WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats are growing impatient for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, as the impasse continues over sending the articles of impeachment from the Democratic House to the Republican-led Senate.
“We’re ready, willing and able,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a former state attorney general. “I’m ready to go to court and try this case.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has delayed sending the two articles, which accuse Trump of abuse of power and obstruction Congress, until she learns more about how the Senate trial will be conducted.
A big sticking point between the two sides is whether witnesses will be allowed to testify during the Senate trial. Democrats have argued the trial should include witnesses who didn’t testify during the House inquiry. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Tuesday he has the votes to begin the trial without making a decision on witnesses. But McConnell said he won’t hold the vote until the Senate receives the articles.
McConnell said the trial rules would be modeled on those for former President Bill Clinton’s trial in 1999. House managers, who serve as prosecutors, and White House lawyers, who serve as defense lawyers, would give opening statements. Then senators would submit questions to each side through Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside. After those steps, senators could vote on witnesses.
Pelosi declined to comment Wednesday when reporters asked about sending the articles to the Senate. But she told fellow House Democrats in a letter Tuesday that McConnell should publish the rules the Senate will follow in the trial. She has argued she needs to know the rules in order to decide who and how many managers she should appoint to prosecute the case.
“It is important that he immediately publish this resolution, so that, as I have said before, we can see the arena in which we will be participating, appoint managers and transmit the articles to the Senate,” Pelosi said.
But McConnell said Pelosi is waiting in order to gain an advantage in the trial.
“Supposedly the explanation for this shameless game-playing is that Speaker Pelosi wanted leverage – leverage to reach into the Senate and dictate our trial proceedings to us,” McConnell said Wednesday. “Now I’ve made clear from the beginning that no such leverage exists. It is nonexistent. And yesterday we made clear it will never exist.”
Blumenthal said now that Pelosi knows the plan, she should transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate – even if she doesn’t have the text of the rules.
“She knows what the plan is and she will have to make a judgement,” Blumenthal said.
He joined a growing list of Senate Democrats, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who have made similar comments that it’s time for the Senate to receive the articles.
“I think if we’re going to do it, we should do it,” said Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who added that she didn’t understand what could be gained by a delay.
Murphy said the “best leverage” to gaining witnesses and documents in the trial was a “vote on the floor of the Senate.”
“Pelosi’s going to make her own decision, but I think that at this point, our best leverage to get witnesses and document production is inside the confines of the trial,” Murphy said.
McConnell’s announcement defused demands from Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York that senators should vote before the trial starts on whether to hear testimony from witnesses. One of the potential witnesses, former national security adviser John Bolton, said Monday he would testify if subpoenaed.
The House accused Trump of abusing the power of his office by asking Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, withholding a White House meeting and $391 million in military aid. The House also accused Trump of obstructing Congress by directing aides and agencies to defy subpoenas for documents and testimony, although some officials did testify. The House approved the two articles of impeachment on Dec. 18.
Trump and congressional Republicans have argued he had the authority to set foreign policy and was justified in fighting corruption in Ukraine. Trump has said he expects to be exonerated in the Senate trial.