RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he has the votes to start the impeachment trial without hashing out the terms with Democrats. McConnell confirmed yesterday he is abandoning attempts to reach an agreement with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: We're going to get started in exactly the same way that a hundred senators agreed to 20 years ago. What's good for President Clinton is good for President Trump.
MARTIN: The announcement comes after weeks of disagreement about how to hold the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump - specifically, whether to call any new witnesses. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is in the studio with us this morning. Hi, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So what are the consequences of McConnell's announcement?
SNELL: Well, it signals that he is confident that he has the votes not only to get this trial started but likely to move forward with things as he wants them to work. So he wants to establish these rules and kind of set up a framework for what this trial looks like, in part because he never really wanted to agree to these witnesses. Democrats said that they actually believe that he never wanted to agree to calling new witnesses, though he says it'll be something they'll address further along the line. It shows that he believes he has Republicans all together.
MARTIN: That means we're not going to see John Bolton, who said that he would come.
SNELL: It's not totally clear that we won't see John Bolton, but it looks like that means that the witnesses will come down to individual questions later on once the trial has begun. And when it's an individual question, it's a question of a 51-vote question in the Senate, so 51 senators have to agree to bring a witness in. And that means that Democrats, if they want to bring somebody in, have to convince four Republicans to join their side, and that is a big, difficult ask.
MARTIN: We've got tape from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer yesterday, who was talking about this.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: They were afraid to say yes because they know Donald Trump will be furious at them.
SNELL: Right, and that is what Democrats keep saying, is they now believe that it is much more difficult for them to get witnesses. That's why they wanted an agreement upfront, and that's part of why they were so dismayed when McConnell said that this was not, you know, part of his plan.
MARTIN: So what's the timeline? When can we see the trial start?
SNELL: It's not totally clear because it's still up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate, and she has not made clear that that is happening anytime soon. So this could stretch out for several more weeks before we even really know when things will begin.
MARTIN: All right. We have to talk about this - today is also the day top intelligence and national security officials are going to brief members of Congress about the drone strike that killed Iran's top commander, Qassem Soleimani. Do we have any sense of what that's going to look like?
SNELL: Well, it's a really large venue for these briefers to be coming in, to be talking to huge groups of members of Congress, all of the House members on one side and all of the Senators on the other. So it's not really a great venue for really detailed conversations, and that's actually something that members on both sides have complained about over the years. So it may not be a very detailed conversation, very in-depth investigation into what has happened here...
MARTIN: They may not hear the intelligence that they're using as justification...
SNELL: And that's part of why there have been requests for additional briefings and more follow-ups, so that Congress can stay on top of what has happened and what may be coming in the future.
MARTIN: So overnight, Iran retaliated - more than a dozen missile attacks on these two bases that house U.S. troops in Iraq. So does President Trump at this point have to get approval from Congress in order to now up the ante, do anything in response?
SNELL: Technically, Trump is supposed to inform and consult with Congress at every possible moment, but that hasn't happened so far, and then, you know, it really is not often that Congress reasserts their power to ask for that. So we are expecting the House to vote on a War Powers Resolution to kind of reassert some of those powers, but we don't know when, and Democrats are still talking about that.
MARTIN: OK. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell for us. Thank you.
SNELL: Thank you.
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