It’s all over except for the party line voting. Donald Trump is going to be impeached. Now all attention turns to the Senate and the upcoming trial.
Trump would love to turn the Senate trial into a spectacle, a headline-grabbing circus featuring him, of course. With his nemesis Nancy Pelosi removed from a central role in the action, Trump sees a chance to reclaim his domination of the public narrative again. Given his way, Trump would turn that narrative into crazy talk. It’s what he does all the time.
He has already proposed several witnesses to be called to testify and the list tells you all need to know about how Trump sees his opportunity to step back into the central spotlight.
He wants Hunter Biden to testify. Clearly, Trump is viewing the Senate trial as an opening to continue pushing his conspiracy-theory fantasy that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked the Democratic emails and otherwise interfered in the 2016 election. Dragging the younger Biden into the spotlight would also offer Trump the prize he’s really after: smearing the political opponent he most fears.
He wants the whistleblower to testify, as well. This is a gambit the Republicans have been pushing all along. If they can just undermine the veracity of the first person to cry foul, well, then, the entire case must be bogus, right? The testimony of 17 witnesses can simply be tossed out if the whistleblower neglected to dot an i or cross a t.
It’s the same gambit they’ve been using to try to undermine the entire Russia investigation — the FBI investigation that started the whole thing was bogus … [leap of logic] … therefore Russia didn’t meddle in the election.
If the Republicans were to investigate a fire that experts claimed was arson, they would insist on investigating the fire alarm. That’s what Trump hopes to do with the Senate impeachment trial.
Another “witness” Trump wants to testify is Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chair who just completed a masterful series of public hearings that led to the impeachment charges. Hauling Schiff before the Senate appears to be of a kind with the whistleblower gambit. Besmirch the chair of the committee that laid out the charges, and voila!, nothing to see here.
Trump has been looking forward to the Senate trial, undoubtedly because the Senate is under Republican control and, in Trump’s way of thinking, under his control. In that regard, Trump is wrong.
Here’s the first key point: McConnell is obviously interested in keeping Trump in office, but McConnell is much more vested in maintaining his Senate majority, the source of his power. If Trump’s desired theatrics pose a threat to holding onto that majority, McConnell wouldn’t hesitate to oppose his antics.
And here’s the second key point: There are several Republican senators who are seen as vulnerable to losing their reelection. While they probably will not end up voting to convict Trump, primarily as a result of their vulnerability, they may very well oppose turning the Senate trial into a dog-and-pony show, due to those very same vulnerabilities in their home states.
And the final key part: The rules for how the Senate trial will be conducted, and the list of witnesses to be called, are all subject to a simple majority vote of all senators, not just Republicans. So it would only take a handful of Republicans who oppose, say, calling Hunter Biden to testify, to quash that effort.
Republican members of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees tried every trick in the parliamentary procedures book to disrupt, delay, or derail the impeachment hearings. (One might say they were neither intelligent nor judicious, but certainly I wouldn’t say that.) That won’t happen in the Senate, at least. We hope.
You can be certain, however, that the bread and circuses spectacle that is the Trump presidency will remain full throated in the Oval Office.