McConnell weighs impeachment backup plan if talks with Schumer fall apart

By Burgess Everett

Mitch McConnell has a potential back-up plan if he can’t strike a bipartisan deal with Chuck Schumer to establish rules for an impeachment trial: See if he can do it without Democrats.

The Senate majority leader said the first action he will take if the House impeaches President Donald Trump is to meet with Schumer, minority leader, to see if they can replicate the success of Senate leaders 20 years ago during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. But if that doesn’t work out, his next step is probably to go to his 53 members and see if they can pass a partisan package governing the rules of the trial.

“The first thing Sen. Schumer and I will do is see if there’s a possibility of agreement on a procedure,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday. “That failing, I would probably come back to my own members and say, ‘OK, can 51 of us agree how we’re going to handle this?’”

McConnell would not say whether it was his preference to cut a deal with Schumer, saying “it would depend on what we would agree to.” But Schumer made clear he’s eager to reach a bipartisan agreement on the trial framework, even though the two have yet to discuss the matter privately.

“The best way to do something that’s important and almost as hallowed a procedure as this, is in a bipartisan way, so I hope that Leader McConnell will make every effort to come up with a bipartisan solution working with me. I’m certainly willing to work with him,” Schumer said.

The rules on an impeachment trial are fairly loose if no structure is provided by a Senate resolution, which would need at least 51 votes to pass. In 1999, Senate leaders passed a resolution establishing the rules of debate 100-0, though that harmony dissolved into acrimony when the Republican majority steamrolled Democrats when it came to calling witnesses. With some Republicans wanting to call Hunter Biden as a witness, that could easily play out this time as well.

If bipartisan and partisan negotiations on an impeachment resolution fail, McConnell said Chief Justice John Roberts would submit motions to the Senate for up-or-down votes at a 51-vote threshold but would likely play a "passive" role. McConnell likened that scenario to a “jump ball,” which could lead to a chaotic process with multiple divisive votes.

McConnell said he was merely laying out different scenarios. And no matter how reporters asked about what will happen in the potential impeachment trial, the GOP leader made clear he can’t predict the future of an uncertain process.

“That was a myriad of options, which doesn’t give you an answer,” McConnell said. “Because there is no answer at this point.”