WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday he has the 51 Republican votes needed to design the impeachment trial, striking down any chance of a bipartisan agreement on how the trial will be structured.
Democrats have been pushing for weeks to guarantee that witnesses will testify as part of the Senate trial, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far refused to send over the articles of impeachment until she gets such assurances. But McConnell said Senate Republicans will defy that demand.
“We have the votes,” he said after a closed-door GOP conference meeting.
McConnell’s plan essentially punts on the question of witnesses. The trial would start with House managers making the case for impeachment and White House lawyers arguing the defense case. Then senators, who serve as the jury, will be able to ask questions in writing.
At that point, the Senate could agree to call witnesses, but it would require 51 votes. All 47 Democratic senators are likely to support that, but they’ll need help from four of the 51 Republican senators.
“We’ll get around to the discussion of witnesses,” said McConnell. “There will be, I’m sure, intense discussion.”
McConnell has openly coordinated with Trump’s legal counsel regarding crafting the impeachment trial, even boasting on Fox News that he is working closely with Trump’s team.
His announcement comes in the same week that former national security adviser John Bolton said he would agree to testify before the Senate if subpoenaed. Bolton would be a star witness, as he could testify directly to whether Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine in exchange for the country announcing an investigation into the Biden family.
But several Republican senators have said they have no interest in hearing from Bolton and that the trial should be strictly limited to information gathered in the House inquiry. “It’s not the Senate’s job to do the House’s job,” said Sen. Ron Johnson.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer referred to the Republican-designed process as a “cover-up.”
“Who ever heard of a trial without witnesses and documents? It’s unprecedented,” he said.
All eyes now turn to Pelosi, who is still holding on to the articles of impeachment. There is no time limit for the speaker to send over the articles after they are approved by a House vote.
McConnell has said it is preordained that Trump will be acquitted in the Senate. The threshold to remove a president from office is 67 votes, which would require at least 20 Republican votes. So far no Republican has signaled they are leaning toward convicting the president.