Congress has only been back in Washington for two days, but Republican and Democratic senators and aides alike are losing patience for the impeachment purgatory that has descended over the Capitol.
Senators from both parties are signaling they aren’t willing to wait forever to start a Senate trial, a potentially unwelcome sign for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who have so far been able to keep their respective parties united.
A handful of Senate Democrats have made clear they are ready for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move on from her withholding of the two articles of impeachment of President Donald Trump. And some Senate Republicans are threatening they’d be open to overhauling the Senate rules and starting a trial without them if Pelosi waits much longer, something McConnell has been clear he isn’t open to doing.
After a two-week holiday recess and an announcement by McConnell that he has the votes to launch an impeachment trial without getting bipartisan agreement on whether there should be witnesses, some Senate Democrats are arguing that Pelosi’s gamble to withhold the articles of impeachment has served its purpose. Now, they say, it’s time for Pelosi to select House managers and move on.
“I’m hoping they will come over here soon,” Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama who is up for reelection, told CNN. “I think most people are ready to get moving on this.”
Two sources told CNN that during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday evening, Pelosi continued to emphasize to her members that she wants to see a fair process in the Senate trial. There was no word yet on a timeline for sending the articles to the Senate, according to sources in the room.
Another Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said that former national security adviser John Bolton’s announcement that he would be willing to testify if subpoenaed was proof enough that Pelosi’s move had worked, but that he hoped the impasse would break soon.
“The sooner we can get started, the better we will be,” Manchin said.
Even more liberal members like Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut seem to be acquiescing to the idea that it is time to start the trial.
“It’s her decision, but I would hope she sends them over sooner rather than later,” Murphy said on MSNBC.
McConnell — for his part — has extracted almost perfect unity over the conference. He vowed to repeat an impeachment trial process that mirrored one of former Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1999, pleasing moderates who would have proposed that strategy on their own. And he convinced Trump and conservatives in his ranks to agree to a more limited trial, or at the very least, begin the process without an explicit agreement on which witnesses to call or which documents would be turned over. By delaying those decisions, McConnell puts off what could become a messy fight.
McConnell told his conference Tuesday he had the votes to move ahead with that plan.
Schumer too has convinced even his most vulnerable members that witnesses are imperative to any fair process, and that they should be negotiated ahead of time.
“I think there should be a trial, and if there is a trial, there should be witnesses,” Manchin said.
But while the waiting game continues, and all signs point to a Senate chamber that is gearing up for the inevitable trial, it’s clear that both leaders have their work cut out for them.
McConnell will have to hold together a Republican conference that includes both moderates up for reelection — like Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a deliberate member who prides herself on hearing all the evidence available — and conservatives, like Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — who have the ear of the President and face reelection in a state where Trump is still extraordinarily popular.
A handful of Republicans have made it clear to McConnell that if Pelosi doesn’t send over the articles soon, they would support changing the rules to allow the Senate to open a trial without them. That’s a move McConnell has made clear to both members and the White House he isn’t willing to do.
“Nobody envisioned the speaker of the House withholding articles after she said impeachment was a national imperative. If she doesn’t send them over this week … then you have to change the rules,” Graham said. “If she doesn’t deliver them this week, I want to move on with the trial next week.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.