GOP senators appear ready to back McConnell on impeachment trial rules

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Washington — Republican senators appear to be united behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead of President Trump’s impeachment trial, with GOP members indicating a willingness to begin the proceedings without an agreement with Democrats over the production of new documents and witnesses.

Senator John Thune, the Republican whip, told reporters on Capitol Hill that the GOP conference appears to have the votes for an organizing resolution that mirrors the procedures in the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial. The resolution would put the question of whether to call witnesses or issue subpoenas to a vote by the full Senate after opening arguments.

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“We are taking the temperature of our members to see where they are, but I’m hoping our members will be prepared to move forward along the lines of the Clinton rules, which is what we think makes sense,” Thune said. 

Departing a Senate GOP luncheon on Tuesday, Senator Lindsey Graham said McConnell told Republicans he has the votes to move forward. McConnell needs a simple majority — 51 of the 53 Republican senators — to approve the resolution designating the rules for the trial.

But 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.

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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