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Democrats concerned about McConnell's White House impeachment coordination

Posted December 13, 2019 3:21 p.m. EST

— Some Democrats are raising concerns about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's statement that he will coordinate closely with the White House on the looming Senate impeachment trial, with one House Democrat saying the Kentucky Republican should recuse himself entirely.

"He's working hand in hand with the White House, with the President's attorney, and yet we're supposed to expect him to manage a fair and impartial trial?" said Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings when asked about McConnell's remarks. "I think he should recuse himself."

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington called the coordination "ridiculous."

"I think it is outrageous for the chief juror who is organizing the trial to be coordinating with the defendant," Jayapal told reporters.

Under the Constitution, it's up to the House to charge the President with impeachment, and the Senate to convict or acquit -- making senators, including McConnell, the de facto jury.

The House Judiciary Committee on Friday approved articles of impeachment against the President, paving the way for the final floor vote expected next week. That will set up the Senate trial, for which senators are now gearing up.

Democrats wield majority control in the House, but Republicans hold a majority in the Senate.

Some Senate Republicans have been careful not to tip their hands ahead of the expected trial, but many have been vocal in saying that they do not believe the Ukraine scandal rises to the level of impeachment.

McConnell himself said on Fox News on Thursday, "We all know how it's going to end. There is no chance the President is going to be removed from office."

It would take 67 votes in the Senate to remove Trump, so with Republicans holding 53 seats, the President is a virtually lock to be acquitted.

A Senate trial is dictated by what ideas -- for length, or structure or witnesses -- can obtain the support of at least 51 senators. But as majority leader, McConnell does have more power than rank-and-file senators to shape the process.

He told Fox News' Sean Hannity on Thursday night that there will "be no difference between the President's position and our position as to how to handle this."

"Everything I do during this, I will be coordinating with White House counsel," McConnell said.

McConnell and Trump's top lawyer sketched out a plan Thursday, prior to the Fox News interview, to coordinate closely for an impeachment trial. Still, no agreement was reached on an issue where Trump and McConnell diverge. Trump has repeatedly said he wants witnesses at the Senate impeachment trial. McConnell has privately indicated he wants to avoid witnesses out of concern for the political and institutional fallout they might bring.

Publicly, at least, McConnell was all-in with Trump in his interview, noting he was "going to take my cues from the President's lawyers."

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland said on Friday that he "couldn't believe it" and had to see it with his own eyes that McConnell said he was coordinating each step of the process with the White House.

"That is a complete surrender of the constitutional duties and prerogatives of the Senate, essentially turning them over to the White House," Raskin said.

"Let's hope that there's sufficient clamor within the Senate and within the country to make him rethink this idea of coordinating strategy with the defendant in the case: the President," Raskin said. "This is essentially a constitutional defendant, and he's a defendant because we have voted to send an indictment articles of impeachment to the Senate because of the high crimes and misdemeanors."

It's not just current House Democrats weighing in on McConnell's comments.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle, who served as the Senate Democratic leader during the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton, told Axios' Jonathan Swan in reaction to the news that he "felt strongly that as a 'juror,' contact or coordination with the White House was not appropriate."

But, Daschle followed up to say that in fact his "former staff reminded me this morning that while I was not in contact with the White House during the trial, they were."

He added: "There was a need to coordinate on many levels. So I want to be sure that I didn't give you the wrong impression."

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