Jan 18, 2020

Draft of McConnell's rules for trial still allows motion to dismiss

Sen. Josh Hawley listens to testimony at a hearing
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) at a hearing last month. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is preparing a resolution that would leave room for President Trump's lawyers to move immediately to dismiss the impeachment charges if they so choose, according to Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.

Yes, but: Republican Senate leaders, including McConnell and Roy Blunt, the senior senator from Missouri, have already said members aren't interested in a vote to dismiss. And it seems unlikely that Trump's team would push for what would almost certainly be a losing vote — a move that could be seen as a sign of weakness at the outset of the trial.

Behind the scenes: "I am familiar with the resolution as it stood a day or two ago," Hawley, the junior senator from Missouri, told me in a phone interview on Saturday. "My understanding is that the resolution will give the president's team the option to either move to judgment or to move to dismiss at a meaningful time..."

  • Hawley added that in the most recent draft of the organizing resolution he saw there was an option for the president's counsel to make a motion in multiple places, including at the beginning of the proceedings.
  • A Republican leadership aide responded: "The White House has the right to make motions under the regular order, including a motion to dismiss, right after the resolution is adopted because a motion to dismiss is a motion permitted by the impeachment rules."

Hawley added that if the final resolution does not allow Trump's lawyers the option to dismiss or move to judgment at a "meaningful point" in the trial, he would be "very, very surprised," and might not vote for the organizing resolution.

  • Hawley also said he worries that if Trump doesn't have the option to move to dismiss or move to judgment then Adam Schiff would have too much control over the trial.

The state of play: There have been multiple indications — including from McConnell himself — that the Senate will not vote to dismiss the charges of impeachment against the president.

  • "There is little or no sentiment in the Republican conference for a motion to dismiss," McConnell told reporters on Jan. 14. "Our members feel that we have an obligation to listen to the arguments."
  • He said the resolution would lay out a way for senators to listen to the prosecution and defense and follow up with written questions submitted through the presiding officer Chief Justice John Roberts. "That means listening to the case, not dismissing the case."
  • That's certainly true for moderate or purple-state Republican senators up for re-election, such as Maine's Susan Collins. They have sought to show they are taking impeachment seriously and have tried to steer away from actions that would suggest they are dismissing the case against the president out of hand.

The big picture: Trump endorsed on Twitter the idea of outright dismissal of the charges against him. It could be an opportunity for some of Trump's closest Senate Republican allies to register their contempt for the case that House Democrats marshaled against the president — even if the motion is doomed to fail.

  • It could also serve as a break-glass option if the trial took a turn and Trump's allies felt they needed a mechanism to bring about an abrupt end to the trial.

What's next: Trump's team says it wants a fast impeachment trial, and Republicans are preparing for the possibility of a time frame as short as two weeks.

  • But there will be opportunities for curve balls that may extend throughout the trial.
  • Collins has joined several other Republican senators, including Mitt Romney, in saying they want to be able to vote to hear from additional witnesses — a key demand of Senate Democrats.
  • They are expected to be given that vote after the Senate has heard each sides' opening arguments.

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