There’s been a lot of maneuvering going on with respect to plans for a Senate impeachment trial of Trump. But this particular angle tickled my fancy at New York this week.
Mitch McConnell’s struggles to bring the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump to a quick and relatively drama-free end are almost comically inspiring. First he had to talk his client down from an early determination to hold no trial at all, which would be, well, kinda unconstitutional. Then after the House impeachment proceedings, McConnell had to convince Trump it would be a bad idea to turn the Senate trial into a show trial in which all the lurid conspiracy theories House Republicans had borrowed from crazy-town right-wing media would be given their full delusional airing.
But the idea of hearing fresh witness testimony in the Senate was taken over by Senate Democrats demanding subpoenas for the Trump officials and records their House counterparts had been denied, which subsequently led to Nancy Pelosi’s decision to hit the pause button on transmitting the House-passed articles of impeachment in an effort to force Senate Republicans to allow witnesses. It now appears that McConnell has beaten back that latest threat by securing 51 Republican votes for trial procedures that delay any decisions on witnesses until well into the proceedings.
Unfortunately for ol’ Mitch, a new complication has emerged for his plans to give the Trump trial the dignified air of a canned mortuary funeral ceremony, as the Washington Post reports:
“A turf war over who should defend President Trump in a Senate impeachment trial is raging behind the scenes in Congress, as House Republicans push to join Trump’s legal team — an idea that piques the president’s interest — over the objections of Senate Republicans.
“House GOP leaders in recent weeks have advocated for Trump’s most aggressive defenders — Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), John Ratcliffe (Tex.) and Douglas A. Collins (Ga.) — to cross the Rotunda and help White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone rebut the two charges that the president abused his power and obstructed Congress.
“Trump, partial to bare-knuckles tactics and top-rated TV performances, loves the idea, according to four administration and congressional officials familiar with his thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly.”
Senate Republicans do not like the idea, to put it mildly. You have to appreciate that for all the perfectly justified talk of partisan and ideological polarization dominating every feature of life in Washington, there remains a cultural gulf between House and Senate that hasn’t gone away. Senators of both parties generally regard representatives of both parties the way older siblings regard particularly unruly and immature younger siblings: necessary nuisances but hardly equals in any sense. One way Ted Cruz earned pariah status in the Senate was by consorting with House Republicans openly and frequently. Senators aren’t supposed to do that.
Even though Republicans in both chambers are valiantly seeking to protect their warrior-king POTUS from the effort to remove him from office, the last thing senators want is a bunch of snot-nosed House members cutting wild capers and embarrassing their party with risible tales of almighty Ukraine seeking to install Hillary Clinton in the White House over the objections of the American people, who see through this Democrat socialist coup.
So McConnell has gone back to his central task of megalomaniac wrangling:
“McConnell, who discussed the trial with the president at the White House on Wednesday, has been advising Trump and his legal team not to think of the trial as a ‘made-for-TV-type House setting,’ said one individual familiar with the leader’s thinking, ‘but rather one where ultimately your audience is senators in the middle on both sides, who are actually listening to the arguments here …’
“’One thing I’m not eager to do is re-create the circuslike atmosphere of the House — that’s not what we’re going to do here, if we can avoid it,’ said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a McConnell ally. ‘So I think it seems obvious to me that if the president picks a team that does not include House members, that we’d be more likely to have the dignified process that the Constitution calls for.'”
As you can imagine, House Republican impeachment veterans are jockeying for a spot on Trump’s defense team:
“’There are a lot of rabbits running around claiming to be the very best bunny, but the president hasn’t yet decided which set of fuzzy tails he’ll use,’ said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.”
And in the end, Trump can pick whatever counsel he chooses for the trial. McConnell’s job is to convince him to stick with White House counsel and maybe a distinguished private attorney or two and leave the fuzzy tails out of it.
Decorum aside, you can only imagine the horror of freshly appointed Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler at the prospect of ranking House Judiciary Committee Republican Doug Collins becoming part of Trump’s Senate defense team. Collins, you may recall, was Trump’s favorite to get the Senate seat vacated at the end of the year by Johnny Isakson, and he has not ruled out challenging Loeffler next November in a jungle primary special election to formally fill out the remainder of Isakson’s term. A recent poll showed Collins trouncing the little-known Loeffler in a hypothetical matchup. A week or so of Collins being allowed to rant and snarl on Trump’s behalf with the entire MAGA Nation thrilling to every word would not give Loeffler much job security.
There’s not much question which way Trump himself leans in this matter. One reason Pelosi may be putting off the inevitable transmittal of the impeachment articles is that she enjoys watching McConnell trying to keep the preordained acquittal of Trump relatively dignified. Much of his party, including its leader, craves some crazy.