Thursday, November 14, 2019

GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial

Jordain Carney 
06:00 AM EST

Senators are pushing for a speedy impeachment trial as the proceedings appear poised to spill into 2020.

With House Democrats aiming to vote on articles of impeachment by Christmas, Republicans view a trial as all but guaranteed but are warning they don’t want to drag it out.

How long a trial could last is a rolling point of debate. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) raised eyebrows by suggesting it could last six to eight weeks, longer than the proceedings against former President Clinton, which lasted just over a month.

Burr argued the case against Clinton was “cookie-cutter” compared to the current investigation.

“Bill Clinton admitted that he lied to the FBI,” Burr said. “His took five weeks and it didn’t meet the threshold of removal from office. I figured since the president hadn’t admitted to a crime, nor has the House process proven a crime, that it would probably take them some more time.”

But GOP senators — who view it as all but guaranteed that President Trump will not be convicted — balked at a long timeline, questioning why they would want to eat up extra weeks on a trial that seems prebaked.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), asked about Burr’s prediction, said, “I don’t know who he was kidding, but no, it’s not going to take that long.”

“It doesn’t sound like there’s going to be much they’re going to give us, so I think a week is more than enough time to get all that adjudicated, get it out there and exposed, and be done with this,” Perdue added.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who was in office for the Clinton trial, characterized himself as “in shock” over the idea of taking six to eight weeks for the Senate’s impeachment proceedings.

“I’m not sure why it should,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was a House manager in 1999, also questioned why a trial would need to take up to two months.

“It’s not a complicated fact pattern. I doubt if a trial would last that long,” he said.

Talk about a potential Senate trial comes as the House is holding its first public hearings as part of their impeachment inquiry after weeks of closed-door depositions. House lawmakers are examining if Trump held up Ukraine aid in an effort to pressure the country to open up an investigation into former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

One option that has been discussed by some GOP senators, as well as conservative pundits, would be to try to dismiss the articles of impeachment, effectively ending a trial before it could get underway. Democrats tried to dismiss the articles against Clinton, but the vote, which requires a simple majority, fell short.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dismissed the idea during a weekly leadership press conference on Wednesday, telling reporters that there will be a trial if the House sends over articles of impeachment.

“The rules of impeachment are very clear, we’ll have to have a trial. My own view is that we should give people an opportunity to put the case on. ... On the issue of how long it goes on, it’s really kind of up to the Senate,” he said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell, also told reporters that he didn’t think the votes were there to dismiss impeachment articles.

Meanwhile, Perdue added that Trump should “get his day in court.”

“I’m one that says, no, put it out there and let’s show everybody just how weak this is, how ridiculous this is,” he said.

Democrats had initially aimed to vote on articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving. Under that time frame, McConnell had told GOP senators that a trial could wrap by the end of the year.

But that time frame has slipped amid weeks of closed-door depositions. House Democrats are now aiming to hold a floor vote by Christmas.

The Senate is scheduled to wrap up its work for the year on Dec. 13. Senators are hoping leadership would be able to come up with a deal to avoid working through the holidays.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said a Christmas vote in the House could “encourage us [in the Senate] to come to some quick agreement on both a time frame and some rules that accommodates Christmas at least, and maybe that whole week.”

The Clinton impeachment trial lasted five weeks, starting on Jan. 7, 1999, and wrapping on Feb. 13, 1999. The Senate passed a resolution at the start of the trial that laid out the procedure for filing motions, how long senators would get to ask questions and how witnesses would be called.

McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have not yet started similar negotiations, but both have publicly signaled they want to make a deal.

Cornyn predicted that the upcoming Trump trial wouldn’t be longer than Clinton’s.

“I think the Clinton impeachment trial was about five weeks and, you know, I don’t know right now anything that would make this longer than that,” he said.

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) added that his constituents back in North Dakota didn’t want to see a long trial.

“I was of the opinion for a long time that a longer trial over here would at least allow all of the facts to be aired. Back home people don’t want it to last 10 minutes. They’ve checked out. They’re uninterested. ... I don’t think six to eight weeks would be necessary,” he said.

A six- to eight-week trial could be problematic for Democrats, given several senators are running for their party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

If a trial started the week after Christmas, that would mean it would last past the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, and potentially into the New Hampshire primary, scheduled for Feb. 11. Two other early states, Nevada and South Carolina, are set to vote on Feb. 22 and Feb. 29, respectively. That could give Republicans leverage as they try to negotiate a deal on the rules for the trial.

“It will probably happen before Christmas and then occupy January and February,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said. “I think it’s going to cause a lot of squirming with them.”

Blunt added that “we would all hope that it would go quicker” than the Clinton trial, but that 2020 Democratic presidential candidates should be prepared to be in Washington.

“I think if you’re the Democrats who are running for president, you should be expecting that you might be expected to be in your seats six to eight weeks if we don’t have a better agreement than that,” he said.

Cornyn joked that “Joe Biden and Mayor Pete would love that,” but predicted there would be a “bipartisan interest in getting this done and doing our job ... but not necessarily letting it preempt anything else we want to do.”

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