Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he has the votes to start US President Donald Trump's impeachment trial as soon as Speaker Nancy Pelosi releases the documents, winning support from GOP senators to postpone a decision on calling witnesses.
McConnell could launch the third impeachment trial in the nation's history this week if Pelosi sends the articles of impeachment to the Senate. She is set to meet today with her leadership team.
"We have the votes," McConnell told reporters. He said the question of new witnesses and documents will be addressed later "and not before the trial begins".
The contours of a Senate trial have been in dispute. Pelosi is delaying transmission of the articles as Democrats press to hear from former national security adviser John Bolton and other new witnesses. McConnell has resisted.
The GOP leader told senators at their closed-door lunch that he has support for his plan, which is modelled after President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial 20 years ago. It would start the trial first and postpone votes on witnesses until later in the process.
"He has 51 (votes), for sure,"' said Senator Lindsey Graham, R, a top ally of the President, exiting the meeting. Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, 53-47.
Democrats are ramping up pressure on Republicans not to go along with McConnell's proposal to postpone voting on new testimony. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it a "trap" and a "cover-up".
"Whoever heard of a trial without witnesses and documents?" the New York Democrat said. He asked Trump what he has to hide. "Witnesses and documents: fair trial. No witnesses and documents: cover- up."
Just four GOP senators would be needed to deny McConnell his majority, but he appears to have locked up the votes. GOP leaders were conducting a whip count to gauge support.
Several GOP senators have indicated they want to hear from Bolton and other witnesses, but they are nevertheless standing with McConnell's plan for starting the trial.
Senator Mitt Romney, R, said that the Clinton process "provided a pathway" to start the trial and consider witnesses "down the road." He said he supports it.
"I'm comfortable with that process," Romney said. "And at this stage, I'd like to hear from John Bolton and other witnesses with the right information, but that process will accommodate that."