US Democratic Party lawmakers are pressuring the Republican-controlled Senate to demand President Donald Trump’s top officials to testify in its trial of the impeached president, as they attempt to focus attention on the impeachment trial ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
In a historic vote on Wednesday, the US House of Representative impeached Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress stemming from his pressure on Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rival as he withheld US aid.
Impeachment begins in the House. If the lower chamber of Congress approves articles of impeachment, a vote is then held in the Senate. A two-thirds majority vote would be needed in the upper chamber to remove the president from office.
But to prompt that proceeding, the leader of the House of Representatives, also known as House Speaker, must transmit the articles and name impeachment managers who will make the case in the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, has thrown uncertainty into the impeachment process by refusing to say when or whether she would send the impeachment articles to the Senate for a trial.
By withholding the articles, Pelosi is hoping that Trump, who is eager for a trial to present his defense and clear his name, will put pressure on Senator Mitch McConnell, the highest ranking Republican in the Senate, to commit to Democratic demands, including the ability to call witnesses during the trial.
But the speaker’s strategy is also a gamble as she risks appearing to politicize the matter if she withholds the charges for negotiating leverage.
The Senate trial is expected in early January. Trump himself has expressed an interest in a long trial with witnesses, but senior Republican senators want to put the affair behind them.
Democrats want McConnell to allow top Trump aides like White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, the, and former National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify in a Senate trial, according to a senior Democratic aide.
“Is the president’s case so weak that none of the president’s men can defend him under oath?” asked Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, who later urged McConnell in a meeting to use the two-week recess to consider allowing witnesses.
House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry against Trump in September after the unknown whistle-blower alleged the Republican president pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who had served as a director for Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Democrats are looking into whether Trump abused his power by withholding $391 million in US security aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Kiev to conduct an investigation that would benefit him politically.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and called the impeachment inquiry launched by Pelosi in September a “witch hunt.”