McConnell, Schumer start the year deadlocked over Senate impeachment trial

Democrats want Republicans to commit to having witnesses participate in the Senate trial, but GOP leaders haven't yet said where they stand on the question.
Image: Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks on Capitol Hill on Jan. 3, 2020. “Democrats have let Trump derangement syndrome develop into a dangerous partisan fever," McConnell said Friday.Susan Walsh / AP

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By Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate made clear Friday that they remain deadlocked over the parameters of a Senate trial weighing whether President Donald Trump, impeached by the House in December, should be removed from office.

Opening the 2020 congressional session, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor that the upper chamber could not hold a trial without the two articles of impeachment adopted by the House that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has not yet transmitted to the Senate.

"We can't hold the trial without the articles. The Senate’s old rules don’t provide for that. So, for now, we're content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate while House Democrats continue to flounder,” McConnell said. “But if they ever muster the courage to stand behind their slapdash work product and transmit their articles to the Senate, it will then be time for the United States Senate to fulfill our founding purpose.”

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If and when that happens, he said, “We’ll have to decide whether we’re going to safeguard core governing traditions or let short-term partisan rage overcome them.” He accused Democrats of conducting the impeachment inquiry in a manner that "has jeopardized the foundations of our system of government."

“Democrats have let Trump derangement syndrome develop into a dangerous partisan fever," he said.

McConnell reiterated that the Senate should follow the structure of the Senate trial following the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1999, which encompassed two phases in which lawmakers first passed a resolution that set up initial logistics such as briefs, opening arguments and senators’ questions, with midtrial questions coming later on.

Speaking on the floor after McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that his GOP counterpart had engaged in a lot of “finger-pointing” and “name-calling” without weighing on the question he said was holding up the Senate trial: “Whether there will be witnesses and documents.”

“He has no good argument against having witnesses and documents, so he resorts to these subterfuges,” Schumer said. “Instead of trying to find the truth, he is still using the same feeble talking points that he was using last December.”

Schumer said that there is only one precedent that matters: “There has never, never in the history of the country been an impeachment trial of the president in which the Senate was denied the ability to hear from witnesses.”

“Yet, the Republican leader seems intent on violating that precedent,” he added.

Schumer did not say whether Pelosi would keep the articles in the House if Republicans don’t accede to Democrats’ demands, but added that if they don’t receive a commitment that House managers would be able to call witnesses, “the Senate will act as little more than a nationally televised meeting of the mock trial club.”