McConnell Impeachment Rules Modify Clinton Precedent

As expected, the draft resolution does not incorporate Democratic demands that the trial guarantee witness testimony or requests for new documents. This was also the case in the Clinton trial, but Mr. McConnell’s proposal still differs slightly.

It says that after senators conclude their questioning, they will not immediately entertain motions to call individual witnesses or documents. Instead, they will decide first whether they want to consider new evidence at all. Only if a majority of senators agree to do so will the managers and prosecutors be allowed to propose and argue for specific witnesses or documents, each of which would then be subject to an additional vote.

If a majority of the Senate ultimately did vote to call a witness for testimony, that witness would first be interviewed behind closed doors and then the “Senate shall decide after deposition which witnesses shall testify, pursuant to the impeachment rules,” if any. Consistent with the Clinton trial rules, this essentially means that even if witnesses are called, they might never testify in public.

Democrats said Mr. McConnell’s intentions were clear.

“Under this resolution, Senator McConnell is saying he doesn’t want to hear any of the existing evidence, and he doesn’t want to hear any new evidence,” Mr. Schumer said. “It’s a cover-up.”

But Mr. McConnell appeared to have the votes he needed to move the resolution without Democrats. Minutes after the resolution was shared with reporters, a key moderate Republican who had been pushing the leader to ensure a vote on whether or not to call witnesses, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said he would be a yes.

And Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, another possible swing vote who favors calling witnesses, said the resolution met his requirements and tracked “closely with the rules package approved 100 to 0 during the Clinton trial.”

Mr. McConnell’s resolution does not include a guarantee that the Senate will vote on a motion to dismiss the case after opening arguments and senatorial questions rather than see the trial to its full conclusion. That guarantee was included in the Clinton-era rules in deference to Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, a towering figure in the chamber at the time.

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