The Kentucky Republican gave GOP senators a tutorial on the hypothetical process based on previous trials in the Senate at a weekly caucus lunch. The chamber could take up articles of impeachment against Trump as early as next month, depending on how fast the House advances its inquiry into the president.
“Senators will not be allowed to speak, which will be good therapy for a number of them,” McConnell quipped to reporters after the meeting.
As in the trial of President Bill Clinton, the Supreme Court’s chief justice would preside as judge. The senators, meanwhile, would act as the jurors. The proceedings would carry on six days a week (all except Sunday) until a final vote on conviction. However, McConnell has previously suggested it is within his power to determine the trial’s scope and length.
Senators had many questions about the process on Wednesday, including how long it would last. Clinton’s impeachment trial lasted five weeks ― meaning Trump’s trial could take up the entire legislative work period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“Every question you could imagine was probably asked so I did not ask any questions but I have to admit I was grateful for the civics lesson because it’s not something we deal with very often, thank God,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said.
Many of the rules governing the trial, however, will depend on bipartisan agreement at its outset. During the Clinton trial, for example, both sides agreed that senators could call a vote on a motion to dismiss the articles, which would effectively amount to a vote to acquit Trump of wrongdoing.
“[Then-West Virginia Sen. Robert] Byrd made a motion to dismiss two weeks in, but of course it was agreed upon by unanimous consent that he could make that motion, and it failed. Basic nerdy stuff like that that we actually kicked around,” Cramer added of the Senate GOP discussion.
The House launched a formal impeachment inquiry last month following a whistleblower complaint concerning a July phone call in which Trump repeatedly urged Ukraine’s president to initiate an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump did so while holding up U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
The White House, however, has refused any cooperation with the House impeachment inquiry, blocking testimony from numerous Trump administration officials. Democrats warned that the refusal amounts to obstruction of justice.
Republicans, including McConnell, have also spoken dismissively of the House impeachment inquiry, calling the way Democrats have conducted it unfair to the president.
“Democrats have been engaged in a three-year-long impeachment parade in search of a rationale. Prominent House Democrats were promising impeachment at the very beginning of this presidency. Fairness and due process are not their objectives here,” McConnell said in a floor speech earlier on Wednesday.
But McConnell declined to weigh in on the appropriateness of Trump’s phone call with the leader of Ukraine at his press conference Wednesday, saying only that Trump is “entitled to due process in the House.”