Still Faulting Impeachment Speed, Senate Clamors to Take Over

WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell likened Democrats to prosecutors getting cold feet on Thursday morning, ridiculing the possibility that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will delay the next step of President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Rebuking Democratic leaders in both branches of Congress, McConnell proclaimed that any attempt to remove Trump from office will be unsuccessful.

“The failure was made clear to everyone earlier this week when Senator Schumer began searching for ways the Senate could step out of our proper role and try to fix the House Democrats’ failures for them,” McConnell said, referring to his rejection of Schumer’s request for additional witnesses.

“And it was made even more clear last night when Speaker Pelosi suggested that House Democrats may be too afraid, too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate,” McConnell asserted.

The Senate majority leader has rejected the traditional role of an impeachment trial as a fact-finding mission, and he proudly preordained an acquittal for the president, pre-emptively renouncing any oath — mandated by congressional rules — to serve as an impartial juror.

The idea of holding up the articles gained traction earlier this week when Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe wrote an editorial in the Washington Post that said Democrats should withhold the articles of impeachment as a bargaining chip, hanging an unresolved stain over the president’s head, to get concessions from McConnell on a fair trial.

Minutes after a majority-Democrat vote impeached Trump on obstruction of Congress and abuse of power, Pelosi signaled to reporters that those ideas could be taking root in the Democratic party, in some form.

Pelosi said Wednesday night that, before selecting managers to facilitate transferring the articles over to the Senate, she would wait for input from McConnell on how a trial there will unfold.

McConnell indicated earlier this week that the trial could commence Jan. 6. He also stated outright that he plans to coordinate with the White House on the specifics of trial procedures where senators will serve as jurors and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside as judge. 

Pelosi reiterated her concerns about a fair trial in the Senate both last night and this morning, with those spearheading the process openly strategizing how to steer the case to the acquittal. But the speaker’s wait-and-see approach before taking the next steps has drawn strong blowback from Republicans and the press.

Stung by the criticism, the speaker delivered a two-pronged defense of her approach Thursday — based on practicality and precedent — that she told reporters would serve as her final words, for now.

“When we impeached the president, immediately, everybody moved onto the next thing,” the speaker said. “The next thing for us will be when we see the next process that is set forth in the Senate: Then we’ll know the number of managers that we’ll have, and then we’ll know who we will choose.”

Unlike the Harvard professor, Pelosi and other Democrats have studiously avoided any talk of leverage — basing their arguments on procedural considerations, a callback to the last impeachment the House undertook.

“There was a proposal on the floor put together in a bipartisan way, 100 senators voted for the process on how that it would go forward on the case of President Clinton,” Pelosi said. “We would hope that they could come to some conclusion like that.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy caricatured that message in a press conference after Pelosi’s on Thursday.

“She’s so embarrassed, she won’t even take [reporters’] questions,” McCarthy jeered, referring to Pelosi. “That is not a good legacy to have. She’s admitting defeat by not sending them. By refusing to send the impeachment over, she knows this outcome is not good.”

Throughout her question-and-answer session, Pelosi responded with frustration when reporters pressed her on the Democrats’ strategy. She solicited questions on jobs, taxes, or the trade deal with Mexico and Canada — any other topic than her party’s historic impeachment vote.

If Pelosi explicitly avoided queries on one subject, however, McCarthy indirectly dodged various queries from reporters.

Asked about Trump’s remarks insinuating that the late Congressman John Dingell might be in hell, comments that wounded Dingell’s grieving wife,

McCarthy would not comment on what the president said, offering only some kind words about Dingell. McCarthy similarly dodged a question about prosecutors’ claims that Rudy Giuliani’s now-indicted associate Lev Parnas secretly received $1 million from oligarch Dmytro Firtash.

Parnas contributed $110,000 to House Republicans’ top fundraising committee, money that McCarthy promised to donate in October.

McCarthy responded that he anticipated a question on a different judicial matter: the rare rebuke from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on the FBI’s warrants into Carter Page.

For all their procedural objections about the Democrat-controlled House, congressional Republicans have not been shy about their intentions to engineer Trump’s acquittal with their vote, but McConnell from the Senate floor Thursday called the Democrat-led investigation the “most rushed, least thorough and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history.”

Highlighting the two Democrats representing swing districts who voted not to impeach, McConnell said the “slapdash process” was the first partisan impeachment since the Civil War, when Congress considered articles to impeach President Andrew Johnson. 

The final votes passed the abuse of power article against Trump 230-197-1 and obstruction of justice 229-198-1.

“The articles aren’t just unproven, they’re also constitutionally incoherent,” McConnell said. “Frankly, if either of these articles is blessed by the Senate, we could easily see the impeachment of every future president of either party.”

McConnell championed the power of the Senate to break the fever of partisan politics boiling in the House. “The Senate’s duty is clear,” he added. “When the time comes we must fulfill it.” 

Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer requested in a letter to McConnell this week that Republicans call witnesses blocked by the White House during the House investigation, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. 

From the Senate floor, McConnell communicated the same message he sent Schumer: Republicans will not do Democrats’ homework for them.

“That the Senate should supplement Chairman Schiff’s sloppy work so it is more persuasive than Chairman Schiff himself bothered to make it, of course, every such demand simply confirms that House Democrats have rushed forward with a case that is much too weak,” McConnell said. 

The Senate leader repeatedly condemned Democrats for not going to court over the impeachment subpoenas for witness testimony and documents.

“My goodness, in Nixon, the courts were allowed to do their work. In Clinton, the courts were allowed to do their work,” McConnell said. “Only these House Democrats decided due process is too much work. They would rather impeach with no proof.”

Pelosi has repeatedly said Democrats would not allow Trump to bog down the impeachment inquiry in the courts, given that the charges brought against him involve inviting Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.

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