Same effort … same result, and it didn’t even trigger a floor fight that might have livened up today’s Senate trial session. Earlier this morning, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) appeared to be readying a challenge to Chief Justice John Roberts’ authority to screen questions directed at the legal teams fighting out Donald Trump’s impeachment. Instead, it ended in a fizzle — on Twitter.
Here’s the anti-climactic moment on the Senate floor:
Rand Paul: I have a question to present to the desk for the House manager Schiff and for the president's counsel.
*Chief Justice John Roberts receives and reads Paul's written question*
Roberts: The presiding officer declines to read the question as submitted pic.twitter.com/HC0QGht4V1
— POLITICO (@politico) January 30, 2020
Paul could have objected to the ruling and forced a vote on whether the question should be read aloud. Instead, Paul left the chamber immediately afterward and continued his argument on Twitter. He denied that his question was about the whistleblower per se, a rather disingenuous take considering that he keeps bringing up the name of the man widely suspected of being the whistleblower. Paul then goes on to tweet that name plus the name of an Adam Schiff staffer to demand information about contacts between the two. Here’s the question without the name, which Roberts could easily have read and allowed an answer:
Are you aware that House intelligence committee staffer Shawn Misko had a close relationship with [the alleged whistleblower] while at the National Security Council together and are you aware and how do you respond to reports that [whistleblower] and Misko may have worked together to plot impeaching the President before there were formal house impeachment proceedings.
Feel free to follow the links if curiosity overwhelms you, but this shows that naming the whistleblower was entirely Paul’s point. The question is legitimate, as are the issues it raises. Patrick Philbin did a masterful job last night in outlining both the substantive and due-process issues relating to the conduct of the House Intelligence Committee and the whistleblower, without having to name him at all. Paul could have done the same with this question by asking it in such a manner as to force Schiff and other House managers to answer it. Instead, Paul chose to grandstand — and then retreat.
Why retreat? Mitch McConnell made his displeasure with his Kentucky colleague fully known at the start of the session, that’s why:
Before the question, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opened the question session by assuring Roberts that the Senate would respect his “unique position in reading in reading our questions.”
“I want to be able to continue to assure him that that level of consideration for him will continue,” he said.
Roberts, as has been explained multiple times in multiple contexts here, only has the authority granted to him by the Senate as its Presiding Officer. The Senate runs itself and sets it own rules. According to its rules on impeachment, any action taken by the Chief Justice as Presiding Officer is subject to a floor vote if any one member objects to it on the floor. Paul could have availed himself of that option, but in all likelihood he would have lost by an overwhelming majority, an outcome that would have proven embarrassing. It’s possible that he might have been the only vote in favor of his own objection in this case.
Still, it seems a shame to have missed out on that opportunity for bipartisanship and consensus. We’re not going to have many of those over the next few days, or weeks, or months, or …