This is what’s known as keeping your options open. Either that, or Mitch McConnell has decided to keep his leverage over the unpredictable quantity at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Take your pick, and it could be a combination of both:
McConnell ends his silence:
“while the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate.”
To be clear, he leaves possibility of voting to convict. Or not.
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) January 13, 2021
Actually, McConnell also leaves open the possibility of not having a vote at all. In order to ensure the potential for a vote, McConnell would have to agree to Chuck Schumer’s request for an emergency session of the Senate. Earlier in the day, McConnell’s spokesperson told Axios’ Alayna Treene on the record that he wouldn’t agree to that, which means that the earliest a trial could begin by Senate rules would be 1 pm on January 20th, when Trump will have already left office. That should have put an end to it, but McConnell’s new statement seems to walk that back a bit.
So why would McConnell want to do that, if indeed that’s what this means? Also earlier in the day, I commented on how unusually quiet Trump has become since impeachment started. The White House did put out a statement from Trump today, but it’s not a defense of his actions at all. Trump — or his comms team — merely emphasized that any further demonstrations had better remain lawful on behalf of the country:
Trump just now –>
“I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for” pic.twitter.com/f10B95iTsu
— Andrew deGrandpre (@adegrandpre) January 13, 2021
The combination of almost total silence from Trump and this helpful statement seems to indicate that Trump and his team realize just how fraught their status is. If McConnell shut down any kind of action on impeachment out of hand, would that encourage Trump to stir the pot again? Maybe or maybe not, but perhaps McConnell wants to keep the option for an emergency removal session open. And maybe McConnell wants to make sure the White House knows he still has that option.
Alternatively, McConnell might not be referring to the idea of an emergency session with this statement. Note that he focuses on the “legal” argument raised by the impeachment, but impeachment is not a legal process — it’s political, as McConnell well knows. McConnell might not be referring to the impeachment itself or an emergency session for removal, but the debate over whether a trial for a former president would be legal at all. That assumes the trial won’t even be an issue until after Joe Biden takes office, and indeed that legal issue has already become a hot debate among constitutional scholars.
So which is it? It might be all of the above, but I’d bet that McConnell likes the strategic ambiguity this has created. It keeps Democrats from getting too far ahead of themselves, especially with Joe Biden’s Cabinet picks coming up for confirmation, while letting the White House know that any further disruption could result in an immediate removal — or at least an attempt at one. This puts McConnell in the best position to bring order out of chaos … and if he pulls off this balancing act, he might end up being the cleverest caucus leader in congressional history.