McConnell lacks the votes for Trump's preferred impeachment plan

The White House expected to work hand-in-glove with McConnell to rig the impeachment trial in the president's favor. Those efforts are off to a rough start.
Image: President Trump attends Republican policy luncheon at the US Capitol
SHAWN THEW / EPA
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By Steve Benen

As Donald Trump's impeachment process moves toward the trial phase, there are a couple of provocative plans the president and his team have endorsed for the Senate proceedings. The first is something called a "motion to dismiss."

The idea, championed by freshman Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), among others, would involve the Senate receiving the articles of impeachment from the House, only to swiftly reject the charges as meritless. In effect, senators would participate in a cover-up by refusing to even consider the allegations or the evidence.

The president has made clear that he supports such a dismissal, but as multiple news organizations reported late yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doesn't appear to have the votes to pull it off. As the New York Times explained:

Senate Republicans indicated on Monday that they would not seek to summarily dismiss the impeachment charges against President Trump, proceeding instead to a trial with arguments and the possibility of calling witnesses that could begin as soon as Wednesday. [...]

In interviews, rank-and-file senators and party leaders made clear on Monday that even if they wanted to pursue dismissal, the votes simply were not there to succeed -- at least not at the outset of the trial.

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Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership, told the Washington Post, "I don't think there's any interest on our side of dismissing. Certainly, there aren't 51 votes for a motion to dismiss."

All of which suggests that there will, in fact, be a Senate impeachment trial. Once it gets underway, the president has also made clear that he doesn't want the chamber to hear from witnesses (though he used to believe the opposite). Is there a chance he'll get his wish on this front?

The odds are against it. CBS News reported late yesterday:

The White House is preparing for some Republican senators to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses in President Trump's impeachment trial, which could get underway in the coming days.

Senior White House officials tell CBS News they increasingly believe that at least four Republicans, and likely more, will vote to call witnesses. In addition to Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and possibly Cory Gardner of Colorado, the White House also views Rand Paul of Kentucky as a "wild card" and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as an "institutionalist" who might vote to call witnesses, as one official put it.

If this reporting is accurate, it signals a direction that should make the White House nervous. Literally every Senate impeachment trial in history -- including trials for impeached judges -- has included witnesses, though Trump and some of his allies wanted his trial to be the exception.

But McConnell doesn't appear to have the votes to make that happen, either, which opens the door to likely testimony from, among others, former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton.

And why is all of this important? In large part because, as Rachel noted on the show last night, it serves as a reminder that while we think we know how the president's impeachment proceedings will conclude -- it would take 67 votes to remove him from office in a chamber in which the Democratic caucus has 47 members -- the process may yet bring some surprises.

Indeed, if Trump and his team were certain that there's no cause for alarm, the facts were on their side, GOP senators would protect him, and there's no reason to fear what Trump-appointed witnesses might share with senators, they wouldn't be making such an effort to skip the trial and keep information from its jurors.

The White House expected to work hand-in-glove with Mitch McConnell to rig the impeachment trial in the president's favor. Those efforts are off to a rough start.

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