Now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has the votes to open an impeachment trial without a bipartisan agreement on the rules, one of the last major questions about the early phase of the proceedings is whether the Senate will vote on a motion to dismiss before it’s heard all the evidence.
President Trump has hinted on Twitter that he’d like the case against him thrown out from the start. According to CNN, the White House has behind the scenes been pushing to include a vote on a motion to dismiss after opening arguments as part of the procedural package McConnell is expected to unveil this week.
There was a motion to dismiss vote during the Clinton impeachment trial, after each side had presented its case and the senators had the opportunity to submit questions. The motion only takes 51 votes to pass, but it failed at that stage of the Clinton impeachment. This time around, it could be a potentially tough vote for vulnerable or moderate GOP senators to take, for fear of looking like they did not give the case against Trump a full hearing before letting him off the hook.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a McConnell ally, played down the idea that the Senate would vote to dismiss the case early on in the trial. When asked about Trump’s recent comments favoring the idea, he pointed to the contrary position expressed by Trump before that.
“I think our members generally are not interested in a motion to dismiss. They think both sides need to be heard. They believe the President needs to be heard for the first time in a fair setting,” Blunt said.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who faces a tough race in 2020, dodged the question of whether there should be a motion to dismiss at all.
“Any senator can make any motion, so we’ll just see how it goes. We still don’t have the articles yet,” she said.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), meanwhile, suggested he would not be in favor of dismissing the case before the Senate took major steps in hearing evidence.
“My position has been consistent and clear, which is I think we ought to have the opportunity to hear from both sides, and senators ought to have the opportunity to have their questions answered, and then we’ll see where we are,” he said.
There are currently 53 Republicans in the Senate, meaning only three GOP defections would doom a motion to dismiss.
McConnell, according to reporting by CNN, sees little use in bringing up a motion that is likely to fail, while subjecting members of his caucus to a vote that could haunt them come November. The threshold for convicting and removing the President at the end of the trial is 67 votes, and there is no doubt that Republicans will have plenty of votes to stop that from happening.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), according to NBC News, acknowledged the political trap a motion to dismiss presented Republicans.
.@JohnCornyn On why a motion to dismiss perilous for GOP:
“This is about Schumer getting 2020 republican incumbents into tough voting situations. So I think recognizing that that’s his goal, I think it won’t surprise you that we’re thinking about that too, and how to avoid that”
— Leigh Ann Caldwell (@LACaldwellDC) January 13, 2020