WASHINGTON – Democratic lawmakers slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s intention to be in “total coordination” with the White House on impeachment strategy as Congress prepares for a historic vote to impeach President Donald Trump next week.
In a Thursday evening interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, described his planning with the White House.
“We’ll be working through this process, hopefully in a fairly short period of time in total coordination with the White House counsel’s office and the people who are representing the president as well as the Senate,” McConnell said.
That didn’t go over well with Democrats, who expressed concern over the relationship.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the top Senate Democrat, pointed to provisions in the Constitution governing impeachment: that senators are to act as impartial jurors during a Senate trial on whether to remove Trump from office.
“If articles of impeachment are sent to the Senate, every single senator will take an oath to render ‘impartial justice,’” Schumer said. “Making sure the Senate conducts a fair and honest trial that allows all the facts to come out is paramount.”
The House Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment against Trump in a Friday morning vote, setting the stage for a full House vote to impeach the president next week. If Trump is impeached, the Senate is required to hold a trial on whether to convict and remove him from office. That trial is likely in early 2020. Democrats enjoy enough of a majority in the House to impeach Trump even if several members vote no. But convicting and removing him from office – which requires a two-thirds Senate vote – appears to be a tougher task in a Senate that is more than half Republicans.
House Judiciary Committee Democrats denounced McConnell’s remarks and some even called for him to recuse himself from the Senate trial.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., said in a statement after the committee passed the articles of impeachment, “Senator McConnell has promised to sabotage that trial and he must recuse himself.”
Demings said McConnell had already violated the “oath of impartiality required by the Constitution.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., told reporters McConnell’s words show the Senate trial will be a “sham,” a word frequently used by the president and Republicans to describe the impeachment proceedings in the House.
“To have the foreman of the jury, the person who sets all of the rules in the Senate for this trial, to come out and say he’s closely coordinating with the chief defendant, the White House, and that he has already decided that it’s not going to happen. I think that is an outrage, and the American people will think it’s an outrage as well,” she said. “That is a sham. It is disrespectful to the Constitution, and I think everyone should demand a fair trial, from their senator and from Mitch McConnell.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told reporters McConnell’s statement “is a defeat of the constitutional design,” noting McConnell is supposed to hold a fair trial.
“So, if Sen. McConnell is saying there’s no chance that there’s a conviction and he’s coordinating with the White House, he essentially has surrendered the constitutional mandate that the Senate conducted a trial,” he said.
The uproar over McConnell’s comments and the partisanship of the trial could increase pressure on some Republican senators when their Democratic colleagues call on them to agree to demands for a “fair, legitimate process.”
A motion during an impeachment trial only requires a simple majority – 51 votes. The Senate is currently split 53-47 in favor of Republicans, meaning four Republicans would have to break with their party for Democrats to earn a majority vote.
“It is incumbent on every Senator to ensure that the impeachment trial not become a farce. That depends on whether 4 Republicans will stand up against a ridiculously quick process,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del,. quoted Schatz’s tweet and added, “The absolute least the Senate can and must do is set up a fair, legitimate process if an impeachment trial begins.”
Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power to pressure the Ukrainian government into opening politically motivated investigations by withholding nearly $400 million in security assistance and a White House meeting, and obstructing Congress’ investigation into the Ukraine controversy.
Contributing: Christal Hayes and Savannah Behrmann
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