Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that if the House impeaches President Trump he will “have no choice” but to hold a trial in the Senate and a vote on removing the president from office.
His comments in an interview with CNBC confirm the position he took in an interview with NPR in March, and the conclusion of a Senate staff memo that was obtained by HuffPost.
“Under the Senate rules we’re required to take it up if the House does go down that path, and we’ll follow the Senate rules,” McConnell said Monday. “It’s a Senate rule related to impeachment that would take 67 votes to change, so I would have no choice but to take it up. How long you’re on it is a whole different matter, but I would have no choice but to take it up based on a Senate rule on impeachment.”
Even before the House began work on impeachment, speculation surfaced that McConnell could simply stall the process when and if it reached the Senate, possibly using the same rationale that he used to bury President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016: that with a new election looming, the voters should have a “voice” in the process. The Senate majority leader, who exercises virtually unchallenged power to determine what comes to the floor for a vote, has also been unilaterally holding up consideration of hundreds of bills passed by the House this year, including a widely supported measure on background checks for gun purchasers.
The Constitution gives the Senate the power to try the president if he is impeached by the House, but it does not set a timetable for the process.
But McConnell said he was prepared to see a trial — which would require 67 votes for conviction and removal from office — play out, and the Senate staff memo backs that position. “There is no way we could somehow bar the doors and prevent the managers from presenting the articles to the Senate,” stated the memo. “The rules of impeachment are clear on this point.”
McConnell said the same thing in the NPR interview: In case of impeachment, “the Senate has no choice. If the House were to act, the Senate immediately goes into a trial.”
McConnell’s political interests appear to be complicated. If the president survives a Senate trial, he could claim vindication in his reelection campaign. But the removal vote is seen as dangerous for some Republican senators up for reelection in 2020 in states where Trump is less popular, including Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Martha McSally of Arizona.
“Voters are going to see this as a stinking fish. I don’t think voters are going to want their member of Congress or Senate to be up here defending the president’s actions,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told Politico. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Republicans come back from this [October] recess.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the formal impeachment inquiry into Trump last Tuesday after the White House released a memo of Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Following the decision was the release of an anonymous whistleblower complaint against the president over his repeated attempts to enlist Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, and allegedly withholding almost $400 million in military aid from Ukraine as leverage. Depositions and hearings on the matter are already scheduled for this week.
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