WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. lawmakers who control the fate of President Donald Trump left Washington for a holiday break on Friday with no agreement over how they will handle the Senate trial to consider his impeachment charges in January.
Trump stands little chance of being convicted and removed from office by the Republican-controlled Senate, which is due to take up the two impeachment charges passed by the Democratic-led House of Representatives in a historic vote on Wednesday.
Republicans and Democrats are at loggerheads over how the Senate trial will play out. Democrats want to call top Trump aides as witnesses, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not yet sent the impeachment package over to the Senate in a bid to ramp up the pressure.
Many Republican lawmakers would prefer a quick trial to get the matter behind them, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed the idea of calling witnesses.
He says Democrats are delaying because they have lost confidence in their case.
“The prosecutors appear to have developed cold feet,” he said on Thursday.
No matter the outcome, Democrats have ensured that Trump will go down in history as one of only three U.S. presidents to be impeached, following Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 as he faced impeachment.
Trump, 73, is accused of abusing his power by holding back $391 million in security aid to Ukraine in an effort to get Kiev to announce a corruption investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the 2020 election.
The president is also charged with obstruction of Congress for directing administration officials and agencies not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
Trump has dismissed his impeachment as a hoax and partisan bid to undo his surprise 2016 election win. He says he did nothing wrong.
A Senate trial would kick off a politically charged year heading into the presidential election, which will pit Trump against one of a field of 15 Democratic contenders.
The impeachment trial could pose logistical challenges for the four Democratic senators in the race, as the first nominating contest takes place in Iowa on Feb. 3.
“This impeachment process is more important than anyone’s schedule,” one of those candidates, Senator Amy Klobuchar, said on Thursday.
Trump’s presidency has polarized the United States, dividing families and friends and making it more difficult for politicians in Washington to find middle ground as they confront challenges such as the rise of China and climate change.
Christianity Today, a magazine founded by the late U.S. evangelist Reverend Billy Graham, called on Thursday for Trump’s removal from office in an editorial that branded the effort to get Ukraine to probe Biden as “profoundly immoral.”
Trump questioned Christianity Today’s success and dismissed its call for his removal.
“No President has done more for the evangelical community, and it’s not even close,” Trump tweeted.
Christianity Today Editor Mark Galli, in response, said Trump’s conduct was an urgent concern.
“We rarely comment on politics unless we feel it rises to the level of some national … concern that is really important. And this would be a case,” he told CNN in an interview. “This is something we need as a movement to think about, pray about at this time in our life.”
Evangelical Christians make up about 25% of U.S. voters, according to Pew Research, and have been a bedrock of Trump’s support. In 2016, he took over 80% of the group’s votes, according to Pew’s polling.
Fewer than half of Americans want Trump removed from office, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday.
Additional reporting by Tim Reid in Santa Monica, California and David Morgan, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Mohammed Zargham in Washington; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Paul Simao; Editing by Grant McCool