans plan to implement. He can only afford to lose two, and at least three would probably be in play: Susan Collins, who’s up for re-election, Lisa Murkowski, and Pierre Delecto — er, Mitt Romney. Even a go-it-alone package would have to offer some due process to the minority for McConnell to get one of those three on board, so McConnell’s not likely to go Full Schiff. But McConnell knows he can do plenty of damage with a Half Schiff — and so does Chuck Schumer. Don’t think for a moment McConnell’s main counterpart doesn’t understand what’s at stake here.