Senate Republicans Have Already Made Up Their Mind On Impeachment
The House of Representatives has not even acted on impeachment, but Senate Republicans have already made up their mind.
Even before the House of Representatives has opened an impeachment inquiry, the Senate Republican Caucus is making clear that it would quickly dispose of any trial in the Senate based on Articles of Impeachment that have yet to be drafted:
GOP senators say that if the House passes articles of impeachment against President Trump they will quickly quash them in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has broad authority to set the parameters of a trial.
While McConnell is required to act on articles of impeachment, which require 67 votes — or a two-thirds majority — to convict the president, he and his Republican colleagues have the power to set the rules and ensure the briefest of trials.
“I think it would be disposed of very quickly,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
“If it’s based on the Mueller report, or anything like that, it would be quickly disposed of,” he added.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell’s leadership team, said “nothing” would come of impeachment articles passed by the House.
Given the Senate GOP firewall, Cornyn, who’s also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he doubts that Democrats will commence the impeachment process.
“It would be defeated. That’s why all they want to do is talk about it,” he said. “They know what the outcome would be.”
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the chamber, and Vice President Pence would cast the tie-breaking vote if necessary.
Senate Republicans say that an impeachment trial would be given the bare minimum amount of floor time.
“Why on earth would we give a platform to something that I judge as a purely political exercise?” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), another member of the Judiciary Committee. “We have to perform our constitutional duty, but if people think that we’re going to try and create a theater that could give you the perception that this is a matter that rises to the level of Watergate, that’s nonsense.”
Tillis said he would support McConnell bringing the impeachment process to a quick close, and that any kind of extended trial would be “rewarding what I view as bad behavior on the part of the House.”
Tillis, who is up for reelection next year, said many independents and moderates in his state are tired of impeachment talk.
McConnell would have broad authority to determine how a Senate trial would play out. He could stifle the arguments of Democratic prosecutors from the House as long as he’s backed up by his fellow GOP senators.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts would preside over a Senate trial, but he would be constrained by the rules and traditions of the Senate, where the majority leader sets the schedule and has the right of first recognition.
Under the Senate manual’s rules for impeachment trials, the presiding officer — likely Roberts — would rule on all questions of evidence, but any senator could ask for a formal vote to appeal a decision. Under the Senate rules, it takes a majority to sustain or overrule a ruling from the presiding officer.
Democrats would need to persuade at least four Republicans to break with McConnell in order to bring in any witnesses or exhibits he decides to block.
That would mean winning over moderates like Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) or vulnerable senators in swing states, namely Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Martha McSally (Ariz.).
Murkowski told The Hill on Thursday that she hasn’t given much thought as to how a Senate trial might play out.
Democrats, however, are skeptical they would get much, if any, Republican support to overrule McConnell.
“There are 47 Democrats. On a good day, even when the president is at his most outrageous level, only three Republican senators will publicly say so,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).
As things stand, there are no rules regarding how the impeachment of a President or other Executive Branch official is supposed to proceed. The closest we have to that are the rules that the Senate followed by in 1868 during the Impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. When it came time for the Senate to preside over the Impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, the decision was made to abide by those rules, with some changes made to reflect the changed nature of the Senate in the ensuing 130 years. In Johnson’s case, the Senate trial took place over an extended period from March to May 1868, while the Clinton trial lasted from January 9 to February 12, 1999. It’s worth noting, though, that the trials in both cases did not take place every day. There is, however, no requirement that the Senate follow those rules in the event President Trump is impeached. The Senate could do that, or it could decide to toss the rule book aside and come up with new rules that would allow for the kind of streamlined process that some Republican Senators seem to be talking about here
In this respect, it is worth noting that the last Impeachment trial in the Senate, of Federal Judge Walter Nixon (no relation to the former President) was not even conducted by the full Senate. Instead, the Senate created a committee to which it assigned the task of gathering the evidence and hearing from witnesses after which it was to report back to the Senate. After he was convicted and removed from office, former Judge Nixon challenged the Senate’s procedure, but the Supreme Court eventually ruled that the Senate is the sole arbiter of its rules and that the Courts should not second guess the procedures it decided to use in that case. (See Nixon v United States 506 U.S. 224 (1993). It’s unclear if the Senate could use a similar procedure in the case of a Presidential Impeachment, but the important part of the Supreme Court ruling is the fact that it established that the Court is the sole arbiter of the rules in an impeachment trial, meaning that there is no ground for appeal if the Senate chose to adopt rules that essentially tied the hands of the House Managers charged with prosecuting the case in the event President Trump is impeached.
It is, of course, outrageous that Senate Republicans have already made up their minds on the issue of Impeachment before they have even heard any evidence and before the House has even acted. In effect, they are the jury in what amounts to the Constitution’s’version of a trial. If this were a court of law all of them would be disqualified from serving on a jury because they have already prejudged the case they would be required to hear. This is not a court of law, of course, and there is essentially nothing about the Impeachment and trial process that can deal with a Senate that has already made up its mind.
Given the extent to which the Republican Party has become nothing but a group of Trump true believers, sycophants, sellouts, and towards the fact that a majority of the Senate GOP Caucus has so obviously made up its mind is hardly surprising. As I have said before, it’s clear that there would not be 20 Republicans who would join with Democrats to convict and remove the President from office. That fact, however, doesn’t make what we’re hearing here any less outrageous, though. The Constitution gives the Senate the duty to preside over the trial of an impeached President, but these Senators have already made clear that they would put party, and loyalty to the President, ahead of the country. They have made clear that they would essentially ignore whatever evidence might be presented to them regarding the President’s wrongdoing. It’s not surprising, but it is outrageous and it is yet another reason why this party cannot be taken seriously an cannot be trusted with power.