Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday he has the votes to start an impeachment trial even without an agreement on potential witnesses – once the chamber receives the articles from the House.
“We have the votes," McConnell told reporters.
The vote would kick off "phase one" of President Trump's impeachment trial, while the contentious issue of witnesses would come up after the trial is underway, McConnell said.
"Fifty-one senators determine what we do and there will be, I'm sure, intense discussion, once we get past phase one, about the whole witness issue," McConnell said.
The GOP leader first notified Republican senators at their weekly lunch that he has enough votes to proceed – meaning a simple majority – even as Democrats urge McConnell to accept their demands to seek certain witness testimony.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused McConnell of trying to duck the vote to protect his GOP senators from either angering the president or their constituents.
Shortly after McConnell's announcement, Schumer vowed to press ahead with Democrats' demands for a fair trial with witnesses and documents.
“We will not let them avoid the vote. They can delay it, but they can’t avoid it,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said.
Democrats amplified those demands after a key figure in the impeachment inquiry, former national security adviser John Bolton, said he would be willing to testify if subpoenaed.
But McConnell has maintained all along that he wants to model the impeachment trial for Trump after that of former President Bill Clinton, by dealing with potential witnesses after the trial begins.
And even as McConnell claims the votes to be able to proceed, he insists the chamber first needs to receive the articles of impeachment from the House.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been holding onto those charges ever since last month, hoping to extract favorable terms for a trial.
“It's time for Speaker Pelosi to get on with it or get out of the way,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Tuesday.
“Their turn is over. They’ve done enough damage. It’s the Senate’s turn now to render sober judgment,” McConnell said on the Senate floor last week, referring to House Democrats.
He stressed that the chamber cannot hold a trial unless and until the House of Representatives transmits the two articles of impeachment adopted last month, accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress pertaining to his dealings with Ukraine.
But Bolton’s statement Monday energized Democrats who have sought a commitment on calling witnesses.
Schumer claimed Bolton's offer gives "momentum" to the push for testimony.
"Given that Mr. Bolton’s lawyers have stated he has new relevant information to share, if any Senate Republican opposes issuing subpoenas to the four witnesses and documents we have requested they would make absolutely clear they are participating in a cover up," he said in a statement Monday.
His testimony was sought following the claims that Bolton was opposed to Trump’s controversial July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and once referred to the entire Ukraine pressure campaign as a “drug deal.”