WASHINGTON (AP) — After weeks of delay and strategizing, the US House is planning to vote Wednesday to send the articles of impeachment against US President Donald Trump to the Senate to start the trial on removing him from office.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi met privately Tuesday at the Capitol with House Democrats about next steps, ending her blockade a month after they voted to impeach Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Pelosi said the House will vote to transmit the charges and name the House managers for the case. She warned the Republican-led Senate off any idea of simply dismissing the case against Trump.
“The President and the Senators will be held accountable,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial.”
The action will launch the Senate proceeding, only the third presidential impeachment trial in US history, a dramatic endeavor coming amid the backdrop of a politically divided nation and an election year.
Trump was impeached by the Democratic-led House last month on charges of abuse of power over pushing Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and obstruction of Congress in the following probe.
The trial would then begin in a matter of days.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened the Senate on Tuesday scoffing at what he called the “bizarro world” of Pelosi’s impeachment strategy that delayed transmitting the charges for weeks.
“Do these sound like leaders who really believe we are in a constitutional crisis, one that requires the ultimate remedy?” McConnell asked. He rejected Pelosi’s recent suggestions that whatever the Senate verdict, Trump will be “impeached forever.”
“It will fall to the Senate to end it with seriousness and sobriety,” he said.
McConnell was meeting behind closed doors later Tuesday with GOP senators as they negotiate the terms of the trial.
Senate Republicans are signaling they would reject the idea of simply voting to dismiss the articles of impeachment against Trump as he has suggested. They are considering whether to allow a vote on such a motion to dismiss and another to subpoena testimony from new witnesses.
“I think our members, generally are not interested in the motion to dismiss. They think both sides need to be heard,” Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, who is part of the GOP leadership, said Monday.
Trump suggested over the weekend he might prefer simply dismissing the charges rather than giving legitimacy to charges from the House, which he considers a “hoax.”
It was an extraordinary suggestion, but one being proposed by Trump allies with support from some GOP senators, including McConnell.
But it is clear McConnell does not have the votes needed from his GOP majority to do that.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine is leading an effort among some Republicans, including Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, to ensure the ground rules include the possibility of calling new witnesses.
“My position is that there should be a vote on whether or not witnesses should be called,” Collins said.
Romney said he wants to hear from John Bolton, the former national security adviser at the White House, who others have said raised alarms about the alternative foreign policy toward Ukraine being run by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
“I expect that barring some kind of surprise, I’ll be voting in favor of hearing from witnesses after those opening arguments,” Romney told reporters Monday.
Democrats have been pushing Republicans, who have a slim Senate majority, to consider new testimony, arguing that fresh information has emerged during Pelosi’s month-long delay in transmitting the charges.
“We want the truth,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday as the chamber opened. He said that in other presidential impeachment trials the Senate called witnesses.
“Do Senate Republicans want to break the lengthy historical precedent?” Schumer asked.
McConnell is drafting an organizing resolution that will outline the steps ahead. Approving it will be among the first votes senators take after they are sworn as jurors by Chief Justice John Roberts for the Court of Impeachment.
Republicans control the chamber, 53-47, and are all but certain to acquit Trump. McConnell is hesitant to call new witnesses who would prolong the trial. He prefers to model Trump’s trial partly on the process used for then-President Bill Clinton’s trial in 1999. It did contain motions for dismissal or calling new witnesses.
Senators say if witnesses are allowed, some Republicans may also try to subpoena Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was vice president.
It takes just 51 votes during the impeachment trial to approve rules or call witnesses. Just four GOP senators could form a majority with Democrats to insist on new testimony. It also would take only 51 senators to vote to dismiss the charges against Trump.
Most Republicans appear willing to go along with McConnell’s plan to start the trial first then consider witnesses later, rather than upfront, as Democrats want.
Collins is pushing to have at least the promise of witness votes included in the organizing resolution. She and the others appear to be gathering support.
“I’ve been working to make sure that we will have a process that we can take a vote on whether or not we need additional information, and yes, that would include witnesses,” Murkowski told reporters.