WASHINGTON ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Tuesday that Republicans are prepared to craft rules governing a potential impeachment trial of President Donald Trump without any Democratic support.
“We have the votes,” McConnell said at a weekly press conference, making clear at least 51 Republicans agree on moving forward with the trial.
Democrats wanted Republicans to agree upfront to hear from witnesses who refused to appear during House impeachment hearings, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. On Monday, Bolton even offered to testify in the Senate trial if he were subpoenaed, lending Democrats some hope that moderate Republicans would consider backing their effort to expand the scope and length of the Senate trial.
But nearly every Republican senator sided with McConnell, who argued for following the framework for the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. In that proceeding, which began exactly 21 years ago this week, the Senate agreed unanimously on a rules package laying out the logistics of the trial before it had begun. But it punted a decision on calling witnesses until after the initial arguments and senatorial questioning had been completed.
“I can’t say at this point who the specific witnesses should be, if any,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key moderate, told reporters on Monday.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said Tuesday he wanted to hear from Bolton, but that he was ultimately “comfortable” with waiting to call witnesses until after the trial had begun.
Three witnesses were subpoenaed during the Clinton trial, though senators viewed their depositions behind closed doors on videotape.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has so far refused to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate and did not answer questions on Tuesday upon entering the Capitol about whether she intended to transmit them to the upper chamber. McConnell has said he cannot begin the trial without the articles.
Democrats argued on Tuesday that Pelosi’s gambit had at the very least succeeded in focusing the public’s attention toward their efforts at making sure witnesses are heard in the trial, signaling they may also be ready for the proceedings to begin.
“I have great faith in the decision she will make,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “I think she’s done a very, very good job, and it’s helped our case.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Bolton’s offer to testify and new documents that recently came to light about Trump’s pressure campaign toward Ukraine are going to make it “harder and harder for Republicans to justify opposition to allowing witnesses.”
“If you want to pattern this after the Clinton trial, remember, in that [trial], there were witnesses,” he said.
This article has been updated with quotes from McConnell, Schumer and Van Hollen.
CORRECTION: President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial began in January 1999. That’s 21 years ago ― not 20 years, as the story previously said.