A small group of Senate Democrats have broken with party leadership by calling for the upper chamber’s impeachment trial against President Donald Trump to begin without an agreement on witnesses.
As of Tuesday, three Democrat senators and an independent — Doug Jones (AL), Christoper Murphy (CT), Joe Manchin (WV), and Angus King (ME) — have come out in favor of the trial to start in what is the clearest sign yet that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will get his way in dictating the trial’s rules.
“I think the time has past. She [Pelosi] should send the articles over,” Murphy, quoted by the Washington Post, said.
Speaking to the Post, Manchin echoed his Connecticut colleague, saying: “I think it needs to start, I really do… Let us do what we have to do over here.”
Asked Tuesday if it was time for Pelosi to transfer the articles, King told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell: “I think it is time for the Speaker to send the articles over. I think — I don’t think her holding them puts any particular pressure on Mitch McConnell. I think the key vote will come in the middle of the trial.”
Jones, who holds one of the Senate’s most vulnerable seats, told CNN that he hopes the articles will be transferred “soon,” adding: “I think most people are ready to get moving on this.”
Earlier Tuesday, McConnell announced he has secured the votes to proceed with the trial.
He said the question of witnesses will be decided after opening arguments in the case.
“We have the votes,” McConnell told reporters, to proceed with the trial in a similar fashion to former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
“What’s good for President Clinton is good for President Trump,” he said. “We’ll get around to a discussion of witnesses.”
Schumer said the chamber should hear from witnesses and view evidence before hearing arguments.
“There will be votes on the four witnesses we have asked for,” he said.
McConnell criticized Pelosi for continuing to hold onto both articles of impeachment that were passed by the lower chamber almost three weeks ago. House Democrats are withholding the articles from the Senate — and, thus, delaying the start of the trial — in a bid to negotiate with upper chamber Republicans on certain “fair” provisions of the proceeding.
McConnell has said repeatedly he’d like a speedy trial and is working with Trump’s attorneys on the matter — a move that’s drawn heavy criticism from Democrats due to the impartiality oath all senators must take before participating in the trial.
“How inappropriate and how embarrassing to rush forward on a partisan basis and then treat … what you’ve done like a political toy,” he said. “How contemptuous of the American people.”
Politico reported Tuesday McConnell had secured the 51 votes to move ahead with planning the trial without help from Democrats. Key Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, however, have both indicated they favor delaying a decision on witnesses, which would be a victory for Democrats. Both senators are considered “swing” voters.
Democrats have demanded the inclusion of multiple key administration witnesses and certain documents that weren’t presented at the House impeachment inquiry. Schumer said he plans to force votes concerning potential witnesses at the start of the trial.
“Make no mistake, on the question of witnesses and documents, Republicans may run but they can’t hide,” he said. “There will be votes at the beginning on whether to call the four witnesses we’ve proposed and subpoena the documents we’ve identified.
“If every Republican senator votes for a rigged trial that hides the truth, the American people will see that the Republican Senate is part of a large and awful cover-up.”
McConnell and Schumer have been at an impasse for weeks over Democrats’ demands for the new evidence and four witnesses — including former national security adviser John Bolton, who said Monday he’s willing to testify if subpoenaed.
The House approved the articles December 18, formally making Trump the third president to be impeached by the lower chamber. The articles accuse him of abusing his power and obstruction of Congress for resisting efforts to aid in the House inquiry.
McConnell is seeking two resolutions on the matter — one defining the trial procedures and one to determine whether any witnesses should be called.
The UPI contributed to this report.