WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans say they have no choice but to hold a trial if the House impeaches President Donald Trump.
There had been some speculation that Senate Republicans might use their majority to quickly dismiss the case and do away with impeachment, rather than put Trump through a high-profile, multiweek trial. But they dispelled that notion Wednesday, and the Senate will perform its constitutional duty.
“The power of the Senate to try impeachment articles is exclusive to the Senate. So if we don’t, nobody does,” said Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer.
During a closed-door lunchtime meeting Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (with some assistance from Clinton impeachment veteran Sen. Lindsey Graham) laid out an Impeachment Trials 101 lesson on how such trials play out.
McConnell told his conference that if the House votes to impeach, the Senate trial would begin every day at around 12:30 p.m. and run six days per week with only Sundays off. All senators must be present and, in a break from norms and nature, they must remain silent. McConnell said after the meeting this “should be good therapy for a number of them.”
House lawyers would serve the role of prosecutors, while White House lawyers would be defense counsel. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would act as judge. Senators would serve as the jury.
The impeachment trial of Bill Clinton took five weeks. If Democrats in the House hit their informal target of wrapping up impeachment by Thanksgiving, that could mean the entire period between Thanksgiving and Christmas would be taken up by the Senate trial.
One key detail is that all of this is subject to change if the Senate votes unanimously to reform the rules.
Several Republicans said they would not support using a procedural motion to dismiss to avoid an impeachment trial. But this does not rule out using one at some point to end the trial midway. A motion to dismiss can be brought forward by either the House or White House lawyers and would need a majority vote to end the trial. (Republicans could do this on their own.)
Sen. Thom Tillis said that if the trial is underway for two or three weeks and the only evidence put forward is the whistleblower complaint and the transcript of Trump’s Ukrainian call, there would “probably” be enough Republican support to pass a motion to dismiss.
During the Clinton impeachment trial, senators unanimously voted to allow Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd to put forward a motion to dismiss two weeks into the trial. The motion failed. But ultimately Clinton was spared because there was not the necessary two-thirds of the Senate — 67 votes — who supported removing a president from office.
Removal is extremely unlikely at the moment because Republicans control 53 Senate seats and only one, Mitt Romney, has publicly even mulled considering impeachment. But with new developments coming out of the impeachment inquiry daily, things can always change. “I’m always worried about what I’m going to hear next,” said Cramer.
H/T Diane Josefowicz for the headline.