By Steven Nelson
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans have enough votes to approve rules for President Trump’s impeachment trial — without agreeing to Democratic demands on witnesses.
The announcement Tuesday is a bid to force House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to transmit two articles of impeachment, allowing Trump’s trial to begin.
“We have the votes once the impeachment trial has begun to pass a resolution,” McConnell said at a press conference.
“All we’re doing here is saying we’re going to get started in exactly the same way that 100 senators agreed to 20 years ago [for Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial],” McConnell said. “We’ll get around to the discussion of witnesses [after the trial begins].”
Trump’s trial was expected to begin this week, but Pelosi withheld the articles to force McConnell to agree to call witnesses including White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Adviser John Bolton.
The Republican blueprint leaves the question of witnesses unsettled until after the trial begins, as done during the 1999 trial of Clinton.
Centrist Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska publicly backed starting the trial, then deciding on witnesses.
McConnell can’t begin the trial until Pelosi transmits the articles.
But he aims to demonstrate the futility of her position, which depends on four moderate Republican defections in the Senate to reach 51 votes.
And one House Democratic source said Tuesday that “I don’t think Pelosi folds,” predicting that “we could see a deal within a week or two.”
But there are signs of pressure on Pelosi.
California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna said Tuesday on Fox News that “I don’t think she’s going to continue to hold onto them.”
Khanna said he believed Pelosi would release the articles if McConnell agreed to defer to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on trial procedures.
Michael Conway, counsel for the House Judiciary Committee when it voted to impeach Richard Nixon, said, ”There would be great political pressure if she holds it for an indefinite time. The longer she holds it, the possible backlash grows.”
Some of Trump’s defenders have demanded their own witnesses, including the whistleblower who filed a complaint about Trump pushing Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden and the 2016 election while withholding foreign aid. But it’s unclear if a majority of senators would support calling Republican-requested witnesses.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example, has opposed calling any witnesses.
During Clinton’s impeachment trial, the Senate approved depositions but not live testimony from a handful of witnesses, including Monica Lewinsky.
The House returned from its Christmas break Tuesday and despite the impasse is poised to vote as early as Friday on a resolution limiting Trump’s ability to attack Iran without a vote in Congress — a rebuke after Trump ordered an airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.