The Senate impeachment trial is starting to get real. After weeks of senators seemingly ducking or dodging the Mack truck headed the chamber’s way, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer kicked the preparations for next year’s trial into gear Sunday night by laying out Democratic demands for how that trial should actually look. Let the negotiations begin.
This is an important marker – and one that diverges sharply from the trial preferences of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It shows two things: Schumer isn’t going to buckle to McConnell’s desire to have a witness-less trial, and that the top Democrat is actively looking to bring moderate Republicans into the Democratic fold on his strategy. The former is crucial for Schumer’s Democratic constituency, the latter could dramatically reshape everyone’s expectations for what this trial would entail.
What to watch this week
Schumer put his cards on the table. He and McConnell still plan to meet to see if a bipartisan agreement on how the trial should be structured is possible. That could happen as soon as this week, but nothing is finalized yet.
McConnell vs. Schumer
There are elements of Schumer’s three-page letter McConnell would likely sign onto, primarily the structure of the House manager and White House defense presentations, both of which line up with President Bill Clinton’s 1999 trial. Even the timing roughly lines up to what McConnell has been hinting at publicly.
But McConnell has made clear privately he’s opposed to having witnesses during the trial, preferring instead to have the manager and White House presentations, then move to a final vote on the articles themselves.
Schumer has now made it clear that’s a non-starter for Democrats. Consider it a very important marker, one that will dictate Democratic positioning for the next month, laid down.
Schumer’s witness requests:
- Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff
- John Bolton, former national security adviser
- Robert Blair, senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff
- Michael Duffey, associate director for national security, Office of Management of Budget
The White House on Monday will review Schumer’s proposal for the Senate trial, an official involved in the matter told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. Officials discussed the broad outlines of it Sunday, but are expected to do so more fully in person on Monday.
As for why Schumer isn’t suggesting that former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden testify, the New York Democrat told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” Monday that calling him would be “a distraction.”
Republicans “have not shown a single bit of evidence that Hunter Biden can answer any of these facts. He’s a distraction,” Schumer said, adding, “This shouldn’t be for Democrats to bring in their favorite conspiracy theories and Republicans to bring in theirs. This is an august and solemn proceeding.”
Schumer makes clear Democrats want the above witnesses because they have “direct knowledge of Administration decisions regarding the delay in security assistance funds to the government of Ukraine and the requests for certain investigations announced by the government of Ukraine.”
The use of “direct knowledge” is intentional here as a marker for witness negotiations.
The only thing that matters
The number 51. With 51 votes, McConnell can do most anything he wants in the looming Senate impeachment trial. But at this stage, McConnell doesn’t have the commitment of at least 51 of the 53 senators in his conference to do anything. That means what happens next – and the extent of Schumer’s actual leverage right now – are still unknowns.