The Senate sat in judgment of President Andrew Johnson for longer than two months in 1868. More than a hundred years later, in early 1999, it spent more than a month hearing the evidence against, and defense of, President Bill Clinton.
Some conservatives now call for Senate Republicans to stop a potential impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in its tracks.
On the left, some expressed fear that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., simply would block a trial—similar to how the Senate never considered President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee in 2016.
McConnell said last week that Senate rules require him to hold a trial if the House impeaches Trump.
But popular conservatives such as talk radio host and constitutional lawyer Mark Levin and Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, say the Senate should dismiss any articles of impeachment from the House.
The Senate considered a motion to dismiss at the beginning of the Clinton impeachment trial, but rejected it.
As reporters crowded near Trump outside the White House on Thursday, The Daily Signal asked: “Mr. President, should the Senate allow a full trial if the House does impeach?”
Trump didn’t directly respond about a Senate trial, but argued there is no reason to impeach him.
“I don’t know how you can impeach on a conversation with the president of a country—in this case, Ukraine—which was a perfect conversation, where the president of Ukraine just said there was no pressure put on him whatsoever, that we had an absolutely perfect conversation,” Trump told The Daily Signal, adding:
We have a transcript of the conversation, fortunately, that’s perfect. And I do think this: I think it’s very unfair to heads of countries when they think every time they make a conversation or have a conversation with the president of the United States, it’s going to be on, you know, all over the world. I think that’s very unfair.
But in the case—in the case of what we’re talking about, we released a perfect conversation. The president of Ukraine just confirmed that. And that should be ‘case over.’
I will say this: [Rep.] Adam Schiff took that conversation before he saw it and fabricated a conversation. To me, that’s criminal. What he did is criminal.
Schiff, D-Calif., is chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s point man in Democrats’ unofficial impeachment inquiry.
McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, explained that he would have no choice but to schedule a trial if the House votes out any articles of impeachment.
“It’s a Senate rule related to impeachment, which would take 67 votes to change,” the Senate leader told reporters. “So I would have no choice but to take it up. How long you are on it is a whole different matter, but I would have no choice but to take it up, based on a Senate rule on impeachment.”
Levin this week argued that this is an extraordinary circumstance that should allow the “nuclear option,” meaning changing the Senate rules so that a simple majority vote can dismiss the charges.
“The Senate must not allow itself to be the plaything of Pelosi and the House Democrats, who are violating every rule,” Levin, a lawyer and bestselling author who once worked for the Reagan administration, said on his radio show. “And only the Senate has the power to police what House Democrats are doing. No other body. No court, not the executive branch, only the Senate.”
The Senate would be under immense political pressure to hold a full trial, said John Malcolm, director of the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
“This is not like a bill passes in the House and they are not going to take it up on the Senate floor,” Malcolm told The Daily Signal. “This is a serious matter. If the entire House voted for articles of impeachment, I think the Senate—while they might not be required to do it—as a political matter, they would almost have to have a trial.”
Chief Justice John Roberts would preside over the trial.
The Johnson impeachment trial began March 5, 1868. A Republican-controlled Senate fell one vote short of removing Johnson the following May 16. The Clinton impeachment trial opened Jan. 7, 1999; the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted the Democrat president Feb. 12.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Republicans plan to send a letter to Pelosi, D-Calif., explaining that the Senate will not remove Trump.
Graham was among the House managers, or a member of the prosecution team, during Clinton’s Senate trial.
The Constitution says simply that if the Senate holds an impeachment trial, it would require a two-thirds vote to convict.
Malcolm noted that Senate leaders “get to set the procedures and parameters of that trial.”
“They could say, ‘We’re going to have a one-day trial. You’re going to come in here and present a summary of why you think the president ought to be impeached, and then we’re going to have a vote,’” Malcolm said.
The two-thirds threshold, or 67 votes, is nearly impossible to reach since Republicans hold 53 seats in the Senate, so a trial would be a waste of time, Martin wrote in a USA Today op-ed.
“[The] Senate should move quickly to vote on a resolution dismissing the House impeachment charges by a simple majority vote,” Martin wrote. “This would spare the nation the political agony of a drawn-out Senate trial, where the outcome is a foregone conclusion and the only result will be further polarization.”