The top senators of each party clashed over how a Senate impeachment trial will play out, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) differing over the need for an “impartial” jury and whether or not to call new witnesses.
McConnell said during the 1999 trial of President Bill Clinton that it was “not unusual to have witnesses in an impeachment trial” and was asked Tuesday whether he’d done a “180” from then.
McConnell said he wanted to listen to House managers and President Donald Trump’s legal representatives and then have senators, who aren’t allowed to speak during the trial, submit written questions.
Following that, he said he wants to take on the issue of whether or not to call witnesses, as happened during the Clinton trial. At that point in the 1999 trial “partisan differences” materialized, he said. Fifty-one senators could vote to end the trial at that point; a conviction requires two-thirds of senators present.
“And so I think it’s pretty safe to say, in a partisan exercise like this, people sort of sign up with their own side. What we may have felt 20 years ago may not be the same as we feel today. I think you can quote virtually any of us who were here during that period to be on the opposite side because of the nature of the process,” he told reporters in Washington during a Senate Republican leadership news conference on Tuesday.
“I think we’re going get an almost entirely partisan impeachment. I would anticipate an almost entirely partisan outcome in the Senate as well.”
No Republicans voted for the impeachment process resolution and none are expected to vote for impeaching Trump. At least two Democrats have said they will join the GOP in voting against impeachment.
McConnell said Schumer is essentially arguing that witnesses are necessary because the House wasn’t able to put together a strong case against Trump.
“Senator Schumer’s almost arguing that the House didn’t do a very good job, even though he’s happy to vote for what they send over. So we need to have a different and better trial over here,” he said. Asked if he’s an “impartial juror,” McConnell answered: “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There’s not anything judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision. The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate a largely partisan outcome in the Senate.”
At a Senate Democrat leadership press conference held later in the day, Schumer said that he was “utterly amazed” at McConnell’s answer.
“Do the American people want Mitch McConnell not to be an impartial juror in this situation? I would ask every one of my Republican Senate colleagues: are you impartial jurors, or are you like Mitch McConnell, proud not to be one?” he asked.
Schumer also said that he disagreed with McConnell’s proposed approach.
“The key issues here are witnesses and documents. We should decide those from the very beginning. In fact, many in my caucus have already voiced a fear that McConnell would do—just set up how many hours each side has to discuss things and then shut things down before we got witnesses,” he said.
Schumer also claimed that the White House “blocked over how a Senate impeachment trial will play out witnesses” from testifying to the House.
Trump claimed executive privilege and a number of top former or current aides went to the courts to ask judges to rule on whether they should comply with subpoenas. Instead of waiting, the House pressed on with the impeachment inquiry and is slated to vote on Wednesday.