If Chuck Schumer hoped for some leverage within the GOP caucus, his targets are running short and the math has now ranged against him. Any hope of preventing Mitch McConnell from passing a partisan rules package relies on getting three Senate Republicans to buck their leadership, and the three most likely candidates are Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski. As long as McConnell gets one of them to back his proposal, Schumer’s out of luck.
At the moment, Schumer might not have a shot at two of them. Earlier, Romney told CNN’s Manu Raju that he’s leaving the rules decisions to McConnell:
Romney said there would be a “two-stage process,” starting with McConnell-Schumer negotiating the rules and followed by votes on floor. He wouldn’t say if he would cut side deals. “I will be a juror, I'll vote, but in terms of rules, that'll be done by the leadership.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 17, 2019
Unless there is some other Senate Republican who wants to take issue with the process, that would give McConnell at least 51 votes. Make that 52, at least more likely than not, when it comes to Collins. Washington Post analyst Aaron Blake sent out a bleak alert to Democrats who might have hoped for some cooperation from GOP moderates. Even before Romney spoke this afternoon, both he and Collins had made it clear that they didn’t feel too sympathetic to Democratic complaints about fairness:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made an extraordinary statement last week, indicating he will coordinate how the trial will be run with White House counsel Pat Cipollone. And Cipollone may not just be the White House counsel; there are reports he could serve as Trump’s defense attorney at the trial. Democrats and journalists were quick to point out the optics of a trial effectively being run whatever way the defendant wants it to be.
The extent to which this statement was “extraordinary” is open to debate. Despite the constant referrals to the Senate as a “jury,” it’s not a jury but an elected body. There is no presumption of a bias-free or even partisanship-free environment. One of the key tests of impeachment is whether any established allegations of misbehavior rise to a level beyond partisanship which demands removal.
Even apart from that, only the most naive among us would believe that the party caucus holding the White House wouldn’t be coordinating with the administration on impeachment. As former Senate Majority/Minority Leader Tom Daschle admitted, his office coordinated with Bill Clinton’s office on strategy for his impeachment, even if he himself didn’t.
Anyway, with easily punctured arguments like this floating around, go figure that it’s not impressing the normals either:
The problem with McConnell’s statement is that he doesn’t have complete control over how the process will be run; that’s because you need a majority vote of the Senate to set the rules. So if a handful of GOP senators objected to his plans — the GOP’s majority is 53-47 right now — they could hold out and force his hand.
In other words, it was the kind of statement you’d think someone like Romney (R-Utah) or Collins (R-Maine) might object to, given they are some of the few GOP senators who could theoretically go against Trump in this process. But their first comments on the potential rules for a Senate trial don’t exactly indicate as such. And in Collins’s case, she took the opportunity not to criticize McConnell, but to knock his counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
If Collins and Romney stick with McConnell, then Murkowski likely will as well. Blake never mentions the Alaska Republican, but the Post noted last night that all she had to say about it was that she hoped Schumer and McConnell could work it out together. If Collins and Romney are throat-clearing in support of McConnell, Murkowski can’t be far behind. She’s not going to “rock the boat” all by herself, especially not after Schumer’s high-handed media strategy backfired.