Mitch McConnell rejects Nancy Pelosi's influence on impeachment trial as a 'nonstarter'

Key Points
  • The Senate returned Friday, and Mitch McConnell rejected Nancy Pelosi's efforts to influence President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. 
  • Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, could also speak about impeachment following McConnell's remarks. 
  • McConnell also supported the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, which led to fears about an increase in hostilities in the Middle East.
Mitch McConnell speaks with Nancy Pelosi following an on Dec.8, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee | Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's efforts to influence the terms of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial Friday as the Senate opened its 2020 business.

The Kentucky Republican and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer clashed over the impeachment process — even as rising tensions with Iran pulled attention away from the decision on whether to remove Trump from office. McConnell said "we are content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate" until Pelosi sends House-passed articles of impeachment to the chamber.

The California Democrat has held on to them as she and Schumer pressure McConnell to commit to calling witnesses and seeking relevant documents. On Friday, the Senate Republican leader said he would not accept Democratic attempts to sway the trial setup.

"That's obviously a nonstarter," McConnell said.

The Democratic-held House voted last month to charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — only the third time the chamber has impeached a president. The president is accused of withholding critical military aid to Ukraine as he urged the country to investigate a top 2020 political rival, Joe Biden, and Biden's son Hunter.

Schumer has pushed for the Senate to call witnesses who did not speak in House hearings, including White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton. McConnell on Friday said he would follow the precedent of the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton: start with a bipartisan resolution to set up trial logistics, then decide on witnesses later.

Schumer rejected that plan, saying his GOP counterpart has not "given one good reason why there shouldn't be relevant witnesses or relevant documents."

"Leader McConnell's proposal to vote on witnesses and documents later is nothing more than a poorly disguised trap," the New York Democrat said.

In a written statement later Friday, Pelosi said McConnell "made clear that he will feebly comply with President Trump's cover-up of his abuses of power and be an accomplice to that cover-up." She urged the Senate to "immediately proceed in a manner worthy of the Constitution and in light of the gravity of the President's unprecedented abuses."

The latest developments in the Middle East will likely draw some of the Senate's attention away from impeachment this month. The U.S. killed Iran's top military commander, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, on Thursday night, sparking fears of retaliation.

McConnell said that "for too long, this evil man operated without constraint, and countless innocents have suffered for it." He said the Trump administration is working to arrange a classified briefing on the operation with all senators next week, and urged lawmakers not to make judgments on what could happen next.

Schumer, meanwhile, questioned the White House decision making and worried the move could bring the U.S. closer to conflict in the Middle East.

"This action may well have brought our nation closer to another endless war. Exactly the kind of endless war the president promised he would not drag us into," he said.

The Senate Democratic leader has largely focused this week on pressing McConnell to compel the testimony and obtain the documents he deems relevant to a trial. Schumer has cited a report from website Just Security, detailing documents related to the White House's freeze on aid to Ukraine, in pushing for testimony from Mulvaney, Bolton and other key officials.

He said new revelations bring "additional pressures" to allow testimony in the Senate trial.

The Republican-held Senate will likely acquit Trump. On Friday, McConnell said the House "began to develop cold feet" following the impeachment vote, and "flinched" instead of sending the articles to the Senate.

Two of McConnell's GOP colleagues have taken issue with his approach to a trial. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said this week that it was "inappropriate" for McConnell to say he was in "total coordination" with the White House on impeachment, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said last month she was "disturbed" by McConnell's comment. The senators are considered two of the Republicans most likely to break with their party on major votes.

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Here's how Iran may respond to the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani