The Senate takes up impeachment today, in a formal approach that will at long last spark the trial we’ve expected, and lead to the all but certain vote to acquit the president, which will in all likelihood be bipartisan. It seems in the interest of Mitch McConnell to wrap this up quickly, in roughly two weeks, and that’s something that will likely be achieved without calling additional witnesses – or in the case of such a move, taking that witness testimony behind closed doors.
It would be good at this moment for Senate Republicans to pause and consider any lessons they can learn from the activities of the House, particularly their fellow House Republicans, when it came to their approach to the impeachment process. The House Republican leadership was, without question, enormously successful in how they handled this matter. Even after weeks of pressure from the media, they managed to attain a bipartisan vote against the motions and did not lose one single Republican, even those who are headed for the exits. McConnell will have to work very hard to match this level of achievement, as Senators can be rather more of a challenge to wrangle than House members.
One situation that could prove useful in this regard is the experience of Will Hurd, the retiring Texas representative who sits on the House intel committee. Understanding that it could have been a tough vote for Hurd to stick with his fellow Republicans, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy could have attempted to move him off the Committee. Instead, he made a wise choice that it would be better to have the CIA veteran closer to the action. If Hurd was going to split from the party, they shouldn’t hasten that possibility by seeming to push him away. And ultimately, having seen all the evidence, Hurd made the most definitive statement of the whole process when he signaled that his understanding of what happened did not rise to an impeachable offense.
As much as the media has obsessed about impeachment, the fact is that the Senate has been focused elsewhere the past several months – advancing spending legislation, judicial nominations, and dealing with USMCA. The Senators themselves are not necessarily fully briefed on the different aspects of impeachment, and should guard against the possibility of being surprised by some piece of evidence they managed to miss in Chairman Adam Schiff’s litany of bullet points. Time and again the president’s defenders on the House side had their most successful moments when they came prepared for the argument.
Another aspect worth appreciating was how House Republicans adopted different roles in the course of the consideration. Deploying Jim Jordan on the Intel Committee as an attack dog worked out very well for Republicans. It’s important for leadership to keep order, but also to have Senators prepared to deploy their arguments in an effective manner and to push back against what is now a boringly familiar media narrative. Knowing your role and creating room for less secure Senators is key.
Already, we see Rand Paul doing that quite effectively. It seems obvious from this interview that he’s sending a message designed to keep Republican Senators in line on witness questions. You want to call John Bolton? Fine, that means you’ll have to vote on calling Hunter Biden, too.
Paul says if four or more of his GOP colleagues join with Democrats to entertain new witness testimony, he will make the Senate vote on subpoenaing the president’s preferred witnesses, including Hunter Biden and the whistleblower who revealed the Ukraine scandal — polarizing picks who moderate Republicans aren’t eager to call. So he has a simple message for his party: end the trial before witnesses are called.
“If you vote against Hunter Biden, you’re voting to lose your election, basically. Seriously. That’s what it is,” Paul said during an interview in his office on Wednesday. “If you don’t want to vote and you think you’re going to have to vote against Hunter Biden, you should just vote against witnesses, period.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned Republicans not to divide the party and endanger his slim GOP majority, but Paul’s play could be useful to him. If the pressure campaign stifles the small group of Republicans open to hearing from witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, McConnell will be able to conclude the trial in the swift fashion he’s long sought.
But if a majority of the Senate agrees to hear witnesses, Paul is ready to go all out to make sure everyone in the Senate is on the record about whether they stand with Trump.
“My first preference would be to be done with it as soon as possible and not to have any witnesses,” Paul said. “If they insist on having people like Bolton coming forward, my insistence will be not just one witness. But that the president should be able to call any witnesses that he deems necessary to his defense.”
Paul’s threat is backed up by real power under the process envisioned by McConnell and allowed for under Senate rules.
Of course, Paul’s demand is more than political gamesmanship: it also happens to be totally justified. How on earth do you have an impeachment process in which none of the key parties participate? In the Democrats’ preferred outcome, the whistleblower who spawned this whole thing – who Adam Schiff first insisted would testify, then insisted such a demand would be a vile and terrible act – answers no questions, but John Bolton does? The person key to the alleged Trump demand, Hunter Biden, does not testify – but more unknown bureaucrats (who we must respect as our betters) are paraded out to echo prior talking points? Paul’s demand cuts to the ludicrous nature of this entire process.
That won’t make Jerry Nadler and the rest of the House managers happy. But they are no longer in control of this process.
One final aspect of this that should remain present in the minds of the tiny fraction of Senate Republicans entertaining the idea of a vote to remove: how exactly do you intend to explain this vote to your constituents given the complicated case you have to advance? It is much, much easier to explain a vote against removal than a vote against impeachment: “I didn’t think anything we learned rose to the level where we should remove the duly elected President of the United States” is an easier argument to make than whatever meandering explanation would be necessary from Senators in Trump-friendly states. Such an argument also has the advantage of squelching the idea that impeachment can be deployed in the future as a political tool of destruction advanced along similarly monopartisan lines – something that also happens to be good for the country.