“We have the votes, once the impeachment trial has begun, to pass a resolution essentially the same—very similar—to the 100-to-nothing vote in the Clinton trial, which sets up, as you may recall, what could best be described as maybe a phase one,” McConnell told reporters in Washington.
The resolution will include guidelines for the prosecution and defense to make arguments, and set aside a period for written questions. Senators aren’t allowed to speak during an impeachment trial, so questions will be submitted through Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the proceeding.
“At that point, during the Clinton trial, the issue of the appropriateness of calling witnesses was addressed. … That will be addressed at that time, and not before the trial begins,” McConnell said.
McConnell has repeatedly said he wants to follow the precedent set in 1999 for the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat who faced impeachment by the GOP. Clinton was eventually acquitted and remained in office. A supermajority is required for conviction, while acquittal requires a simple majority.
McConnell said the 1999 trial in the GOP-controlled Senate was fair to Clinton, and a similar trial would be fair to Trump, a Republican.
Republican leadership in the Senate said the only thing they’re waiting for is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to send the impeachment articles to them. Pelosi has withheld the articles since the House voted to impeach Trump on Dec. 18, 2019.
“The Senate is waiting to do its job, we’re just waiting for the House to send the articles,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said at the press conference.
“What you’re seeing Speaker Pelosi and Chuck Schumer do is basically play to their base and play political games.”
McConnell said he hopes to receive the articles soon.
Some Democratic senators also said Pelosi should submit the articles. “I think the time has passed. She should send the articles over,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters on Jan. 7.
The press conference came after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor that Democrats would try to force the chamber to vote at the start about whether to call witnesses.
Schumer, who has said the Clinton rules should be changed because the situations are different, had a press conference after McConnell.
“The question looms: Will senators stand up for a fair trial. A fair trial with witnesses and documents. Right now, the Republican leader and I have very different visions on what it means to conduct a fair trial,” he said. “Democrats believe that a fair trial means all the relevant facts come out, and witnesses and documents are part of that trial.”
Schumer said he’s confident he could get enough support to block the proposed vote on impeachment trial guidelines. He wouldn’t say whether he’d obtained commitments from any Republican senators to vote with Democrats. The GOP has a 53–47 majority in the Senate.
He also praised Pelosi for withholding the articles.
“By not sending the articles immediately, she’s already accomplished two things,” Schumer said on Jan. 7. One, he said, is that it prevented McConnell from just dismissing the articles without a trial, though McConnell never said he was considering that path.
Two, Schumer said, in the past two weeks, “there’s been a cascade of evidence that bolsters the case, strongly bolsters the case, for witnesses and documents.”