WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump needs Mitch McConnell more than ever.
With Trump finally facing his impeachment trial, this promises to be a defining moment for both men, They started their relationship unevenly three years ago when Trump stunned Washington with his sweep to power but have since fallen into an easy partnership that will be put to its biggest test.
The leader of the Republican-majority Senate has already put his imprint on virtually every aspect of the upcoming trial. He corralled the GOP senators behind his strategy to brush back Democratic demands for new witnesses and testimony. On Monday, McConnell and Senate Republicans were trying to decide whether to include a motion to simply dismiss the charges against Trump outright, as the president wants, in the organizing resolution for the trial, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to discuss it.
The Kentucky Republican is working hand in hand with the White House. He doesn’t pretend to be an impartial arbiter.
“The House has done enough damage,” McConnell said Monday as he opened the chamber. “The Senate is ready to fulfill our duty.”
As the Senate is about to convene for the landmark undertaking, only the third presidential impeachment trial in American history, perhaps no one is more important to Trump’s defense than the Republican leader.
The Democratic-run House is set to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate in a matter of days. Trump faces two charges approved by the House. First, that he abused power by pushing Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political rival Joe Biden, holding back U.S. military funds to the country as leverage. And second, that he then obstructed Congress by blocking witnesses and testimony in the House probe. The challenge for McConnell will be to balance Trump’s appetite for full vindication, accompanied by humiliation of Democrats, with a more measured trial that fits the legal expectations of the Constitution and won’t expose Senate Republicans to a spectacle that could hurt them in elections.
“The president and Senator McConnell have learned to trust each other’s judgment.” said Josh Holmes, a former top McConnell aide who remains close to the leader. “They’ve been through an awful lot over three years.”
Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, 53-47, and there is nowhere near the 67 votes needed for Trump’s removal.
The president has given mixed messages about what he wants in a trial — first suggesting calling witnesses including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and the still anonymous government whistleblower, whose complaint about Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine sparked the impeachment inquiry.
But over the weekend Trump said the Senate should simply dismiss the case against him, rather than legitimize the House charges by sending them for trial. It was an extraordinary suggestion that now appears to be under consideration.
As Pelosi prepared to release her hold on the charges, Trump tweeted yet again on Monday that the House impeachment inquiry “was the most unfair witch-hunt in the history of Congress!” Making it personal, McConnell is calling the holdup Pelosi’s “one-woman blockade.”
The president continues to review his options, according to one senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The person described the president’s talk of dismissal as simply covering the possibilities as the White House continues to work closely with Republicans on Capitol Hill.