Impeachment: Republicans to watch in Senate trial of Donald Trump

Who are the key Republican players in the Senate impeachment trial?


Courtney Subramanian


USA TODAY
Published 3:16 PM EST Dec 19, 2019

WASHINGTON – Though the scope and the timeline of President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial remain uncertain, several Republicans have emerged as key players in both defending the president and deciding his fate. 

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to impeach Trump, who became only the third U.S. president to be impeached. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he believes there is “zero chance” the GOP-led Senate will remove Trump from office. 

Democrats approved articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. They accuse the president of soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election by asking Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.. During a phone call July 25, Trump urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Hunter  once sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Trump said he did nothing improper and has called the impeachment inquiry a “hoax.”

McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., were expected Thursday to discuss parameters of the trial, which would likely take place in January. As the focus of the impeachment saga shifts to the Senate, the president’s lawyers, defenders and even some moderate Republicans who could vote against him are stepping into the spotlight. 

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the impeachment trial, setting the stage for whether witnesses would be called and permitting senators to submit evidence based on rules negotiated by McConnell and Schumer. 

Here’s a look at the other key players. 

Sen. Mitch McConnell

The majority leader will serve as the architect of the trial and has indicated his preference for shorter proceedings. He’ll work with Schumer to determine how long the trial will last, how evidence is presented and whether there will be any witnesses called. Schumer laid out his proposal for a trial in a letter to his Republican counterpart  Sunday.

If Schumer and McConnell fail to reach a bipartisan compromise, a majority in the Senate – held by Republicans – could agree on a measure outlining a process or permitting senators to introduce motions and vote on them as the trial unfolds. 

McConnell privately met with Trump aides, including White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland, on Thursday. After the meeting, McConnell told Fox News he would take his “cues” from the White House in structuring the proceedings, prompting an outcry from Democrats who accused him of failing to uphold his duty.

USA TODAY poll: Narrow majority opposes removing Trump from office if he is impeached

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, accompanied by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., right, speaks to reporters Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ORG XMIT: DCAH307
Andrew Harnik, AP

At the start of the trial, senators will be required to take an oath to “do impartial justice.” 

“Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel,” McConnell said. “There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this.”

Pat Cipollone, White House legal counsel 

The top White House attorney is Trump’s chief strategist on impeachment proceedings and is likely to play a leading role in arguing the president’s case.

During the House impeachment inquiry, Cipollone wrote a series of letters to congressional committees on the president’s behalf, refusing to comply with what he described as a “highly partisan inquiry.” 

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone exits the U.S. Capitol after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on December 12, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

He’s made several trips to Capitol Hill in recent weeks, including a private meeting with McConnell last Thursday. Cipollone is likely to deliver the opening remarks on behalf of the president, but White House senior aide Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday the president is still finalizing his legal team. 

More: Trump’s stonewalling becomes basis for impeachment

The veteran commercial litigation lawyer worked at a prominent Washington law firm before taking the role at the White House. He served in George H.W. Bush’s Department of Justice under Attorney General William Barr. 

Eric Ueland, White House director of legislative affairs

Ueland assists Cipollone in trying to ensure Republicans on Capitol Hill are in lockstep with the White House during the impeachment proceedings. Ueland spent more than two decades as a top Senate Republican aide before joining the administration. 

He served as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and as a top aide to Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles, the former GOP whip, during the impeachment proceedings of President Bill Clinton. He left the Hill after Frist retired and returned as a staff director for the Senate Budget Committee.

Reporters surround White House Legislative Affairs director Eric Ueland as he leaves the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) after meeting with him at the U.S. Capitol on December 12, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Drew Angerer, Getty Images

“The White House is lucky to have somebody who has a very good, experienced track record and memory for a number of fights which seemed obscure at the time but that now have become relevant,” Dave Hoppe, chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, told Politico. 

Before he was named director for legislative affairs, Ueland advised the president’s 2016 transition team, served as director of the State Department’s Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance and as deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. He was nominated to be undersecretary of state for management but failed to get a confirmation vote. His nomination was withdrawn in 2018. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is a staunch Trump ally and has attended multiple impeachment strategy meetings at the White House since the inquiry was launched in September.

Over the weekend, Graham said he’s ready to vote against the articles of impeachment and told CNN he would do everything in his power to make impeachment “die quickly” in the Senate. 

“I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind. I’m not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here,” he said Saturday.

Graham, who has gone as far as calling the impeachment inquiry a “lynching, in every sense,” has said the allegations against Trump are “not worthy of an impeachment discussion.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas

A former political rival of Trump’s in the 2016 Republican primary, Cruz has become one of the president’s most ardent supporters and is likely to echo the White House defense strategy during the trial. 

He pushed a conspiracy theory on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Ukraine “blatantly interfered” in the 2016 election, echoing Trump’s argument that his request to Ukraine for investigations was warranted. 

More: Why Trump’s Senate GOP allies push accusations of Ukraine election meddling

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 02: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) leaves after a vote December 2, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. The Senate has voted 70-15 to confirm Dan Brouillette to be the next U.S. energy secretary. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775446691 ORIG FILE ID: 1191554003
Alex Wong, Getty Images

The Texas senator told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday he plans to uphold his oath of “impartial justice” as a Senate juror but said the impeachment proceedings are different from a criminal trial in that it’s “inherently a political exercise.” 

“Senators are not required, like jurors in a criminal trial, to be sequestered, not to talk to anyone, not to coordinate. There’s no prohibition,” he said. 

Cruz decried the impeachment inquiry Sunday as a “partisan show trial,” insisting that the House Democrats have “zero evidence” against the president. 

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah

Romney is one of the president’s fiercest critics and suggested he’s open to voting in favor of impeaching Trump. The former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee called Trump’s request for Ukraine to investigate Biden “troubling in the extreme.”

He told CNN Tuesday it was “too early” to make a decision on whether to impeach Trump. 

“There will be a trial in the Senate – we will hear the arguments from both sides,” he said. “Upon those arguments, and whatever evidence they present, I’ll make a decision.”

Romney, who is not up for reelection until 2024, has more latitude with his vote than other Republicans who may face backlash at the ballot box in 2020. Last month, he attended a White House lunch with the president along with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, another moderate who could break with her party and vote for impeachment.

The Senate needs a two-thirds majority to convict the president, or 67 senators, which means Trump would not be removed from office unless at least 20 GOP senators join Democrats to convict him.

Donald Trump and Mitt Romney in November of 2016.
DON EMMERT, AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has declined to say how she would vote in a Senate impeachment trial, citing her role as a juror.

Collins, a centrist Republican who is an important swing vote, promised that politics would not be a factor in her impeachment decision. She has sought to distance herself from McConnell, who said he is in “total coordination” with Trump’s legal team on impeachment. “That would not be the approach I would have taken,” she said.

She criticized Schumer for writing a letter to McConnell about potential witnesses that was given to the news media before the two leaders had a chance to discuss it privately.

Collins, who said she did not vote for Trump in 2016, is likely to face political fallout no matter what she decides. The senator announced Wednesday she will run for a fifth term next year. Democrats, angry over her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, would highlight a vote against removing Trump as further proof that she’s not the moderate she claims to be. A vote to remove the president would open her to attacks from the GOP’s right flank, which views her with suspicion.

Contributing: Michael Collins

This content was originally published here.

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