Had Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) simply announced how he intended to vote in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, it would’ve been problematic. After all, the trial hasn’t even begun yet, and senators are going to have to “solemnly swear” to do “impartial justice” before the proceedings get underway.
But McConnell went considerably further two weeks ago, meeting in private with top White House officials, and then declaring on Fox News that he’d be in “total coordination” with Team Trump as the process advances. The Senate GOP leader added that “everything” he does during the proceedings will be coordinated with the White House, assuring Fox News’ audience that there will be “no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this.”
It wasn’t long before congressional Democrats cried foul, suggesting McConnell’s comments were so far over the line that he should consider recusing himself from the process. But as it turns out, Dems weren’t the only ones who thought the Kentucky Republican pushed the envelope too far.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Tuesday she was “disturbed” that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would engage in “total coordination” with the White House regarding the upcoming Senate trial of President Donald Trump.
In an interview with Anchorage’s local NBC affiliate KTUU broadcast Tuesday, Murkowski — who earlier in the year refused to defend Trump from the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry — said McConnell’s comments “has further confused” the impeachment process.
While arguing that there should be some distance between the White House and the Senate on the impeachment proceedings, Murkowski said, in reference to McConnell’s comments, “[I]n fairness, when I heard that I was disturbed…. 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 happened to think that that has further confused the process.”
The president has repeatedly insisted in recent weeks that his party stands completely unified on impeachment. Murkowski’s concerns – and her willingness to express them publicly – suggest Trump’s boast may not be altogether true.
Some caution is probably in order. The Alaska senator may have been “disturbed” by McConnell’s over-the-top partisanship, but she hasn’t signaled a willingness to work with Democrats on how the rules for a fair Senate trial should take shape.
What’s more, even if Murkowski did express a willingness to work on a bipartisan set of rules, she’d need to find some allies on her side of the aisle: there are 53 Republicans in the chamber, which means four members of the conference would have to break ranks and endorse a fair, evidentiary impeachment trial. As of this morning, Murkowski appears to be in play, but she hasn’t made any commitments, and there’s little to suggest three other GOP senators would follow her lead.
That said, the Alaskan’s comments point to a possible crack in the partisan wall – and that’s a start.
To her credit, Murkowski, who won as a write-in candidate in 2010 after losing in a primary, has been more willing than most Republicans to go her own way on key issues. When her party tried to replace the Affordable Care Act with a far-right alterative, she balked. When her party rallied behind Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, Murkowski was the only GOP senator to vote “no.” When Senate Republicans pushed a resolution two months ago denouncing the House’s impeachment inquiry, the Alaskan didn’t sign it.
Political courage among GOP lawmakers has been in short supply in the Trump era, but if anyone in the party is going to help take the president’s impeachment trial in a constructive direction, Lisa Murkowski is the one to watch.