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McConnell: Senate should stick with Clinton ‘precedent’ for Trump trial

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday said the Senate should follow the “precedent” of then-President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial as lawmakers debate the rules for President Trump‘s proceeding.

McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, warned that House Democrats were trying to get the chamber to “deviate from a unanimous bipartisan precedent set in the 1999 trial of President Clinton and write new rules for President Trump.” 

“House Democrats’ hunger to break on Senate precedents just like they broke their own precedents could not be more telling. But the Senate does not just bob along on the currents of every news cycle,” McConnell said.

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He added that the “House may have been content to scrap their own norms to hurt President Trump, but that is not the Senate.”

McConnell’s comments come as he and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) remain stalemated in their negotiations for the rules of Trump’s trial. The talks could come to a head within days with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expected to transmit the articles as soon as this week.

McConnell has said he wants to pass two resolutions, similar to the Clinton trial. The first, passed at the outset of the trial, would establish the rules. A second resolution, passed after opening arguments and questions from senators, would determine which if any witnesses will be called.

Three witnesses gave closed-door depositions during the Clinton proceeding, though McConnell, who supported witnesses in 1999, has said he does not want witnesses as part of Trump’s trial.

“The Senate has a unanimous bipartisan precedent for when to handle mid-trial questions such as witnesses — in the middle of the trial,” McConnell said on Monday. “That was good enough for President Clinton, so it ought to be good enough for President Trump. Fair is fair.”

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But Democrats want one resolution at the outset of the trial that tackles both the rules and a deal on specific witnesses. They’ve asked for four witnesses including former national security adviser John Bolton, who said earlier Monday that he will testify if the Senate issues a subpoena. 

Without a broader deal between Schumer and McConnell, 51 senators will be able to determine the impeachment trial process, including if witnesses will be called.  

If McConnell could hold together most of his 53-member caucus he could pass the impeachment trial rules that he wants over the objections of Democrats. The impeachment trial is expected to be discussed at the Senate GOP’s closed-door caucus lunch on Tuesday.  

Democrats need four GOP senators to side with them in order to call a witness or compel Ukraine-related documents. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said last week that she is “open” to witnesses but that a decision on who, if anyone, should be called should wait until after initial arguments and senators are given a chance to ask questions.

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