But he has so far set a far different tone than he did just a year ago, when he declared that “I’m not an impartial juror” and proceeded to set trial rules at the White House’s behest that would strangle Democrats’ case and favor Mr. Trump’s ultimate acquittal. Now he has told allies he is finished with Mr. Trump and is doing nothing to persuade senators to back him, instead calling the impeachment vote a matter of conscience.
Already a half-dozen Republican senators have indicated they believe Mr. Trump’s offense was grave, but others appeared to be closely watching Mr. McConnell for cues.
“I think that’s a good way to put it,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and a McConnell ally, echoing language Mr. McConnell has used to describe the vote. “I’m going to listen to what’s presented,” he added.
The timing of the trial itself remained in limbo on Tuesday as leaders worked behind the scenes to craft a set of rules to govern the proceeding and the broader balance of power in the Senate, which after Wednesday will be split 50 to 50. Impeachment trials are typically all-consuming affairs, grinding all other Senate work to a halt, and Democrats were adamant that this time the two sides find a way to simultaneously judge Mr. Trump and confirm key members of Mr. Biden’s cabinet.
“We’re doing the inauguration now,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Tuesday, swatting away questions about when she would transmit the House’s charge, prompting the start of the trial.
Democrats will hold control because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will have the power to break Senate ties, but Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, will need at least some cooperation from Mr. McConnell to run the chamber and get things done.
Even as he sought to cut off Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell signaled to Democrats that he intended to be every bit the partisan combatant who has infuriated them for years, insisting in private negotiations that they commit to leaving in place the filibuster if they want his cooperation on any power-sharing deal.
“Certainly November’s election did not hand any side a mandate for sweeping ideological change,” Mr. McConnell said in his floor speech. “Our marching orders from the American people are clear: We’re to have a robust discussion and seek common ground. We are to pursue bipartisan agreement everywhere we can, and check and balance one another respectfully where we must.”
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.
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