Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have navigated his way out of an automatic motion to dismiss the House’s impeachment. McConnell played along with the efforts of some of the conference’s maniacs, signing onto a resolution to change the Senate rules to allow it to dismiss the articles before the House sent them over. Which is constitutionally dubious, at best, but when has that bothered McConnell?
Now that the articles are definitely coming this week, however, he has to moderate a bit to make the other squeaky wheels in the conference happy. That means allowing them to posture on the possibility of having witnesses. At the outset, McConnell is all but dismissing the notion. “If the existing case is strong, there’s no need for the judge and the jury to reopen the investigation,” he said Tuesday. “If the existing case is weak, House Democrats should not have impeached.” He also said that it’s “Bizarro-world” for Democrats to suggest anything less than a trial that didn’t go beyond what the House includes in its prosecution is a cover up. Never mind that he’s been facilitating the Trump administration’s obstruction of Congress for months.
There are now four Republican senators saying they want the opportunity to hear from witnesses—Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney. That means there’s potentially a 51-vote majority to call witnesses. In theory.
That theory breaks down a bit when you look at their actual statements. Like Murkowski’s. She told Alaska public radio Monday that she is advocating for the same process as the Clinton impeachment, which is a three-phased hearing in which witnesses would be called in Phase 3. “Am I curious about what what Ambassador Bolton would have to say? Yes, I am,” she said about the possibility of him acting as a witness. But, and it’s a big but, she said she wasn’t going to “pre-judge” and demand that until she hears all the evidence in Phases 1 and 2 of the trial.
Alexander similarly said “We’re taking an oath to be impartial […] and that to me means we have a constitutional duty to hear the case, ask our questions and then decide whether we want additional evidence in terms of documents or witnesses.”
What they’re doing with all this is keeping up the pretense of being open to having a real trial, with McConnell’s full support, but with an out. They can hear the House’s case and say that they don’t find enough there to require witness testimony and then move to acquit. That’s undoubtedly the game they have cooked up with McConnell for everyone to save face. There’s no question that McConnell’s Republicans are going to acquit Trump—almost certainly every single one of them. At this point it’s about doing just enough to put a gloss of legitimacy on the whole thing.
The difficulty for them in doing so is that the news isn’t going to stop coming on Trump’s misdeeds, and that Senate Democrats led by Chuck Schumer are committed to forcing votes to subpoena witnesses and documents that the administration has been fighting to withhold.