Senate Republicans Approve Impeachment Trial Rules
Senate Republicans held fast on Tuesday and roundly rejected Democrats’ attempts to subpoena testimony and documents from the Trump administration as part of the president’s impeachment trial.
While the House impeachment managers, led by Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), made repeated and compelling arguments for the Senate to obtain evidence at the start of President Donald Trump’s trial, votes for subpoenas all fell out the same way. All 47 Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of the subpoenas, while all 53 Republicans opposed.
It was clear that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s intention was to keep the trial as short and uneventful as possible, and by late in the night, he asked the Democrats if they would simply put forward all their proposals to get evidence at once. Since all Republicans had been united in opposing the Democrats’ efforts, he suggested, it would be more convenient to have the proposals introduced at the same time to get through them more quickly.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer denied this offer, saying he wanted to have debate and a vote on each proposal individually, even if the process extended into the following day.
McConnell’s suggestion made his and his colleagues’ intentions quite clear. They don’t care about what the merits might be of the Democrats’ demands for evidence. They will refuse to hear them all, and they’d like to do so as efficiently as possible.
Some, like Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, have suggested that they might be interested in obtaining more evidence and testimony from the administration and witnesses. But she only wants to consider such options after the trial has begun with opening statements by each side. She explained in a statement:
As I said last week, while I need to hear the case argued and the questions answered, I anticipate that I would conclude that having additional information would be helpful. It is likely that I would support a motion to subpoena witnesses at that point in the trial just as I did in 1999.
But many Democrats are skeptical of the GOP claims that they might support subpoenas for evidence later. And they also don’t mind dragging out the process now, if they’re able to do so.
And it’s possible that, though Democrats already feel that they have a strong case to make in favor of the impeachment articles, new evidence obtained by the Senate could bolster or alter the arguments they plan to make. So it’s reasonable for them to want to start by pushing to get the documents and testimony that they were denied during the House’s inquiry.
Of course, from the Republicans’ perspective, they could theoretically want more evidence that could exonerate Trump. But evidently, they don’t believe that it will — which, of course, they shouldn’t. As more evidence has emerged over time, the case against Trump has only strengthened. If the Trump administration had evidence that could exonerate it, the president would likely have just handed it over or made it public in the first place. Instead, he kept it hidden and obstructed the investigation, actions which themselves became an article of impeachment.
Since Republicans have good reason to think any more evidence will likely be bad for their side, they don’t seem to want to know it at all. They’ll bury their heads in the sand and hope the storm blows over.
Collins and other Republicans may eventually join with Democrats to obtain more evidence later in the trial; perhaps they won’t. If they feel pressure from the electorate to hold a full and robust trial — or risk looking like Trump’s accomplices — they may force the administration to give an inch. But McConnell thinks his best bet is to delay, delay, delay, and at least for now, the so-called moderates agree.
IMAGE: Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins.