WASHINGTON (CN) — With the House nearing a historic vote to impeach President Donald Trump, the Senate is preparing to take the spotlight, with its leaders bickering over how the trial should proceed and members grappling with how to assess the evidence they will hear.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer, have spent the early part of the week trading barbs over how McConnell plans to conduct the Senate trial.
McConnell has said he will coordinate with the White House to set parameters for the trial, including which, if any, witnesses to call and how it will ultimately be resolved. The comment drew condemnation from Democrats, including Schumer, who sent McConnell a proposal of his own that included the Senate hearing from top administration officials like acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Parrying Schumer’s remarks, McConnell on Wednesday said he hopes to reach a bipartisan agreement on basic trial procedures, leaving issues like whether to subpoena new witnesses until later in the trial. He cited the agreement senators reached during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999 as a template for how Trump’s trial should proceed.
In that case, the Senate adopted a resolution detailing how the Senate would handle opening statements and other procedural issues, before later adopting a separate resolution authorizing the subpoenaing of witnesses.
“I’ve hoped, and still hope, that the Democratic leader and I can sit down and reproduce that unanimous bipartisan agreement this time,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “His decision to try to angrily negotiate through the press is unfortunate. But no amount of bluster will change the simple fact that we already have a unanimous bipartisan precedent.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, chair of the Judiciary Committee and a top ally of President Donald Trump in the Senate, at echoed McConnell’s desire to have a trial similar to Clinton’s. The South Carolina Republican said he wouldn’t want either side to call new witnesses to present new evidence once impeachment hits the Senate.
“I will not support witnesses being called by the president, I’m not going to support witnesses being called for by Senator Schumer,” Graham said at a news conference Wednesday. “We’re going to vote on the same product the House used, at least with my vote, and I think most Senators on my side are ready to move forward. When it gets here, my goal is to have as short of a trial as possible. What does that translate to? When 51 people are ready to vote, we’ll vote.”
Schumer hit back by saying McConnell had still not given a reason the witnesses Democrats have proposed should not be called.
“We’re not asking to be dilatory,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “We’re not asking for a list of 4,000 witnesses. We are simply asking that those who know best the truth come and talk to us in the Senate and to the American people.”
McConnell’s stance on a trial - which he says should be expedient, brief and bipartisan - has senators preparing to study the House’s case, and discerning what standard of proof they will apply to that evidence.