This posture on McConnell’s part could reflect his confidence that he has the votes to dismiss the case. If he knows the votes are there to make this go away, he would not need to give Pelosi and Schumer anything, because he can make short work of a trial if Pelosi ever delivers the articles without an agreement.
But McConnell’s stance could also be a bluff. That is, by pretending to be confident of the votes of senators like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, and Cory Gardner, McConnell forces Pelosi into a situation in which she either doesn’t get a trial at all (if she does not turn over the articles), or has to move forward not knowing whether the articles will be quickly dismissed—and hopes of a full presentation and elaboration of the evidence against the president will be just as quickly dashed.
Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes: The remedy for Mitch McConnell
The reasons Pelosi and Schumer would object to McConnell’s proposal are obvious. Without ensuring that they will hear from the witnesses most important to them, there’s a real risk that the trial might adjourn without the testimony of key witnesses such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Certainly McConnell, trumpeting his “total coordination” with the White House, has not exactly presented himself as an honest broker. So by not delivering the articles, Pelosi prevents quick dismissal, and thereby generates pressure for McConnell to reach an accommodation.
Or does she?
Here’s the problem: If Democrats do not have the votes to move forward with bringing in witnesses, they also in effect lack the votes to beat back an effort by McConnell to dismiss the trial or to move directly to the final verdict after opening arguments. In other words, if they don’t have the votes to beat McConnell’s procedural motions, they ultimately have no leverage over the trial, whether the articles show up today or a month from now. In this sense, Pelosi’s threat to withhold the articles may be an empty one.
Except for two important things.
First, if McConnell is bluffing—that is, if he does not, in fact, know whether he has the votes—Pelosi can call his bluff by delivering the articles. The worst case for McConnell, after all, is if the Democrats turn out to have enough votes to win repeated procedural motions and he has not negotiated a deal to limit the number of witnesses. Then the trial could end up hearing from all kinds of people with evidence relevant to the case against the president—Rudy Giuliani, for starters. If McConnell lacks the votes to limit witnesses, a trial without some kind of framework deal to limit the possible damage would be a little like the U.K. careening into a no-deal Brexit scenario. It would be very dangerous. Such a trial could also be protracted, which is highly undesirable for the president in an election year.