A candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020 alleges that there are already up to six Senators in President Trump’s party who privately want to vote against him in an impending impeachment trial.
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Former Governor Bill Weld (R-MA) has a long history of working on impeachment matters dating back to his service as a House Judiciary Committee staffer during the Nixon impeachment proceedings. He specifically studied the legality of a president withholding congressionally authorized funds, which was ultimately written into law after Nixon’s resignation in the Impoundment Act of 1974, which President Trump isp partly accused of violating by withholding funds to Ukraine.
As a Republican official dating back to his initial appointment as the US Attorney for Massachusetts by Ronald Reagan—ironically at the recommendation of Rudy Giuliani—which is why Weld knows many of his party’s Senators. “They’re picking their words carefully when they talk to me, of all people, even though we are friends,” he told The Hill at their Washington, D.C. offices:
“I don’t even like to ask someone to do something which is not in their political self-interest. But yeah, I would say they’re four to six votes for removal right now.”
Bill Weld becomes the third major GOP politician to come out to tell the public that Republican Senators are being far less than candid in their opinions about Donald Trump’s impending impeachment trial.
Former McCain campaign advisor and Republican strategist Mike Murphy told MSNBC that up to thirty senators in Trump’s party would vote him out if there was a secret ballot. Former Arizona GOP Senator Jeff Flake said that number could be as high as 35 out of the 53 Republican senators.
The actual significance of defection by as few as four to six Republicans is actually far larger than one might expect because the rules of the Senate are vastly different when it is sitting as a trial court as opposed to a legislative body.
That is because Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will wield vast powers as Presiding Officer during the trial, but we don’t know yet if Chief Justice John Roberts will choose to defer the first judgment to the Senate or rule on issues himself and conduct the trial as if inside a courtroom.
If the Chief Justice decides that, for example, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has relevant testimony, then only three Senate Republicans could compel him to testify at the trial. If the Chief Justice refuses to rule, then it will take four defectors.
When it comes to calling witnesses—which is the largest question about what will happen next month when the House is expected to give Trump the trial he has requested—it only takes three or four votes to compel testimony from the President’s subordinates and/or cabinet members.
As the University of Texas Professor Jeffrey K. Tulis explained in an article for The Bulwark, every senator must take a new oath of office when the chamber of Congress reconstitutes itself as a trial court. “For an impeachment trial of a president, the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides,” Tulis writes. “He can be overruled by a majority vote of the other judges/jurors—which is to say the senators.”
But it is vital to remember that the Constitution asks them to remember that they are not sitting as senators, but now as judges and jurors.
“So much so that for this brief period the senators are all equal,” explains the UT professor, which is a situation with radical ramifications. “For the course of the trial the roles of Majority and Minority Leader, President Pro Tem, Committee Chairs, Whips, and so forth no longer exist. For the duration of the trial the Senate is a literally new institution with new rules, new norms, and new responsibilities.” [author’s italics]
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell went on Fox News last night to proclaim President Trump’s prospective innocence before the House can even finish formally adopting the two articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee approved this morning.
But McConnell’s words could easily become famous last words if even just a handful of Republican senators take their oaths of trial seriously, giving their loyalty to America and the Constitution by holding a fair trial of President Trump.
But don’t hold your breath.