C’mon: Did McConnell really “back down” by tweaking the rules of the impeachment trial at the last minute?

The premise of Chris Wallace’s argument in the clip below is that McConnell got rolled by the centrists in his caucus, who were nervous about the draft resolution he put out on Monday. That resolution would have crammed 24 hours of opening arguments for each side into marathon two-day sessions instead of taking three days for each like the Clinton impeachment trial did. It also wouldn’t have automatically admitted the evidence gathered by the House impeachment process, another deviation from the Clinton process.

It is … not normal for Cocaine Mitch to get rolled, by anyone. And it’d be really abnormal for him to get rolled on impeachment procedures by the very people whom he’s trying to protect. His entire mission en route to acquitting Trump is to make this process as painless as possible for Republicans who are up for reelection next year in purple states. Why the hell would he publish a draft resolution that risked causing Susan Collins and Cory Gardner and Martha McSally pain?

Why not get their sign-off first?

There are reports circulating this afternoon that it was indeed Collins (and Rob Portman) who supposedly twisted McConnell’s arm after the draft resolution was published to say that they were uncomfortable with the accelerated process. They understand that Trump and Senate Republicans want this over lickety split, ideally in time for Trump to give the SOTU two weeks from today as a vindicated man, but handing Democrats gift-wrapped “cover up!” material in the form of trial sessions that run until two in the morning isn’t going to make their reelection campaigns any easier. And so McConnell backed down — even though their objections were perfectly predictable. NBC reporter Kasie Hunt asks a good question:

He’s not an amateur. He knew Collins et al. would object. So how’d that draft resolution end up being released?

I can only assume that it’s kabuki. McConnell probably coordinated with Collins and the other centrists and they agreed that he’d release a “cover up!” version of the trial rules initially, as a draft. Democrats would then spend a day complaining about it. Finally, on the day of the trial, Cocaine Mitch would release a “fairer” version of the rules and everyone would start leaking that the moderates had forced his hand. Collins’s office is already taking credit, in fact, telling Politico, “She and others raised concerns about the 24 hours of opening statements in 2 days and the admission of the House transcript [in] the record. Her position has been that the trial should follow the Clinton model as much as possible.” Collins ends up as the hero, the strong independent voice of independent-minded Mainers that isn’t afraid to stand up to Mitch McConnell in the name of guaranteeing a fair trial!

McConnell probably orchestrated the whole thing. I bet he was never sincerely planning to hold arguments for each side over two days. And as an added benefit to him, by starting off the trial with a showy concession to “fairness,” it’ll be that much easier for him to argue after Trump is acquitted that Republicans “bent over backwards” to be fair to Democrats.

I can’t think of another plausible explanation for him suddenly “backing down.” The best I can do is to wonder whether he might have earnestly believed there was a chance they could get the trial finished by the SOTU and then was told last night definitively that there are four Republican votes to call John Bolton and Hunter Biden, which would screw up the whole schedule. That is, maybe McConnell tried playing hardball with the timetable in the belief that if they rushed through the opening phase of the trial, the Collins contingent would feel pressure to skip witnesses altogether and just plow ahead to a verdict. If — if — Collins made clear to him last night that that’s not happening, that they’re going to slow down for witnesses no matter how quickly opening arguments are conducted, then he might have concluded there’s no point in rushing things after all. Better to go more slowly and reassure voters that Democrats are crying wolf about procedural unfairness.

But all of that is hard to believe. Surely McConnell would have asked for a firm yes or no from Collins and the rest about calling witnesses before he put out the draft resolution. If they said yes, there’d have been no reason for him to push a two-day timetable for opening arguments. The fact that he ended up doing that anyway suggests that it was a head fake from the start, a pretext for Collins to get the credit for slowing the trial down. Now, when she votes to acquit Trump, she can tell voters back home, “Hey, the only reason we had a fair trial in the first place is because of me.”

Either that or McConnell made a deal with Collins: “I’ll give you an extra day of oral arguments on each side if you agree not to call witnesses.” That might allow them to finish before the SOTU. But I don’t think she would make that deal. The polling is too strong in the opposite direction.

Here’s Wallace via Raw Story.

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