McConnell: The trial will probably begin next Tuesday — and, no, Mr. President, there’ll be no motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment


Two days later, I’m still trying to figure out if this tweet was an empty pander to MAGA Nation or if Trump really meant it. Because if he meant it, he and McConnell are waaay far apart on the optimal outcome from this trial.

If POTUS was serious about that then he’s viewing the trial as — what else? — an opportunity to own the libs. He’ll accept owning them quickly, via a hasty motion to dismiss the articles, or owning them slowly, by calling witnesses like Hunter Biden and digging into Burisma if the trial proceeds. But one way or another, he gets his revenge starting next Tuesday.

McConnell couldn’t care less about Trump’s revenge or owning the libs. His goal here is achingly simple: Do whatever needs to be done to maximize the chances of Republicans holding the Senate next November. Literally every decision he makes will serve that end. That means putting the electoral interests of Susan Collins, Cory Gardner, and Martha McSally, the three most endangered purple-state members of the caucus, above all other considerations in plotting a way forward.

Would it serve the interests of Collins et al. to pass a quickie motion to dismiss? Uh, no. It would gift-wrap the Democrats’ talking point that the trial was a sham and a cover-up because Republicans never really wanted to look at the evidence. It’d be the absolute best-case scenario for Pelosi and Schumer since it would have achieved their lone remaining goal in this process, delegitimizing the Senate’s eventual “not guilty” verdict. The more the trial looks like a real trial, the more legitimate the verdict will appear to voters. The more it looks perfunctory and partisan, the less so. Collins and Gardner are straining to boost the legitimacy factor here knowing that they’re going to have to piss off some swing voters in the end by voting to acquit.

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So here’s Trump encouraging them to … blow up the trial by passing an immediate motion to dismiss? What?

Does he not care about protecting his Senate majority or, as I say, is he just tweet-farting idly to try to convince fans that he favors the idea of a nuclear strike on impeachment even though he really doesn’t?

Eh. Speaking of Democrats trying to delegitimize the verdict, they have a new complaint: They want to play video at the trial, as was done during Clinton’s impeachment 20 years ago, but they need a majority of the Senate to vote to approve that first. My instinct when I first heard of that was that they were trying to manufacture some new grievance so that they can claim that the process is a sham if McConnell doesn’t give them what they want. There were no moments of high drama during Schiff’s hearings that can’t be captured well enough with a transcript, after all. But there actually are a few clips out there that didn’t come from the impeachment process that might be helpful to them in winning the PR fight if they’re played at the trial in front of 40 million people or whatever.

Democrats are particularly interested in playing the clip of Trump on the White House lawn urging Ukraine and China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s combative press conference in which he said Trump withheld military aid to bend Ukraine to his will, before later walking it back.

“It’s certainly better for the Senate jurors and the American people to hear the president directly soliciting foreign interference in an election and Mick Mulvaney saying, ‘that’s just the way things work’ than to hear members of the House recounting it,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Yeah, that Trump clip is not great. I’m curious to see what Collins and Gardner have to say about video evidence, given that letting that clip be played will make their acquittal vote look worse instead of better. Maybe they’ll allow video from the House proceedings to be admitted but not anything else. That seems like a fine “I’m taking this trial seriously, kind of” compromise.

Here’s McConnell dismissing the idea of a dismissal and offering next Tuesday, January 21, as the tentative date for the trial to begin. Remember that the State of the Union will be held on February 4. Senate Republicans will have just 13 business days to finish if they want Trump to walk into the House chamber that night as a newly acquitted man. Otherwise he’s going to have to deliver the speech while still under suspicion. Which could make for a wild speech.

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