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McConnell says GOP has the votes to approve rules for impeachment trial

McConnell speaks on impeachment rules

Washington — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he has the support of enough Republicans to move ahead with President Trump's impeachment trial without negotiating an agreement with Democrats over the production of new documents and witnesses.

After a luncheon for Republican senators on Tuesday, McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill that the GOP conference has the votes to approve an organizing resolution that mirrors the procedures in the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial. 

"We have the votes, once the impeachment trial has begun, to pass a resolution," McConnell said, adding that it would be "essentially the same, very similar, to the 100 to nothing vote in the Clinton trial, which sets up, as you may recall, what could best be described maybe as a 'phase one.'"

The resolution would establish the timeframe for opening arguments from House prosecutors and the president's defense team, which would be followed by a period of written questions submitted by senators for either said. McConnell said the Senate would then vote on motions to call witnesses or compel the production of documents.

McConnell needs a simple majority — 51 of the 53 Republican senators — to approve the resolution designating the rules for the trial. A majority would also be required to approve any motions on witnesses and evidence, meaning Democrats would need several Republicans to join them in calling for witnesses.

The timing of the trial remains uncertain. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has yet to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, a requirement for the Senate to begin the trial. She has not indicated when the House intends to vote on a resolution designating the impeachment managers who deliver the articles to the Senate and prosecute the case against the president. 

Democrats have called for an organizing resolution which includes the admission of new evidence and subpoenas for testimony from at least four administration officials. John Bolton, Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, said Monday that he is willing to testify under subpoena, although it's unclear if enough Republicans are willing to vote to call him as a witness. Some Republican senators, including Mitt Romney and John Cornyn, have expressed an interest in hearing from Bolton, who has firsthand knowledge of the administration's dealings with Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused McConnell of orchestrating a cover-up to protect the president, reiterating Democrats' demand that the majority leader agree to call witnesses before opening the trial.

"We say, witnesses and documents, fair trial. no witnesses and no documents, cover-up," Schumer said. "The eyes of America, the eyes of the founding fathers looking down upon us, are on our Republican colleagues."

Regardless, Schumer said he hoped to convince Republicans to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses.

"I think there's a pretty decent chance that we'll get enough Republicans to vote for witnesses and documents in this trial," he said.

McConnell has insisted that he simply wants to follow the precedent set by the Clinton impeachment trial, in which the Senate eventually voted to compel closed-door depositions from three witnesses. McConnell has indicated he would not support calling witnesses in the Trump impeachment trial, but said it will be up to the Senate as a whole to decide.

"The first organizing resolution for the 1999 Clinton trial was approved unanimously, 100 to nothing. It left mid-trial questions to the middle of the trial where they belong," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. "If that unanimous bipartisan precedent was good enough for President Clinton it should be our template for President Trump. Fair is fair."

John Nolen and Alan He contributed reporting.

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