After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released a draconian set of impeachment trial rules that broke his promise to abide by the standards used in President Bill Clinton’s trial, he appeared to walk back some of the harsher provisions, like the one allowing the Senate to reject evidence from the House and the one requiring all opening arguments be delivered within a two-day span.
Some analysts, like CNN historian Tim Naftali, took this as a sign that McConnell has a weaker grip on his caucus than he is letting on. But according to Politico’s John Bresnahan and Burgess Everett, McConnell’s retreat was a tactical maneuver that ultimately helped him keep his party in line.
“These were concessions, but only the slightest of ones — and the shift gave McConnell further license to ignore Senate Democrats’ broader complaints,” they wrote. “With all 52 of his GOP senators united behind him, McConnell was able to defeat a series of Democratic amendments calling for more documents from the White House and other federal agencies caught up in the Ukraine scandal.”
“On the biggest issue — whether to call additional witnesses now, including former national security advisor John Bolton and others — McConnell refused to yield,” they continued. “At the Kentucky Republican’s urging, the Senate postponed a decision on that question until after the opening arguments, despite vehement objections from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).”
“It’s McConnell 101,” they concluded. “The Senate majority leader plays by the rules, but he uses them as a weapon to help his cause as much as a restriction on what he can do. The only limits are based on what his members will agree to. And it’s nothing new to his adversaries.”
It remains to be seen whether McConnell will be able to prevent defections when the time comes to vote for witnesses. But for now, he has managed to head off a threat that could have broken his control over the process.