In a late Thursday interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, McConnell (R-Ky.) all but guaranteed a Trump acquittal, saying there was “zero chance” the president would be removed from office, and promised “total coordination” with the White House and Trump’s defense team.
“The case is so darn weak coming over from the House,” he said. “We all know how it’s going to end.”
Those remarks infuriated House Democrats as they voted to advance the fourth-ever set of presidential impeachment articles toward a Senate trial where, they said, the fix appeared to be in.
“I think it was pretty bad for who is essentially the foreman of the jury to announce the verdict,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), a Judiciary Committee member and potential impeachment manager. “The idea that he is working like that is pretty shameful.”
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) went further, calling on McConnell to recuse himself from the Senate proceedings based on his Fox News remarks.
“He’s working hand in hand with the White House, the president’s attorney, and yet we are supposed to expect him to manage a fair and impartial impeachment inquiry?” she said. “They’ve screamed ‘bias,’ ‘kangaroo court,’ ‘witch hunt’ and everything else. . . . When the Senate majority leader stands at the microphone and says I’m basically going to coordinate with the president’s attorney, that scares me.”
McConnell’s office declined to comment on Friday.
Republicans said an abbreviated trial with an all-but-predetermined outcome — as many members of the Senate GOP would prefer — would be a fair bit of turnabout for Democrats, even as many of them are pushing McConnell to stage a lengthy trial featuring many of the witnesses Republicans wanted to hear from in the House.
“I think that’s really rich coming from [the Democrats], who for three years have baked this thing in, where they ran a procedure with a predetermined outcome,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a Judiciary Committee member and chairman of the House Freedom Caucus. “So I think that’s interesting that they would make that criticism — it’s hypocritical.”
The Constitution says the Senate has the sole power to try the impeachment charges, with all 100 senators serving as jurors. A vote of two-thirds of those senators present is required for a conviction.
Coordination between a president under impeachment and congressional leaders of his own party is not unprecedented. During his 1999 impeachment trial, for instance, President Bill Clinton was in contact with Democratic senators, according to “The Breach,” a book about the impeachment. Clinton’s White House staff, meanwhile, was in touch with Democratic Senate staff at the time, as well.
But the top Senate Democrat then, Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), was much more meticulous than McConnell has been about maintaining the semblance of a fair trial process in his public statements. Daschle worked with the Senate majority leader at the time, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), to write compromise rules that were approved by all 100 senators.
To Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), perhaps Trump’s most aggressive and prominent defender in the House, McConnell was simply stating the obvious — “something the American people know, something you all know in the press, something the members know.”
“He’s just telling you the truth,” he said. “He’s not predicting an outcome.”
Still, dozens of Republican senators have refrained from commenting on the substance of the House impeachment proceedings, telling reporters and constituents that they will be jurors in the upcoming trial and thus need to remain neutral. That has also been a convenient dodge for swing-state GOP senators up for reelection, such as Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado, who have been bombarded with questions about Trump’s conduct.
McConnell’s remarks Thursday may have deflated that tactic by suggesting that individual senators’ deliberations won’t much matter.
“My hope is that there won’t be a single Republican who votes for either of these articles of impeachment,” he said. “And, Sean, it wouldn’t surprise me if we got one or two Democrats.”
Democratic senators cried foul on Twitter, with Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.) tweeting, “The Majority Leader proudly announcing he is planning to rig the impeachment trial for Trump.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) challenged his Republican colleagues to ensure “the impeachment trial not become a farce. That depends on whether 4 Republicans will stand up against a ridiculously quick process. Right now, you have head juror McConnell proudly promising that it will be over before it starts.”
In a brief statement, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “every single senator will take an oath to render ‘impartial justice.’ Making sure the Senate conducts a fair and honest trial that allows all the facts to come out is paramount.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) responded late Friday, saying, “We will do our duty under the Constitution in a dignified and serious manner, and won’t allow the continuation of the Schiff/Pelosi/Nadler circus in the House,” a reference to Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
McConnell has not suggested skipping the trial entirely but has discussed potentially stripping it to its barest bones in order to proceed quickly to an inevitable acquittal.
Even that, said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a former law professor, amounted to a “defeat of the constitutional design” by essentially waiving the Senate’s obligation to conduct a trial. The only remedy, he added, was for voters to speak up.
“We need to have the public engaged in this process,” he said. “I really believe that every senator must take his or her role seriously as a constitutional juror in the impeachment process. That was the design of the framers. They are supposed to take all of the evidence into account and then render an objective and dispassionate view.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) echoed the point: “I call on every person in this country to demand that their U.S. senator demands an actual trial with the facts on the table. They can call the witnesses they want, but have a real trial and do not coordinate with the White House, because that’s a ridiculous idea.”
“Clearly, they don’t want to hear the facts,” she added. “And that means that they are taking away all checks and balances from our democracy.”
Republicans said Democrats were simply getting as good as they’d given.
“They didn’t act as a fair arbiter of facts, and they convicted long before they started investigating this,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), while also expressing some discomfort with the notion of an abbreviated trial — which, he argued, could further lower the bar for future impeachments.
“The Senate should take this up, should examine the facts — not just the facts that are presented by the House, but all the facts — and make a decision,” he said. “This is not something to be rushed, in my view, in the Senate.”
As for McConnell, he said, “The leader has one vote, ultimately, so he’s expressed his view on what will happen.”