Chat transcript: Could John Roberts take control of a Senate impeachment trial away from Mitch McConnell?

Dec 19, 2019

Washington Post reporters Aaron Blake and Amber Phillips took your questions on the impeachment inquiry. Join Amber's chat every Tuesday, and Aaron every Friday at 12 p.m. ET.

Hey everyone, and welcome to a special joint Fix chat on impeachment. Everything's fair game here -- what happened yesterday, what happened weeks ago, and what happens next. (For those interested in that last one, Amber has a great piece laying it all out, while I lay out who would be testifying in the Senate trial, in an ideal world.)

So what's on your mind?

What can we do to encourage the House that the Articles not be sent to the Senate until key witnesses are promised to be call and examined ?

It sure sounds like this is the direction things are heading in right now! Jim Clyburn said he was advocating for it.

I do wonder if this isn't a bit of gamesmanship -- prodding McConnell to come to the middle a little bit. That said, I'm not sure it will work.

That was fun. If this one does not work, can he be Impeached again?

There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents a president from being impeached twice. Indeed, if there were, and one impeachment failed, there would be no way to punish the president for anything they might do from that point on.

Shouldn’t the dems get a written guarantee from McConnell that they will be able to hear from the witnesses that they need? They should not trust McConnell's word. He can’t be trusted a la Merrick Garland etc

So there are no rules that say the Senate has to call witnesses, much less witnesses damaging to the president. 

There are some rules passed in the 1980s, but they only lay out things like the Senate has to sit for six days a week until he's impeached, and whether the Senate can do other legislative work during the trial.

The really important stuff -- witnesses, whether there can be new evidence presented, how long it will be -- is up to the senators themselves. A majority need to approve whatever they come up with, which means McConnell needs to appease either a handful of moderate Republicans or a handful of moderate Democrats.

Here's a piece I wrote recently about what we know about how a Senate trial works -- and more importantly what we don't.

What game is she playing here? Voting Present is hardly the right move for a Dem presidential nomination candidate?

I don't know. She has gone against the grain of the Democratic Party in the past, but that's been on foreign policy, not domestic politics. (Though I guess you could argue this impeachment centered on foreign policy.) Her statement last night explaining her vote said she couldn't  in good conscience vote yes or no. It was very vague.

One thought: Of all the 233 Democrats, she's the one we're talking about.

She did not qualify for tonight's presidential debate, so we won't get to hear from her more on that.

Hi Aaron and Amber -- thanks for taking questions today. All eyes are on the speaker, as we wait to see what the plan is for when the articles will be sent to the Senate. The conventional wisdom before was that the sooner the House was done with it the better so they could get on to other things and avoid looking like impeachment was their only priority. Do you have a sense that their strategy has changed? In other words, Republicans have been complaining about the speed of the process, so why not call their bluff and let it ride for a bit? It also buys a bit of time for another possible shoe to drop, and despite his protestations that he doesn't care, they have to take a little bit of glee at getting under Trump's skin even more than they already have.

I do think Pelosi is worried about this looking overzealous and dragging on too long. Look at what happened with the Russia investigation. It went on all that time, and nobody's mind really changed. If she's going to hold out, what will she hold out for? I think she's more worried that this will hurt Democrats in the 2020 election, if it has any effect, and that's why she wanted to move things along.

I have heard some speculate that the Senate will try to make the impeachment trial as short as possible. Maybe to the point of just voting on the first day. But, I have also heard some quotes from the Senate saying the Democrats in the House rushed too quickly to impeach Trump. The two seem at odds, can they say the House acted too quickly and also quickly dismiss it with a vote on the first day? If they feel the House was too quick, they need to take time to explore it better. But, any lengthy investigation only gives time to find some real damaging evidence... not that a President trying to bring a foreign leader into the US elections by requesting they announce an investigation on another candidate.

It's an interesting dichotomy: 'You rushed it too much and we don't have all the information, so let's not learn any more information.' Either the charges are baseless or there is lots that we don't know that maybe we should learn about. 

A columnist wrote this morning that Nancy Pelosi has "leverage" for the Senate process...would you please explain her options if McConnell et al try to dismiss everything? Thank you

I'm not a columnist but I might have written that. At least I know I wrote today: Democrats want to create leverage to force McConnell to allow testimony from members of Trump’s inner circle, like acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Trump blocked Mulvaney from complying with a congressional subpoena to testify in the House’s impeachment investigation.

It's a bit of a quixotic bid, I think, because Democrats are holding up a trial that Senate Republicans didn't want to have in the first place!

But she may be exploiting the fact that McConnell and Trump have vastly different views on how to hold the trial -- the Senate Republican leader wants no witnesses, and Trump wants lots of them. But McConnell fears that opening up the door to Trump's Democrat witnesses would make it difficult to close the door on witnesses who might be damaging to Trump. 

Does the House of Representatives have the option of reviewing the Mueller report conclusions and voting on a censure motion? Is censure an option whether or not there is an impeachment trial in the Senate?

I can't imagine they would do this, especially months later and especially given they opted to impeach him for Ukraine. 

Can Chief Justice John Roberts lawfully administer the impeachment oath for Senators to Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham given they have both stated publicly they will not be impartial jurors and, therefore, will knowingly violate the oath?

The argument is that they aren't your average jurors; they're jurors in a Senate trial which they are automatically selected for, and thus they needn't pretend to be unbiased. I've been surprised at how forward they are about not even trying to hear the evidence, but I don't think it means Roberts wouldn't allow them to be jurors or something. 

If one of the witnesses the Democrats want called breaks ranks with the Republican Party and testifies, will they all then become obligated to testify as well?

So a Senate trial doesn't work that way. Senators have to decide if they want to have witnesses, and then they can likely force people to testify. 

What would be really interesting is if Trump's former national security adviser, John Bolton, suddenly said as the Senate trial got started: Wait! I want to testify! (He's been complying with Trump's ban not to talk to the House.) What would Republicans in the Senate do then? 

Many pundits have said that impeaching Trump will increase his popularity and improve his chances of reelection next year. Isn't it actually more like a scarlet letter making voters less likely to want to see him in office another four years?

His approval rating on 538 is actually higher than it's been since March 2017. It's not a huge amount higher (it's 43.3%), but impeachment at the very least doesn't seem to have hurt him. He's also doing slightly better in recent 2020 head-to-heads.

It might be something of a scarlet letter (when it comes to his political obituary), but there's no indication it's one that is impacting votes.

Do you think Pelosi is attempting to wait for 1/3/20 when some key decisions are expected?

This whole holding-up-articles-of-impeachment strategy felt more spur of the moment to me. The Post's Mike DeBonis reported on Wednesday as debate was going on that three dozen Democrats who trend liberal were pressuring Pelosi to do this. We had no sense she was considering it. But then after the impeachment votes, she went to the mics and left open the possibility, saying she wouldn't appoint House prosecutors until she was assured there was a "fair" Senate trial. By Thursday morning, it seemed even more of a possibility. 

Is an impeached president allowed to run for president again?

If they are just impeached, yes. And even if they are removed, they may be able to. In this case, though, the articles actually included a clause that would prevent him from holding office in the future. 

They say: "President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States." That would foreclose him being president or anything else -- again, if it were endorsed by the Senate, which it won't be.

Can you tell us more about the mechanics of the oath that the Senators will take before the trial starts? Is this done in public? Is it possible to "enforce" this oath in some way as with perjury prosecutions in the court of law? Given the stated politics of this entire affair, it seems like something worth knowing more about.

Good question. I read (!) the rules the Senate approved in the 1980s for how to set up a trial. It says that senators raise their hand and take an oath administered by the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts (that's his official title btw). 

And then...that's it. Nowhere in the rules could I find any other mentions of making sure senators hold an impartial trial or making every effort to maintain impartiality. It feels to me like everyone who wrote the rules knew this was an inherently political process, and it was up to senators to decide how to handle it.

That being said, the only other modern impeachment trial we've had, Bill Clinton's, was lauded for being bipartisan and as fair as possible.

How long can Pelosi not send the articles to the Senate? Would it be possible to withhold the articles until the November 2020 election, and let the American public, in effect, be the jurors?

There is no requirement that she send over the articles. There is some thought that perhaps the Senate would just start the trial anyway. I'm not versed enough to know whether that's actually possible.

Hi. If President Trump leave, then the next President is VP Pence. Does he get to pick his own vice president or Nancy will be the VP?

He would be able to pick a new vice president, who would be subject to confirmation by the Senate. (Which shouldn't be a problem given GOP is in the majority.)

Are criminal charges against President Trump (and/or members of his cabinet) forthcoming? Do any of the charges against the President amount to treason?

So we went through this with the Mueller Report: There's a longstanding Justice Department policy (not a law) that says a sitting president can't be indicted.

So, no, there aren't any charges against Trump coming. He was named a co-conspirator in a campaign finance case that got his lawyer, for paying hush money to women alleging affairs. But we have a hard time seeing a push to prosecute a former president when he's out of office.

No charges for his Cabinet coming, either, that I know of. That being said, his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is at the center of a federal investigation in New York (by the office he once led) related to his lobbying work in Ukraine.

And Congress could have tried to impeach Trump for treason. They decided not to.

Can Pelosi wait to transmit two articles until the campaign is in full swing next fall and least convenient for Senate trial?

She can transmit them whenever she wants. I'm not sure doing it at that point would be great optics. It would look like an effort to inject it into the election -- just like Republicans are already alleging about this process.

Can McConnell refuse to take up the resolution from the House like he does other House bills? Can Republicans hold a vote to dismiss the articles/charges without taking vote on acquittal or conviction?

Before impeachment got started, there were some legal scholars who theorized that McConnell could just decide to say, nah, I'm not holding an impeachment trial. The Constitution says something to the effect of the Senate "shall" hold a trial.

But he's clearly decided that the more common reading of the Constitution -- that the Senate has to hold a trial -- is right. He would just like to make it as quick and no-drama as possible.

What is the exact role of the Chief Justice when he is present in the Senate for the Senate's "trial" of Donald Trump?

A couple good reads on this, from the Wall Street Journal and McClatchy.

That was a classic textbook look to silence the clappers after the vote. Every husband and child had chills run down their spine.

Democrats weren't great about being as somber is Pelosi wanted them to be. That said, I'm not sure how she was going to be able to tamp that down. Members have thought this was the right thing to do for a while; can they really not express their satisfaction?

Thank you. I am wondering about Chief Justice Roberts's role in the Senate Trial. If the senators are the jurors, with McConnell serving as the foreman, wouldn't that make Roberts the judge in whose power the entire courtroom/rules and procedures rest?

So, his role is complicated. Constitutional experts and court watchers I've talked to say that Roberts is more of a procedural overseer-er. If there is a dispute about something happening in the trial and whether it violates the rules they all agreed to, he can rule.

That being said, Roberts is not someone who seems super eager to be an active player in this process. One of his advisers was actually Chief Justice William Rehnquist's right-hand aide during Clinton's Senate trial. And Rehnquist said something to the effect of this after the trial: "I did nothing and I did it well."

In other words, it's possible that Roberts will defer to the Senate on most things.

What authority over proceedings will the Chief Justice have?

Great question. Just answered it in the question above. 

Specifically, what possible instances (other than Burisma and Hunter Biden or Joe Biden) of corruption did the Trump Adminstration advocate for the investigation of? Where are those requests documented?

It's a great question. I found that they haven't raised similar corruption concerns in even more corrupt countries that get even more U.S. aid. In addition, there don't seem to be any other Ukraine investigations they've pushed for.

The White House compared this withholding aid from the Northern Triangle countries in Central America. But that wasn't about corruption; it was about how they were handling the flow of people to the U.S.-Mexico border -- a legitimate and longstanding U.S. policy concern.

Is there any way a new House could reverse or erase an impeachment? How about SCOTUS?

Hmm, I don't think so, unless there's something in the Constitution I've missed. The Supreme Court has no role in impeachment. This one is on Trump's name for the history books. (That was one of the reasons Democrats decided to impeach him even though his removal wasn't likely in the Senate. He'll forever have an asterisk next to his name.)

Might the trial reveal what was deleted from the July 25th conversation memo? How did its public release come about?

Witnesses have testified that any omissions weren't terribly substantive, so I don't think this is a major question. Vindman basically said even the stuff he tried to get put in that didn't make it didn't mean the transcript was incomplete.

Hi could the House majority decide to subpoena more witnesses now, eg John Bolton, prior to sending the Articles to the Senate? If so is it a real possibility or not?

They could. If they did that, though, it would look pretty dumb that they hadn't subpoenaed Bolton two months ago. They would have lost all that time.

One of the Republican defenses of Trump is that the military aid was given to Ukraine before the deadline. One of the Democrat points is that the aid was released only after the whistleblower complaint became public and Trump got caught. How different would the whole impeachment situation be if the complaint had been submitted/released a few weeks later and if the aid had been withheld past the deadline, past the point when it could not have been released? Assuming the latter would have happened it would have strengthened the Democrats' case. If it didn't happen, it would have strengthened the Republican case that the aid was released without Trump being coerced into it.

It's hard to theorize how this would have played out differently. But you're right, Democrats did not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trump ordered aid held up SPECIFICALLY to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. And a shadow of a doubt is what they needed to win over Republicans to impeaching Trump. That's why people like Trump's top aides or former aides are so important. What do they know about Trump's intentions with Ukraine that House Democrats failed to get in their inquiry?

Eyeing a Senate run, or a post in a second Trump administration?

He's been talked up as a potential chief of staff, and remember that Mulvaney still has the "acting" title. I think Senate is also a possibility.

Hi Amber and Aaron, Thanks for having a chat and taking questions on such an important day in our history. News accounts have discussed the possibility of the House holding up forwarding the articles of impeachment to the Senate as a way of pressuring Sen. McConnell into at least holding the semblance of an impartial trial of the President. In your opinion, is there anything the Speaker can do that will result in the Democrats having some or all of their demands met, e.g., calling WH personnel as witnesses in the Senate proceedings?

Thanks for asking questions!

Pelosi's more or less said that McConnell needs to agree to hold witnesses -- like Trump's top aides -- for the trial to be considered "fair" to her.

Can the House accomplish a “Mitch McConnell” and hold impeachment documents until after next presidential election; with what advantages?

The upside would be that the Senate couldn't acquit Trump and Trump couldn't claim exoneration. It would also allow the Democrats to keep investigating while the process is still under their control.

On the flip side, though, Trump could just argue that Democrats were preventing his acquittal. 

The Constitution says the Chief Justice shall preside. John Roberts is a man who cares deeply about his record and reputation. How might he affect the form and process of impeachment if he chooses not to take a backseat, ceremonial role?

I agree Roberts does seem to care about how his court is viewed, especially coming up on a term in an election year. Supreme Court watcher Russell Wheeler recently told me he thinks Roberts will lean toward deference to the Senate. "He doesn't want the court to get involved in sideshows about whether his actions in the impeachment trial shed light or had influence about the decisions he makes as a justice on Supreme Court cases," he said.

Do Senators state an oath before trial begins in Senate? If so, what is the oath they swear too?

Here's the oath, according to the 1980 rules: "I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in

all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of ----
-- ------, now pending, I will do impartial justice according 
to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.''

Weren't the articles of impeachment developed and voted very quickly during Andrew Johnson's impeachment?

They actually impeached him literally three days after the alleged offense he committed. They then settled upon specifically what the articles would be, and sent it all over to the Senate in about two weeks.

Why did Pelosi give Trump a pass on the emoluments clause? It seems that is something the public could better understand.

She didn't support impeaching Trump -- at least, she was concerned that doing it could hurt her House majority -- until the existence of the whistleblower complaint about Trump's Ukraine phone call became public in September. Pelosi embraced impeaching Trump after his administration initially refused to give it to Congress.

Justin Amash would be a really good impeachment manager. Your thoughts about whether Pelosi will go in this direction?

He's very schooled in the Constitution and is a strong messenger. I think they could do a whole lot worse. On the other hand, this is a guy who founded the House Freedom Caucus. It would be something of a risk.

How are 50/50 votes resolved with issues in the Senate?

The vice president. So in this case, it's as good as a GOP majority.

Can Trump succeed in blocking all testimony? Is there no recourse for ignoring subpoenas ? In a regular court the judge puts people in jail for this. I Congress really that toothless?

The recourse is censuring or impeaching him. But as my colleague Dan Balz wrote at some point throughout this process, what can Congress do with an administration that doesn't comply by longstanding norms, like recognizing Congress's subpoena authority?

We know it takes 2/3 of Senate to remove a president from office. McConnell says he'll move to acquit. Does it also take 67 votes to acquit?

No. Anything shy of 67 votes is an acquittal, as it was with Bill Clinton. There is no middle ground, split-decision verdict.

What will happen if Trump continues to seek and invite foreign interference in our elections and other matters of state? It appears that Rudolph Guliani is still entangled in Ukraine, and the President has no intention of reining in himself or his personal attorney.

Good question. Congress isn't likely to take up another case of impeachment against Trump. Yesterday was it.

What I'm watching for going forward is how Republicans in Congress respond to any Giuliani efforts in Ukraine, or if Trump asks China to look into  his opponent's emails, or something like that.

Isn't there a rule/law that requires that witnesses be heard in Senate Impeachment trials? Isn't that the definition of a trial? (testimony by defense, testimony by prosecution)?!

Think of it this way: The Senate, meaning the senators themselves, will be the "court of impeachment." The Chief Justice simply "presides," to use the word the Constitution uses. Unlike in a jury trial in a regular court, the Chief Justice cannot enter a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, for example. That is, if the senators vote to convict, Roberts cannot entertain and grant a motion by the president's counsel to set aside the conviction as contrary to law. (The opposite would be equally true if the senators vote to acquit and a disgruntled House manager asks Roberts to overturn it, of course.)

That's my understanding of how this works too. Roberts can be less of a judge and more of a procedural oversee-er

I guess, but you guys in the commentary class aren't saying how presidential her decision to not make a decision was and U.S. Rep. Gabbard is trying to win over Democrats in a Democratic party primary, right?

Maybe she thinks all news is good news? I don't know. I really don't have insight into this one. It was surprising to most of us. And, I imagine, to House Democratic leaders.

How bad would the Senate trial have to be for it to hurt McConnell and get him booted from office in November?

In a presidential year, it's going to take a complete GOP implosion for McConnell to lose reelection. They went after him hard in 2014, but that was a midterm. In presidential years, the Senate races mirror the top of the ballot. In fact, in 2016 there was no state that voted for a senator of one party and a president of the other.

McConnell and Graham's claims that they won't be impartial jurors is rich given that every other GOP member refused to comment during the House process because they may have to be impartial jurors.

Yeah, that's a little awkward, to have some Senate Republicans say "I'm an impartial juror" as a way to avoid commenting on Trump's actions, and then have McConnell plow through the pretense. 

Any sign of any GOP Senators with integrity who might break ranks? Or are they all going to abase themselves for Trump as the House GOP did?

However you define "integrity," removing a president is a high bar. Even if Romney and Collins think Trump really messed up here, voting for removal is a huge step. I doubt either of them would.

I see him differently than McConnell and Graham. He was AT some of these possible 'criminal moments' -- doesn't that make him HAVE to recuse?

The problem there is that he can't be replaced as a juror. Other senators were also involved in certain ways, including Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). He wasn't as involved as Johnson, but I don't see how he is forced to recuse.

Speaker Pelosi exercised her lawful right to control the House proceedings as she saw fit. The Speaker now wants to control how the Senate trial is conducted. Do you agree with the Speaker she has that right?

Well she can't control how the Senate trial is conducted, but she is trying to use the only leverage she has over it -- not allowing the Senate trial to start.

Someone asked about the pros and cons for this strategy. I see both sides: It's like, why would Republicans be too worried about the fact she's holding up a trial they didn't want to have in the first place?

But she is forcing Trump and McConnell to try to figure out whether they want to hold witnesses, which Trump badly wants to happen. (At least, the witnesses HE wants.)

After the Senate trial officially establishes that Trump is above the law, what actions will he take with his unstoppable presidential power?

He will still have the election to worry about. His base has stood by him through lots, but he still needs to make sure he doesn't go too far for them.

McConnell has publicly stated he is not "an impartial juror" yet the oath he will take states clearly, "... I will do impartial justice ..." - this seems to be the definition of a kangaroo court - shouldn't he recuse himself or be somehow formally challenged on this blatant violation of his oath?

Beyond the oath, senators don't have to, like, go out of their way to be impartial. So, no, he doesn't have to recuse himself. It's important to remember this isn't like a criminal trial. It's inherently political.

Is McConnell being political to the point of being cynical? (I'm a Republican so why even try to be nonpartisan). I think so. But he's not breaking any rules.

Does impeachment impact a President's ability to issue pardons?

No. Only if they are removed is that power gone, because they are no longer president. Impeachment doesn't carry any sanctions, because it's just bringing a president to trial.

Could the Senate on their own vote to invalidate or overturn the House impeachment decision?

They could hypothetically vote to dismiss the charges. But impeachment is the House's job; the Senate can't do anything to change the fact that Trump has been impeached.

Is there any chance the court will rule on the subpoenas for Mulvany etc.? Is there any date or that ruling is expecting

The two key current/former top aides, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security aide John Bolton, aren't technically in lawsuits about whether to comply with subpoenas to the House.

Bolton's aide, Charles Kupperman, is. And that case is still weeksaway from getting decided. A judge heard final arguments Dec. 10. Or it might not at all. In November, the House actually asked the court to stop deciding this as they withdrew Kupperman's subpoena. (Bolton, though, has said he'll abide by whatever the court decides on Kupperman.)

As a politics junkie, I feel like this is a lot of this is stuff I've been learning about for months so it already feels old news and maybe I'm a little less interested in it, but also people at work or family members who never seems to know or care about politics were very interested it and that kind of surprise me since never talk politics with these people.

I got a call Tuesday night from a family member asking to settle a debate for them: If Trump is impeached, does he get kicked out of office? (The answer is no. It's up to the Senate to dole out punishment for being impeached by the House. Or to acquit him of the charges and continue to let him serve.)

Could three senators force a secret ballot, thus freeing some Republicans to vote for impeachment?

I highly doubt this would ever happen, even if it were possible. If there were a handful of votes against Trump, I think it would be apparent who they probably were.

Thanks for getting his title correct - it drives me nuts when the political reporters/pundits on TV refer to him as CJ of the Supreme Court. Almost as nuts as when they also (and I'm looking at you, Rachel!) refer to the "IRS Code" - as if the IRS - instead of Congress - wrote the statute.

I didn't know that was his official title until I started writing about impeachment!

What do the rules say about the timetable for passing articles of impeachment to the Senate? Is there an expiration date on these articles? Can McConnell force Pelosi’s hand or can she hold on to them until the Dems are satisfied of fairness?

I don't know if there's an expiration date to the articles. I would imagine not? But the rules do say that once the Senate gets the articles, they need to hold a trial six days a week until they vote on impeachment. In other words, they can't drag this out for no good reason.

Can the Chief Justice, since he will lead the Senate, dismiss any Senators that are not impartial? Can he also call witnesses to appear that the Senate Majority Leader otherwise would not call?

Here's a good, skeptical piece that Roberts will do much of anything to rock the boat. The Senate is allowed to set the rules; taking things into his own hands would create controversy and, to some, call into question the legitimacy of the proceedings.

That said, even if he dismisses McConnell, Graham and Johnson, the GOP will still be able to set the rules, and Democrats won't be close to the number of votes they need for removal.

If you're one of these folks in a Trump-leaning district, how do you feel this morning about how the voting went down? They did present a united front. BTW, where is Van Drew hanging out this morning?

Depends. Some of them don't feel like impeachment is a vote that will ruin their careers. Others made their decision and feel like if they lose their job, so be it. That's what Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said when she explained her vote days before. 

"Over the past few months, I’ve been told more times that I can count that the vote I’ll be casting this week will mark the end of my short political career. That may be.

But in the national security world that I come from, we are trained to make hard calls on things, even if they are unpopular, if we believe the security of the country is at stake. There are some decisions in life that have to be made based on what you know in your bones is right. And this is one of those times."

What are the costs and benefits of Pelosi reaching out to Romney, Collins, Gardner and other GOP Senators (Alexander?) to get them to support fair rules for a trial?

I'm not sure she is directly reaching out to them. I don't think she is, actually. 

But your question brings up an important point: When impeachment was in the House, Democrats were the ones on the defensive, politically, with the 31 representing districts that voted for Trump in 2016. Now there are a number of moderate Republicans who are up for reelection next year in purple-ish (or even blue-ish) states, like Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado or Susan Collins in Maine. 

What is the point of a trial if the “jurors” appear to act overtly partisan? (Irrespective of the party)

I think that's McConnell's point, that he doesn't feel like this trial should be happening at all, so why bother to appear impartial? 

I know this is supposed to be about the impeachment, but I wanted to ask a question about paid parental leave. I used up all my leave to take 3 months off when my first child was born last year. We are planning on having a second sometime in 2021 hopefully. When I found out that paid parental leave was passed by the Senate, I actually cried because that meant that I could take a sick day without feeling guilty and hoarding every single hour. I took two hours off for a doctor's appointment that started at 3pm instead of going back to work afterwards and felt so guilty because I knew that every hour I took off now would be unpaid in the future. So, naturally, I was so happy to hear it passed. But I know that even if the president signs it, it hasn't be appropriated yet. Does that mean there is still a chance it won't be enacted?

Trump has said he will sign this, so it looks like this is happening. But FedWeek reports that the new benefit will begin after September 2020.

So many people seem to think if Trump is impeached, he gets kicked out of office. Or I've heard people talk about the Senate impeaching him. I think we just don't understand the word "impeachment" anymore. Should we start referring to it as indictment so that more people understand the indictment comes first, then the trial and acquittal or conviction?

The problem there is that it's not a criminal indictment, and in fact you don't even need a crime. So I think that would be confusing. But you're right that some other terminology might be less confusing.

Here's a plan: Pull a Mitch. Never send the articles to the senate, just like Mitch did with obama's scotus pick, just do nothing. Let everybody stew about it. Dems don't lose, they just refuse to play.

Voters didn't punish the GOP for punting on Garland. Would they view this is acceptable? I don't know.

One thing I keep coming back to on this, though: The GOP has a natural advantage when it comes to the House and Senate maps. So it might be harder for Democrats to execute such tactics and not expect it to cost them at least something.

So did any Republicans who testified yesterday and the preceding hearings say anything positive about Trump? Or did they only argue about the process and about the partisanship of the impeachment?

Some of them did try to defend Trump on the substance of the allegations. But they used misleading facts -- like trying to argue that when Trump asked Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden, he did not have 2020 in mind, or arguing the aid wasn't withheld. (It was, for months.) Or saying that Ukraine's president said there was no quid pro quo, ignoring President Zelensky's other critical comments of Trump and the fact he has a strong incentive not to rock the boat, given he still hasn't gotten that meeting with Trump in the Oval Office he wants.

Will the House keep on holding hearings into Trump's conduct, either in Ukraine or other areas? What do you think the chances are that they'd produce new articles of impeachment down the road, if for instance they get Mcgahn to testify or come up with other new evidence?

I think Democrats are still figuring out next steps. But I don't see a world where they write up new articles of impeachment. Yesterday was it.

There were still a bunch of other investigations going on into Trump and his administration, like Trump's taxes, finances, ties to Russia, his administration's decisions on the Census... it goes on.

If a Democratic president were to use the power of his office to go after a political opponent in the future, will an acquittal of Trump today open the way for similar acquittals?

The details matter, of course, and Republicans would argue (implausibly) Trump was just going after corruption. It does seem to open the door to other presidents and candidates asking other countries for information on their opponents. 

What are the odds the four witnesses Schumer wants to call would testify honestly?

I mean, they face the risk of perjury. So while they may not be totally forthcoming, they have to tell the truth.

If you're asking who would be forthcoming, though, I think the big one would be Bolton, potentially. The others might testify like Volker and Sondland did, in which they often seemed to be straining to cast things in the least nefarious light possible.

How will Senate Republicans balance the need of a fair trial - as over 70% of Americans desire - with Trump's version of a trial?

So about 60% of Americans say they are confident there will be a fair trial, according to a new Washington Post ABC News poll.

I think to your question, about the rift between McConnell and Trump on how to hold a trial, they have some compromising to do. Senate Republicans seem like they're already trying to convince Trump not to invite in Adam Schiff or Nancy Pelosi or Hunter Biden or the whistleblower. From The Post's Seung Min Kim today: "We can look at these accusations outside of impeachment,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So I’m going to tell the president no to his witness request, because I think what’s best for the country is to get this behind us as soon as possible.”

Why would the Republicans want him? Isn't it better for them to say there were bipartisan votes against impeachment in the House?

He did vote as a Democrat, so it's technically true that he was a crossover vote. And I actually made this point when his party switch was reported.

It looks like someone saw the wisdom of that.


Thanks for great questions, everyone! We are getting back to work to continue analyzing and unpacking this historic moment. Oh yeah, and apparently there's a presidential debate tonight?

The holidays will mess up some of our regular live chats (mine will be cancelled Tuesday Dec. 24th, for example), but let's keep in touch! I'm at @byamberphillips and Aaron is at @aaronblake on Twitter. I also have an impeachment newsletter you should check out, The 5-Minute Fix.


In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake is a senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron lives with his family and trusty dog, Mauer, in Northern Virginia.
Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
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