McConnell unlikely to pursue dismissal vote on impeachment articles

There's little appetite from Republicans with tough re-election fights for a vote to dismiss the charges against Trump outright.
Image: Mitch McConnell
Mitch McConnell said last week that he had enough Republican votes to make the Trump impeachment trial follow the rules of the Clinton trial in 1999. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Garrett Haake

WASHINGTON — While President Donald Trump has tweeted that he would like to see the Senate dismiss the impeachment articles against him ahead of a trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to hold such a vote.

That’s because there is little appetite from Republican members facing difficult re-election races in 2020 to cast a vote that could be seen as overly protective of the president, GOP aides and senators say.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., would like to see “2020 Republican incumbents in tough voting situations. So I think recognizing that that's his goal, I think it won't surprise you that we're thinking about that too, and how to avoid that as much as possible."

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McConnell, R-Ky., announced last week that he has enough Republican votes to pass a resolution outlining the parameters of a trial that mirrors the impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1999. While such as a resolution would mandate that opening statements and Senate questions come before a vote on whether to allow witnesses, the text of the resolution has not been released, in part, because McConnell has been surveying his members on the possibility of a motion to dismiss.

“I think our members are generally not interested in a motion to dismiss,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of leadership, said. He noted that the Clinton impeachment trial included a motion to dismiss, but added, "I think I’m safe in saying there’s almost no interest" in one for this trial.

Instead of a motion to dismiss, Republicans are contemplating alternatives to move quickly but look less dismissive of the trial and the charges.

A motion to dismiss was added in the Clinton trial to appease Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., but took place after the first two phases of the trial — opening statements and the question-and-answer period — had concluded. That motion failed and Senators moved on to hear from witnesses.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is one of those in a difficult position of attempting to show her independence from the president without upsetting his supporters. She said Monday night that she had voted against the Clinton motion to dismiss and “would anticipate” doing so again, "as opposed to going through the whole process and then going to a final arguments and having a vote on each article of impeachment.”

Retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., an institutionalist who could break with the president, said Monday evening that he would vote against a motion to dismiss because he may want to hear from witnesses.

“I think we need to hear the case. Ask your questions," Alexander told NBC News. "Then, as they did in the Clinton impeachment, we ought to decide then whether we need to hear from additional witnesses or need additional documents. So a motion to dismiss is not consistent with hearing the case."

White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland says the “technicalities” aren’t for him to decide but “we've been talking closely and collaboratively with the leader and the President's rights will be protected including the right to a motion to dismiss.”

A senior Democratic aide said McConnell's likely decision not to pursue a motion to dismiss shows McConnell is “desperately trying to keep his members in line.” And vulnerable Republicans could still face such a vote if a Democrat calls for a dismissal at any time during the trial.

Frank Thorp V contributed.