Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Chuck Schumer has made his opening offer to Mitch McConnell about the impending Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. And the Democratic leader is driving a hard bargain.
In alettersent on Sunday evening to McConnell, the majority leader, Schumer says Senate Democrats want to hear testimony from four administration witnesses, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. There is almost no chance Senate Republicans would vote to subpoena those witnesses without assent from the White Houseand calling their own preferred witnesses.
Schumer also proposes that the trial process begin on Jan. 6, with the trial itself starting on Jan.9,and asks for a structure similar to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999. The House is set to impeach Trump this week, turning the focus of the nation to a polarized Senate, where bipartisan cooperation has been relegated to little other than defense and spending bills.
“The trial must be one that not only hears all of the evidence and adjudicates the case fairly; it must also pass the fairness test with the American people,” Schumer says in the letter to McConnell. “That is the great challenge for the Senate in the coming weeks.”
McConnell and Schumer have yet to sit down and have a discussion specifically about the trial parameters. If they can strike a deal, the Senate’s impeachment resolution governing the rules of the road could pass with broad support, as it did in Clinton‘s day.
Doug Andres, a spokesman for McConnell, made clear that the GOP leader wouldn’t negotiate publicly before he met with Schumer.
“Leader McConnell has made it clear he plans to meet with Leader Schumer to discuss the contours of a trial soon. That timeline has not changed,“ Andres said on Sunday night.
IfMcConnell can get 51 of the 53 Senate Republicans to stick together, he and the GOP could in theory ignore Schumer’s request and bipartisan negotiations altogether.
A handful of Republican senators, including Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, could be tough for either side to persuade. A simple majority is needed to pass resolutions in the trial, while convicting and removing the president requires the vote of two-thirds of senators.
For now, Senate Republicans have settledon a strategy of hearing the opening argument from Trump and House Democrats, with the option to call witnesses later. That’s how Clinton’s trial went, with a unanimous vote to kick off the trial and then a party-line vote on witnesses.
But this time around, Schumer disagrees with that approach: He says witnesses, documents and trial parameters “should be considered in one resolution.”
McConnell told Sean Hannity on Fox News last week that he was in close coordination with White House counsel Pat Cipollone about the trial, and Trump has asked for witnesses such as Hunter Biden to appear before the trial. And while Schumer says “it is clear that the Senate should hear testimony of witnesses,” he appears to throw cold water on the idea of inviting the Bidens.
Schumer says his party is open to other witnesses who have “direct knowledge” of the decisions behind delaying aide to Ukraine and asking the government in Kyiv to announce an investigation into Joe Biden and his son. Those requests would seem to ignore Trump’s preferred witnesses.
In addition to Mulvaney and Bolton, Schumer says Democrats would also like to call Robert Blair, an aide to Mulvaney, and Michael Duffey, who works at the Office of Management and Budget. Democrats believe those officials have information about the withholding of the aid, but the White House has declined to make them available to House investigators.
Schumer also proposes “that the Senate issue subpoenas for a limited set of documents that we believe will shed additional light on the administration’s decision-making.” Finally, Democrats want 24 hours for both the president’s lawyers and the House impeachment managers to each give “opening presentations and rebuttals” to the Senate, along with 16 hours of questioning by senators, divided equally between the parties. Witnesses would be questioned for four hours per side; in Clinton’s trial, however, witnesses gave closed-door depositions.
Schumer said he hoped he and McConnell could help the Senate “rise to this critically important occasion.”
“Conducting the trial according to this plan,” Schumer says, “will also allow the public to have confidence in the process and will demonstrate that the Senate can put aside partisan concerns and fulfill its constitutional duty.”