Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that there are now sufficient votes to start the initial stages of a Senate impeachment trial without deciding whether or not to call witnesses until later.
"We have the votes, once the impeachment trial has begun to pass a resolution" that would set up "what could best be described as maybe a phase one," McConnell explained. "Which would include, obviously, arguments from the prosecution, arguments from the defense and then a period of written questions" to be submitted to either the prosecution or defense via the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court "because, remember, senators are not allowed to speak during the impeachment trial."
The question of whether or not to call witnesses would be addressed after those things take place, McConnell explained, "and not before the trial begins." At that point, the Senate could still subpoena new witnesses to come testify — such as former national security adviser John Bolton, for example — but it would still require a majority vote of the chamber.
There had previously been questions about whether or not some Republican senators might come forward to give Democrats more leverage in dictating the terms of the trial process, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for the Senate to agree to hear witnesses before the trial begins.
Setting rules for an impeachment trial will require a 51-vote majority, meaning that McConnell will need only to keep Senate Republicans on board for such a process to start. There are 53 Republican seats in the Senate.
But as he has said before, McConnell pointed out that Senate rules dictate that a trial can't actually start until the House sends over the articles of impeachment for prosecution, which still hasn't happened. Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has given no clear indication of when that might happen.
"It continues to be my hope that the speaker will send them on over," McConnell said of the impeachment articles. "The House argued that this was an emergency, they needed to act quickly, that the president was such apparently — from their point of view — such a danger to the country that they needed to really rush this through and then they sat on the papers now for three weeks. I hope that'll end this week."
At a separate Tuesday afternoon news conference, Schumer seemed to hint that Pelosi's opposition to sending the articles over may be softening in light of recent developments.
"The speaker has said all along that she wanted to see the arena in which she was playing when it came to a trial so she could appoint impeachment managers," Schumer said when asked if it was time to send the matter over. "Now it's becoming clear that Mitch McConnell wants to do everything he can to avoid a fair trial so she has some idea of what's happened."
Schumer went on to add that "by not sending the articles immediately" Pelosi has already prevented McConnell from dismissing the case around Christmas and allowed time for a "cascade of evidence" that "strongly bolsters the case for witnesses and documents."
Meanwhile, other Senate Democrats have voiced their belief that the time has come for Pelosi to let the Senate start the trial.
"I think the speaker should send the articles regardless," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Tuesday. "I think the time has passed. She should send the articles over."
"I think it needs to start, I really do," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) told the Washington Post. "Let us do what we have to do over here."