Senate Republican leaders are preparing to move forward on a set of impeachment trial rules without Democratic support.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is on the verge of having sufficient backing in his 53-member caucus to pass a blueprint for the trial that leaves the question of seeking witnesses and documents until after opening arguments are made, according to multiple senators.
That framework would mirror the contours of President Bill Clinton’s trial and ignore Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s demands for witnesses and new evidence.
No final decision has been made, but in a brief interview, McConnell said he would address the possibility of spurning Democrats on Tuesday afternoon.
The Washington Post confirms that McConnell has readied his caucus for the vote:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his Republican colleagues during a closed-door lunch that he has the votes to begin President Trump’s impeachment trial with just opening arguments and questions from senators, and with no deal on witnesses.
The vote to start the trial would be held after the House sends over the articles of impeachment. …
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of being “contemptuous of the American people” Tuesday as tensions flared over the continuing impasse on President Trump’s impeachment trial.
Looks like the John Bolton announcement was a bust for Chuck Schumer. Yesterday, Schumer insisted that any failure to invite or subpoena Bolton up front would amount to a “cover up,” but Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski didn’t take the bait. Instead, they both noted that the 1999 process allowed for the question of witnesses to be taken up later rather than up front.
That pretty much ended Schumer’s gambit, but Mitt Romney drove a stake through it anyway today:
Romney also said he‘s “comfortable with the Clinton approach,” which is to hear opening arguments and then decide on witnesses later – the same position as McConnell. He added he does want to hear from John Bolton and potentially others as well.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 7, 2020
With that, McConnell likely has at least 53 votes for his rules. Now that the Senate GOP caucus has lined up fully behind McConnell and the 1999 rules, eyes should turn toward two of Schumer’s caucus — Joe Manchin and Doug Jones. Jones faces an almost impossible re-election bid in Alabama this year, so whatever he does isn’t likely to bring him to the brink of victory. Jumping on Schumer’s rules bandwagon is likely to make it a lot worse, however, especially with Schumer’s enthusiasm for the same set of rules in 1999 so prominently on the record.
Manchin has less to lose in West Virginia as he doesn’t face the voters again until 2024. However, he’s also more temperamentally suited for the argument that the unanimous 1999 rules would be the fairest approach, and he has no great reason to play partisan games with the impeachment either. McConnell had the better argument both before and after Bolton’s statement, and Manchin might take this opportunity to burnish his reputation as a statesman among partisans. This isn’t Manchin’s fight anyway.
Update: Salena Zito has some data that might make Manchin even more “statesmanlike,” so to speak:
According to numbers posted by the West Virginia secretary of state’s office, the Democratic Party has lost 83,119 voters since the 2016 presidential election, while Republican registrations increased by 13,325. This has considerably narrowed the gap in registration in a once heavily Democratic state. Democrats now have 488,148 voters and the Republicans 411,872.
No one would argue seriously that West Virginia, where Trump got more than two-thirds of the vote, would ever be in play for the Democrats in 2020. But the story of its sentiments and the evolution of these voters aren’t just limited to within the state’s boundaries. In many ways, especially in their connection to place and their distrust of large government, political, and entertainment institutions, these voters are very similar to voters in rural, suburban, and exurban voters in the swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin.