US Senate returns but still no deal on Trump impeachment

McConnell speaks on the Senate floor. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: The US Senate’s top Republican on Friday swatted aside Democratic demands related to the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, as the warring sides failed to agree on a start date for the historic action.

Resuming work after a holiday break with no signs of a crack in the stalemate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell assailed House Democrats for having “botched” their own impeachment process last month.

And he said that without progress on deciding a timeline for the trial, his chamber would turn to ordinary business until Democrats “muster the courage” to transmit the articles of impeachment.

“Their turn is over, they’ve done enough damage,” McConnell said in a floor speech.

“It’s the Senate’s turn now to render sober judgment … but we can’t hold a trial without the articles,” he added.

“So for now, we are content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate while House Democrats continue to flounder.”

In December, the House of Representatives impeached a US president for only the third time ever, charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to his pressure on Ukraine to launch investigations that would help him politically.

Impeachment triggers a trial in the Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans who are largely loyal to Trump and are widely expected to acquit him.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far declined to transmit the articles of impeachment, as she seeks assurances that the trial would meet Democratic calls for fairness, including commitments to allow witnesses to testify.

The two party leaders remained at loggerheads over how to proceed with the trial, which is still expected this month before Washington is consumed in the swirling politics of a presidential election year.

McConnell said he wants generic rules to be voted on before senators broach the subject of witnesses and documents during the trial, as occurred during 1999’s impeachment trial of Bill Clinton.

Democrats want the initial rules to include commitments that subpoenaed documents be presented to the Senate and trial managers be allowed to call administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, as witnesses.

Trump stands accused of leveraging a highly sought White House meeting and US$391 million in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Kiev investigating Democrats including possible 2020 election rival Joe Biden.

Senate Democrats want to hear from four officials with firsthand knowledge of elements of the Ukraine scandal but who refused to testify during the House investigation.

“The Republican leader hasn’t given one good reason why there shouldn’t be relevant witnesses or relevant documents,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said.

“When you are accused of something, you don’t suppress evidence that will exonerate you.”

Schumer acknowledged the sides were “no closer to establishing the rules for a Senate trial than when we last met” before the break.