Tensions between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic opponent Chuck Schumer have been high since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi first announced that she would withhold articles of impeachment from the Senate until the two had negotiated appropriate terms for the trial.
Schumer has raised motions to hear new evidence and call new witnesses – including Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton – at the Senate trial.
However, McConnell has secured the Republican votes he needs to ensure that he will not need to bend to Democrats’ calls for a bipartisan hearing.
Democrats on the Hill have since argued that any Republican senators who voted against the motion to hear new evidence will be branded as Trump loyalists – a dangerous title for GOP senators from purple districts who will need to distance themselves from the president to win re-election.
In a recent interview, Schumer reported that increasing numbers of Americans support a trial with new evidence. “And when you go against what the American people feel strongly about, on an issue they’re paying attention to, it’s not a good idea,” he continued.
This claim is reinforced by recent data from polling in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and North Carolina, which found that 63% of voters would respond unfavorably if their senator voted not to call witnesses or subpoena documents during the trial.
Another poll found that 57% of voters – including not only 71% of Democrats, but also 56% of independents and 40% of Republicans – believe that senators should call new witnesses to the trial.
Bolton’s recent offer to testify if subpoenaed further reinforces Democrats’ calls on their Republican counterparts to expand the trial.
In addition to Bolton, they hope to hear testimony from other members of the Trump cabinet: Mick Mulvaney, Michael Duffey, and Robert Blair, all of whom might provide more information regarding the Ukraine scandal.
Republican senators argue that they are following the precedent of President Clinton’s impeachment trial by opening trial proceedings first and calling witnesses after the fact.
Democrats disagree with this assessment, pointing out that current Senate Republicans have stonewalled the Trump impeachment process from the beginning.
Many Republicans have been presenting Schumer’s efforts at a bipartisan trial instead as an effort to build a strong re-election campaign.
Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who will also face re-election in 2020, said, “Everybody believes Sen. Schumer’s going to play a game with impeachment to try and get back the Senate. He wakes up every day trying to be the majority leader.”
In spite of pushback from the Republican majority, Democrats feel that Schumer’s vote might be a win for them even if they lose the chance to hear new evidence at the trial – and the polling suggests that they might be right.