Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday he remains “hopeful” that enough Republican senators will join Democratic calls for witnesses and documents in the forthcoming Senate impeachment trial.
“I hope, pray and believe there’s a decent chance that four Republicans will join us — if they do, we will have a fair trial,” Schumer said on ABC’s "This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” noting the minimum number of Republicans that Democrats will need to follow through on their request. “I am hopeful that our Republican colleagues will come forward.”
Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remain at an impasse over the terms of the trial. Democrats want to decide on witnesses at the outset — and have called for acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former Trump national security adviser John Bolton to testify. But Republicans have favored deciding on whether to call witnesses later on in the trial, after hearing from the House impeachment managers and the president’s defense.
McConnell has noted that the Senate did not decide at the outset on witnesses during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999. But Schumer once again rejected that comparison Sunday, saying the witnesses in the Clinton trial “had been heard from before.”
While Democrats are counting on moderate Republicans to back their demands, so far none has done so explicitly. Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have, however, voiced concern over McConnell’s vow of “total coordination” with the White House on impeachment. Collins said in a recent interview with Maine Public Radio that she is “open to witnesses” but that it is “premature” to decide on who to bring in.
The House impeached President Donald Trump in December, accusing him of abusing his power and obstructing Congress after he pressured the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rivals. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will not send the articles of impeachment to the Senate until she knows the terms of the trial. Schumer reiterated his support for the speaker's move Sunday, adding that if Pelosi “had sent them right away, McConnell could have well just voted for dismissal the day before or after Christmas.”
McConnell has suggested he would not cut short the impeachment trial and has warned his colleagues against making any motions during the trial that could divide the caucus.
The trial's delay has been met with impatience from Trump's allies. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on "Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo" that he wants the trial over by the end of January and described Pelosi's move as a "political stunt." Graham added that if Pelosi continues to delay, he'll work with McConnell "to change the rules of the Senate so that we can start the trial without her if necessary."
"My No. 1 goal is not let the speaker of the House become the majority leader of the Senate," Graham said. "If we don't get the articles this week, then we need to take matters into our own hands."
Senior GOP aides have thrown cold water on the idea that the Senate could start the trial without the articles of impeachment in hand. It would take 67 votes to change the impeachment rules.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union that the House does not plan to hold the articles of impeachment indefinitely, but that refraining from sending them over to the Senate has “flushed out where Mitch McConnell is coming from” and has “required senators to go on record.”
On Sunday, Schumer also said that new evidence has emerged that “bolsters our case for witnesses and documents,” citing recent reporting from The New York Times that offered new details of Mulvaney’s role in executing Trump’s request to freeze aid to Ukraine. In addition to Mulvaney and Bolton, Democrats have called for testimony from Michael Duffey, an official at the White House Office of Management and Budget, and Robert Blair, assistant to the president and senior adviser to Mulvaney.
“If the president is acquitted through a sham trial, through a mock trial where there are no witnesses, where everything is covered up, that will not stand him well with the American people,” Schumer warned.
The delay in the Senate impeachment trial comes as the United States faces escalating tensions with Iran after Trump ordered a military strike that killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday“ that he is confident the Senate could handle both impeachment and Iran.
"We have a constitutional duty when it comes to the issues of war ... and we have a constitutional duty to try the president in an impeachment trial when the House of Representatives sends us the articles of impeachment," Van Hollen said. "I think our system is strong enough that we can do both."