The GOP-led Senate may have blocked new witnesses from testifying, but a deal struck with Democrats to delay the ultimate impeachment acquittal vote of President Trump until Wednesday sets up a wild week ahead in politics.
On Monday, the 2020 presidential election kicks off with the first votes cast being cast in the Iowa caucuses. Meanwhile, the House Democratic impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team will return to the Senate chamber at 11 a.m. to make their closing arguments in the impeachment trial.
The following day, senators will give floor speeches on whether or not Trump should be impeached — just hours before the commander in chief arrives at the Capitol to deliver his State of the Union address.
Even President Clinton’s State of the Union address in 1999 wasn’t as close to his impeachment acquittal a month later.
The White House had wanted a quick acquittal to end what they’ve dubbed a witchhunt. But the administration signaled that the delayed vote won’t stop Trump from delivering an optimistic nationally televised address Tuesday that celebrates his achievements.
“It’s a strong one-two punch to have State of the Union with a clear vision, clear agenda, clear focus for 2020 followed immediately by acquittal on these fake articles of impeachment the next day to launch the president into 2020,” said Eric Ueland, White House legislative affairs director.
“The State of the Union is to lay out a very strong and vigorous focus on the successes of our country over the past three years,” Ueland added.
Less than 24 hours after the speech, the impeachment trial will resume on Wednesday where the Senate will give Trump an all-but-certain acquittal on two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The unprecedented trio of events — Iowa caucuses, State of the Union and impeachment acquittal — was set into play after a wild Friday that culminated with a party-line vote, 53-47, on a resolution to close out the two-week trial.
An effort to call former National Security Advisor John Bolton and other witnesses failed in the evening, setting off a scramble on both sides over what should happen next.
Trump’s allies wanted to “hit the gas” and push for a quick vote to acquit the president by the end of the weekend and close what that they believe was a purely partisan and damaging chapter in U.S. history.
But Democrats were determined to drag out the process by forcing motions to put senators on the spot and deny Trump a chance to take a victory lap Tuesday night at the State of the Union.
“If the president is acquitted with no witnesses, no documents, any acquittal will have no value because Americans will know that this trial was not a real trial,” Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said in blasting the GOP for failing to allow the trial to continue with witness testimony. “It’s a tragedy on a very large scale.”
After the witness vote failed, multiple side meetings and conversations occurred to figure out how to shut down the trial.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., huddled with several moderate Republicans on the Senate floor going over a sheet of paper. First, the majority whip pulled aside Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who put on glasses to read the paper.
Then Thune brought the paper over to Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Murkowski sat arms crossed and eventually left after a prolonged discussion with Thune on the Senate floor.
“I’m at that point where I’m frustrated and disappointed and angry at all sides,” Murkowski said Friday night as she left the Capitol.
The final details of the agreement — which sets up a Wednesday acquittal vote — weren’t hammered out with senators until a conference meeting at the Capitol Friday evening, according to a GOP aide.
Some Trump allies grumbled afterward that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell couldn’t close out the trial Friday or Saturday.
“It’s a terrible thing,” said one source familiar with Trump’s thinking. “(Republican) senators should have stayed in on Saturday. They got rolled.”
But McConnell had to grapple with some senators wanting to have time to debate the articles on the floor next week themselves and Schumer, D-N.Y., wanting to drag out the process.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., predicted Democrats could have probably run the clock until around 4 p.m. Wednesday extending the trial with various motions and procedural moves and kept everyone locked in Washington. GOP leaders said an agreement was needed to pause the trial and set up an orderly off-ramp.
“It was the best deal McConnell could get,” said one Republican source. “The Administration is pleased that this is the best the Republican Senate could do to shorten the process.”
Democrats and some Republicans also wanted a chance to speak about this moment in history before the big up or down vote. Senators have been stuck at their desks for the last two weeks with House managers and Trump lawyers doing all the debating.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is surrounded by reporters as she heads to vote at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
“There was multi-party disagreement about how the Senate should proceed,” said Annie Clark, spokesperson for Collins, R-Maine. “It was not held up by the moderates. As part of that discussion, Senator Collins believed that before senators cast their final votes they should have the opportunity to stand up and briefly state their reasons for voting to acquit or convict. She did not care what day that occurred or how much time the members got.”
Former President Bill Clinton delivered a State of the Union address in the midst of his five-week Senate impeachment trial.
Clinton didn’t mention impeachment at all during his more than 78-minute speech on Jan. 19, 1999. Clinton was acquitted in the Senate on Feb. 12, 1999.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Caroline McKee, Mike Emanuel and Jason Donner contributed to this report.