Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he supports the decision of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to delay sending two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the upper chamber until parameters of the trial are reached.
“We’re on the same page. We’ll both work as hard as we can to get a fair trial,” Schumer told Salon at a roundtable discussion with reporters Thursday afternoon.
The senator from New York added, “If I want to be known as something, I want to be known on impeachment as the person who sought the truth.”
Trump on Wednesday night became only the third president in history to face removal from office by the Senate for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The two articles of impeachment approved by the House of Representatives accuse the president of abusing his power by leveraging congressionally-approved military aid for his personal and political gain and of obstructing the congressional inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine.
Pelosi has suggested that she will not submit the articles of impeachment to the Senate until Schumer and his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, broker a deal on the rules of the trial. Because the Constitution does not detail how to hold a trial, a majority of senators need to set rules for the proceedings.
Holding back the articles has emerged as a divisive issue among congressional Democrats in recent days, as McConnell has made clear that he hopes the upper chamber will act swiftly to acquit the president amid his public vow that will not act as an “impartial juror” during the Senate trial. The GOP leader also rejected a proposal earlier this week from Schumer to hear testimony from four administration witnesses who have not previously testified in the inquiry, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. McConnell has said the trial should not include any witnesses.
“These four witnesses have the the greatest contact with two key questions [related to the impeachment inquiry], which is: Why was the aid withheld? And what did Trump demand in return? They should know better than anybody else,” Schumer said at the roundtable. “We don’t know what these witnesses will say — some of it may be exculpatory — but we’re willing to hear them to get to the truth.”
The Democratic leader, who has also called for the Senate to subpoena documents blocked by the Trump administration, went on to assert his belief that Senate Republicans are “afraid of additional witnesses,” because they know the case against Trump is “strong.”
“I think people understand the very simple fact that to have a trial without witnesses and documents is a sham trial,” Schumer said. “That’s a very simple fact.”
Democrats who favor delaying sending the articles to the Senate believe the move could put pressure on McConnell to compromise on a rules package for a trial. Those opposed have expressed concern that withholding the articles could be interpreted as a game of political chess, which could ultimately backfire.
There is no constitutional requirement mandating that the articles of impeachment be sent to the Senate within a certain timeframe — or even at all — but a Senate trial can only kick off once the articles are delivered.
McConnell said he was “not anxious” to have a trial Thursday morning as he criticized Democrats’ decision to withhold the articles.
“It’s beyond me. How the speaker and the Democratic leader in the Senate think withholding the articles of impeachment and not sending them over gives them leverage is beyond me,” McConnell told reporters. “If she thinks her case is so weak she doesn’t want to send it over, throw me into that briar patch.”
Trump also condemned the possibility that Democrats could delay submitting the articles to the upper chamber, tweeting Thursday: “Now the Do Nothing Party want to Do Nothing with the Articles & not deliver them to the Senate, but it’s the Senate’s call!”
“The Senate shall set the time and place of the trial,” he added. “If the Do Nothing Democrats decide, in their great wisdom, not to show up, they would lose by Default!”
Schumer and McConnell have appeared to be at an impasse on how to proceed with the trial. Though both Senate leaders have indicated they want to follow the model of the five-week impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton in 1999, they have so far been unable to compromise on rules and witnesses.
Despite their disagreements, Schumer told reporters Thursday that he “will meet with Leader McConnell to discuss the rules.” He added, “I’m willing to hear what he has to say, but I think witnesses and documents are essential.”
Schumer has asked for a resolution to be passed at the start of the trial, which would determine both the rules for proceedings and any specific witnesses that would be called to testify. During the Clinton trial, senators passed two resolutions: one on the process, which passed unanimously, and a second calling witnesses, which broke down along party lines.
The Democratic leader said Thursday that he plans to force a vote on the Senate floor during the trial calling for witnesses to testify. A motion to call witnesses would only require a simple majority, meaning Democrats would need to win over four GOP senators in order to reach 51 votes. Schumer declined to say whether he would prefer not to have a trial over having one with rules set by McConnell.
“I think it’s premature to map out what’ll happen two, three, four weeks from now,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can as best as we can to guarantee there’s a fair trial.”
Senate Republicans ultimately have the power to set trial rules without Democratic votes, but that will require unity from at least 51 members of the 53-member GOP caucus.
The Senate would require a two-third majority, or 67 votes, to convict the president and remove him from office. Thus, at least 20 Republicans would need to break from Trump in order to convict him in a Senate trial, assuming every Democrat votes to remove him from office.