White House wants Senate trial rules to include ability to dismiss Trump charges

The White House is urging Senate Republicans to preserve the option of moving to swiftly dismiss the charges against President Donald Trump after opening arguments in his impeachment trial, as GOP leaders and Trump’s team look for a quick end to the proceedings, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Republicans are debating including in the Senate resolution, which would govern the rules of the trial, a provision to dismiss the charges, something that would require 51 votes and would stop the trial in its tracks.

But moving ahead with a dismissal vote could put Republicans up for reelection in a tough spot if they are seen as moving too quickly to dismiss the case. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could not afford to lose more than two votes — and GOP sources say the Kentucky Republican currently does not have enough votes to simply dismiss the case.

McConnell has made clear to his colleagues that he wants Trump to emerge victorious in the trial and is not willing to hold a vote that could fail, sources said. He’s also keenly aware of what a vote to dismiss would look like politically, according to Republican senators, and has shepherded his conference away from the idea for several weeks.

Once the trial has begun, the Senate can vote on the merits of the articles of impeachment and choose to acquit Trump, something that can be done with only 34 votes because the Constitution requires 67 votes to convict the President and remove him from office. GOP proponents of this move argue Trump would have a stronger argument to say he was exonerated on the merits of the case, rather than simply relying on a procedural vote to dismiss the charges. Trump, though, might have to wait longer for a vote on acquittal to occur.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and member of McConnell’s leadership team, said Monday he would prefer a vote to acquit the President on the merits, rather than seek a quick vote to dismiss the charges. “That would be my advice. Let both sides have their say and have their vote.”

And Cornyn downplayed a weekend tweet from Trump calling for an “outright dismissal.”

“At different times, the President has expressed different views,” Cornyn said. “I wouldn’t get too distracted by an intervening tweet.”

While Republicans are short of the votes to dismiss the charges, the issue remains a point of discussion due to McConnell’s insistence that the initial rules of the trial hew closely to those used in President Bill Clinton’s trial in 1999. That resolution included a motion to dismiss, which failed. Republican senators this time around have been debating whether to remove it entirely, or push it further back in the proceedings than where it was structured then, senators familiar with the discussions said.

The White House wants to keep the motion to dismiss in play because “there’s no reason to take options off the table at the beginning of the whole process,” said one source familiar with the discussions.

McConnell has counseled Republicans privately that they can decide how to proceed after both the House Democratic impeachment managers and President’s defense team make their cases, followed by questions from senators. At that point, GOP senators must decide whether to allow witnesses, seek to acquit the President or move to dismiss the case.

“Yes, I am,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, a retiring Tennessee Republican and McConnell confidante, said Monday when asked if he’s open to witnesses. “What I think is important is we have a vote on whether we need additional documents and witnesses. And that would only be appropriate after we’ve heard the case and asked our questions.”

That tracks directly with the model McConnell has touted now for weeks: a Senate resolution governing the trial that follow the procedures of Clinton’s trial. In that Clinton resolution, the Senate included a motion to dismiss the charges after opening arguments were delivered and after senators asked their questions. About two weeks into the Clinton trial, Democrats forced a vote to dismiss the charges. But that dismissal measure failed, 44-56, and the trial continued for another two-and-half weeks.

McConnell hinted last week that the Senate resolution would include a provision allowing the charges to be dismissed, but senators said the talks about how to handle the motion to dismiss still hadn’t been finalized.

“We’re going to have a similar resolution,” McConnell told reporters. “It may not be word for word, exactly the same, but a similar resolution. And we’ll be glad to show it to you when — when we unveil it.”

McConnell fueled Democratic concerns about dismissing the charges outright when he signed onto a resolution sponsored by Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, that would allow a senator to offer a motion to dismiss if the House did not transmit the articles of impeachment within 25 days.

The viability of Hawley’s resolution was viewed as limited to impossible — it would require a Senate rule change, which would take 67 votes to occur. Republicans only control 53 seats in the chamber. McConnell could move to drop the vote threshold to 51, but it would require him to “go nuclear,” or move to eliminate the legislative filibuster, something he has long opposed.

A source familiar with McConnell’s decision to support the resolution said he backed “the spirit” of Hawley’s idea given the frustration over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to hold onto the articles for more than three weeks, but wasn’t planning to push forward on it given its prospects.

But McConnell’s decision to sign onto the idea drew sharp criticism from Pelosi, who demanded to see the Senate resolution and understand how the dismissal provision would be structured before sending over the articles of impeachment that would initiate the trial. She ultimately relented and indicated that the articles would be sent over this week.

“Dismissing is a coverup,” Pelosi said Sunday on ABC.

Over the weekend, Trump argued that having a trial would add credibility to the Democrats’ case, calling for a dismissal of the charges.

“Many believe that by the Senate giving credence to a trial based on the no evidence, no crime, read the transcripts, ‘no pressure’ Impeachment Hoax, rather than an outright dismissal, it gives the partisan Democrat Witch Hunt credibility that it otherwise does not have,” Trump tweeted. “I agree!”

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