McConnell Says GOP Has Votes for Contentious Rules on Trump Impeachment

WASHINGTON (CN) – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday that Republicans have enough votes to begin President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial before the issue of witnesses has been decided.

Though certain to lack Democratic support, McConnell justified the maneuver as similar to the process used for former President Bill Clinton.

“We have the votes, once the impeachment trial has begun, to pass a resolution essentially the same, very similar to the 100-0 vote in the Clinton trial,” the Kentucky Republican announced at his weekly press conference.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., arrives for a closed meeting Tuesday with fellow Republicans as he strategizes about the looming impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Much has changed in two decades since the establishment of those rules. With the Senate seeking to achieve unanimity over the trial rules, both of the parties agreed there would be witness testimony.

McConnell meanwhile vowed early on to have total coordination with the White House and established his preference that no witnesses testify. This strategy has made Democrats reluctant to sign on to the decades-old procedure.

“During the Clinton trial, the issue of the appropriateness of calling witnesses was addressed,” McConnell said, without noting that the impeachment managers took closed-door video depositions.

“Obviously, that is the most contentious part of one of these proceedings,” he added.

Speaking to reporters after McConnell’s announcement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats will still force votes on witnesses and documents during the trial, putting Republicans in the position of going on record about whether the Senate should hear any information beyond that which the House gathered.

Only four Republican defections will be necessary to break the impasse.

“We will not let them avoid the vote,” Schumer said. “They can delay it. They can’t avoid it.”

The New York Democrat predicted decent odds that the roll call would ratchet up pressure on Republicans to allow for a fair trial for Trump.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi adopted a strategy that some suggested could make Republicans relent on their proposed witness blockade.

The California Democrat announced minutes after Trump’s impeachment that she would first have to see what the Senate’s trial would look like before transferring the articles charging him with abusing his power and obstructing Congress, a move that would delay the Republicans’ rush toward acquittal.

“It is a rule of impeachment in the Senate that we need to receive the papers,” McConnell said. “It continues to be my hope that the speaker will send them on over. The House argued that this was an emergency. They needed to act quickly. The president was, apparently from their point of view, such a danger to the country that they needed to really rush this through, and they’ve sat on the papers for nearly three weeks.”

Schumer defended Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s gambit of not immediately transmitting the articles to the Senate has proven prudent, as new documents and information came out during the delay to boost the pressure on Republican efforts to keep witnesses out of the trial. 

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