WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated Friday he has little interest in agreeing to Democrats’ demands for new witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial and instead will work swiftly to acquit the president of the charges.
“Their turn is over,” McConnell said about the Democratic-led House. “It’s the Senate’s turn now.”
Congress convened for the new year with Trump’s impeachment trial deeply in flux and the crisis in the Middle East only adding to the uncertainty about how lawmakers will proceed.
McConnell criticized House Democrats as having engineered a “slapdash” impeachment that is the “most rushed, least fair” in history. The House last month approved charges that Trump abused his power in dealings with Ukraine and then obstructed Congress.
The GOP leader invoked the Founding Fathers’ vision of the slower-moving Senate as “an institution that could stop momentary hysteria and partisan passions.”
Trump, only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached, wants not only acquittal in the trial but also vindication from his GOP allies.
While McConnell is hoping for a speedy acquittal, the Senate trial cannot begin until House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivers the articles of impeachment, which she is refusing to do until he provides details on whether Democrats will be able to call more witnesses.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “We need the whole truth.”
McConnell has said the trial should start and then senators can decide the scope.
He indicated the Senate will carry on with its other business while it waits for the House to act. “We can’t hold a trial without the articles,” he said. “So for now, we are content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate while House Democrats continue to flounder.”
Schumer is pressing for at least four new witnesses, all of whom refused to appear in the House proceedings before the House voted to impeach Trump last month. They are Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and two other officials who were directly involved with Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in in military aide for Ukraine, which the ally depends on to counter Russia, until President Volodymyr Zelenskiy agreed to publicly announce an investigation into Trump rival Joe Biden.
“Why won’t Trump & McConnell allow a fair trial?” Pelosi tweeted this week.
The Constitution requires that the House and Senate convene on Jan. 3, but few lawmakers were in town for the perfunctory session. But the Senate leaders’ remarks are being closely watched for signs of next steps amid the crisis in the Middle East after the U.S. killed a top Iranian general with airstrikes in Iraq.
Democrats believe their demands for witnesses are bolstered by new reports about the withheld aid and unease among some GOP senator over the situation.
Two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, indicated they were open to hearing from more witnesses and registered their concerns about McConnell’s claim that he was working closely with the White House on the format for the trial.
But McConnell has showed few signs of changing course. He defended his remarks, in which he said he would not be an ‘’impartial juror” in the trial and McConnell stuck with his plan to follow the process used during Bill Clinton’s impeachment, in which the trial was convened and then votes were taken to decide if additional witnesses were needed.