Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was “disturbed” to hear Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talk about coordinating with President Donald Trump over his impeachment trial, and she expressed her hopes for a “full and fair process.”
In an interview with KTUU published Tuesday, the senator said she was concerned about McConnell’s comments on Fox News two weeks ago, when he said he is in “total coordination with the White House counsel’s office” on the impeachment process.
“When I heard that, I was disturbed,” Murkowski told the Anchorage television station, adding that there should be some distance between Senate and White House leadership. “To me, it means that we have to take that step back from being hand-in-glove with the defense. And so I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happen to think that that has further confused the process.”
In the same interview, Murkowski was careful to say she was not happy about the House impeachment process, which she believes was rushed when the Democrat-controlled lower chamber voted last week to formally impeach the president. But the House’s process was one reason the senator felt it important for the Senate to conduct a careful trial, which might include calling key Trump advisers as witnesses.
“How we will deal with witnesses remains to be seen,” she said.
The statements suggest that Murkowski might be willing to break with McConnell over how the GOP-controlled Senate deals with Trump’s trial. The question going forward is how strong her concerns are ― and whether any other Republican senators feel the same way.
Republicans have just 53 seats in the Senate, which means a coalition of all the Democrats and independents plus just three or four Republicans could be enough to change the rules or at least prevent McConnell from conducting a trial in the way he wants, depending on the specific rule change.
It would, of course, not be enough to remove the president. The chances of that happening remain small, given that most elected Republicans have made clear they intend to support Trump.
The procedures for the impeachment trial have become the focus of political attention after the House voted Dec. 18 to impeach Trump over charges of abuse of power (for his dealings with Ukraine) and obstruction of Congress (for his refusal to provide information and witnesses during the House’s investigation).
Impeachment, which requires a majority vote in the House, is the first of two steps for forcing a high official from office. The second step is the trial in the Senate, in which the body decides by a two-thirds vote whether to remove the president.
The Senate has some basic rules for impeachment in place, but those rules allow a great deal of leeway over how a trial proceeds. In a Dec. 12 interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, McConnell said “there will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can.”
“We have no choice but to take it up,” McConnell told Hannity. “But we’ll be working through this process, hopefully in a short period of time, in total coordination with the White House counsel’s office and the people representing the president in the well of the Senate.”
It was those comments that attracted Murkowski’s ire. Murkowski is, along with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the two most moderate members of the Republican Senate caucus. She famously voted against repeal of the Affordable Care Act and against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She also has no love for Senate leadership, which declined to support her after she lost a primary challenge to a GOP tea party candidate and decided to run, successfully, as a write-in candidate in 2010.