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McConnell takes heat from all sides on impeachment

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Democrats roll out legislation to expand Supreme Court Wall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study MORE (R-Ky.) is under pressure from Senate Democrats, House Republicans and President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Illinois House passes bill that would mandate Asian-American history lessons in schools Overnight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he MORE when it comes to the fraught impeachment trial that is about to take over life in the Senate.

Democrats are making it crystal clear they’ll cast McConnell as a Trump stooge if he doesn’t run what they consider to be a fair trial. House Republicans, frustrated they didn’t get to call former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden administration still seizing land near border despite plans to stop building wall: report Olympics, climate on the agenda for Biden meeting with Japanese PM Boehner on Afghanistan: 'It's time to pull out the troops' MORE or the anonymous whistleblower as witnesses, are demanding that McConnell put them in the hot seat.

And the GOP leader, who himself is up for reelection next year, is under the wary eyes of Trump and his own Senate caucus. Any false steps are bound to bring the heat — and even more pressure for the Senate veteran.

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“There’s a lot of incoming right now,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynIntelligence leaders push for mandatory breach notification law Senate GOP signal they won't filibuster debate of hate crimes bill Application portal for venue grants down for five days with no updates MORE (R-Texas), one of McConnell’s advisers, who mostly shrugged it off.

He made it clear McConnell can stand the pressure, just like he did during equally high-stakes Supreme Court battles over Judge Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandOvernight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests Duckworth asks DOJ to probe 'brazenly violent' police treatment of National Guard officer Biden's court-packing theater could tame the Supreme Court's conservatives MORE and Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughBiden's court-packing theater could tame the Supreme Court's conservatives Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting NY Times beclowns itself by normalizing court-packing 'to balance the conservative majority' MORE in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

“He can handle it,” Cornyn said.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer lays groundwork for future filibuster reform Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ Capitol Police officer killed in car attack lies in honor in Capitol Rotunda MORE (N.Y.), who kept mostly quiet on the subject of impeachment during the House inquiry, went on the offensive Sunday and Monday, sending a letter to McConnell and following up with media appearances to demand witnesses at the trial.

Schumer put the GOP leader on the defensive by questioning his willingness to hold a fair proceeding.

The Democratic leader slammed as “totally out of line” McConnell’s statement in an interview with Fox News host Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityBoehner says he voted for Trump, didn't push back on election claims because he's retired Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE that he would essentially let Trump’s legal team dictate the Senate Republican’s position on what a trial should look like.

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Separately, Schumer’s No. 2, Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinLawmakers demand justice for Adam Toledo: 'His hands were up. He was unarmed' Schumer warns Democrats can't let GOP block expansive agenda Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ MORE (Ill.), accused McConnell of setting up an unfair trial.

He said the fact that McConnell hasn’t yet met with Schumer to negotiate the trial procedure “is not a good signal” and drew a contrast to the communications between then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and then-Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) ahead of the last impeachment trial, in 1999.

“I hope there are four Republican senators who agree we ought to do this in a dignified way,” Durbin added, referring to the number of GOP senators who would need to vote with Democrats to overrule the GOP leader.

House Democrats such as Reps. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsTrump hands Rubio coveted reelection endorsement in Florida Democrats urge Biden to take executive action on assault-style firearms Vanita Gupta will fight for all as associate attorney general MORE (Fla.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassLawmakers demand justice for Adam Toledo: 'His hands were up. He was unarmed' Shocking killing renews tensions over police 10 Democrats join NAACP lawsuit against Trump MORE (Calif.), both members of the Judiciary Committee, have called to recuse himself from the trial.

In a letter sent to McConnell Sunday, Schumer noted that during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial, House impeachment managers were allowed to call witnesses.

Specifically, Schumer wants to hear from acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE, former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks On North Korea, Biden should borrow from Trump's Singapore declaration MORE, senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff Robert Blair and Michael Duffey, the associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget.

The issue for McConnell isn’t so much Schumer as it is senators such as Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsModerates' 0B infrastructure bill is a tough sell with Democrats OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senate confirms Mallory to lead White House environment council | US emissions dropped 1.7 percent in 2019 | Interior further delays Trump rule that would make drillers pay less to feds Anti-Asian hate crimes bill overcomes first Senate hurdle MORE, the Maine Republican up for reelection next year, who might side with the Democrats.

McConnell has just 53 GOP senators and can only afford two defections on motions during a Senate trial. Tie votes will fail, as neither Vice President Pence nor Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial, will vote on motions.

On Monday at least, Schumer’s gambit seemed to falter with Collins, who called his move “unfortunate.” 

At the same time, the key Senate moderate distanced herself from McConnell’s statement that “there will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this.”

Collins told reporters that this “would not be the approach that I’ve taken.”

McConnell must still be wary of arguments coming from his own party.

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The GOP leader has come under pressure from House Republicans who have called on his Senate Republicans to take a more aggressive tack by bringing in Biden and his son Hunter to explain their dealings in Ukraine.

The House Republicans are echoing Trump, who has also pressed for his party to invite witnesses to give his legal team a chance to argue that Trump was justified in seeking to investigate Ukrainian corruption.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said last month the president expected to “hear from witnesses who actually witnessed, and possibly participated in corruption — like Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Defense: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he Hillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats hearing MORE, Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, and the so-called whistleblower.”

Hunter Biden’s work on the board of a Ukrainian energy company has sparked scrutiny from Republicans, though no evidence has emerged that the former vice president’s efforts to get a prosecutor in Ukraine to resign had anything to do with his son’s work.

A Republican senator and senior administration official said last week that Trump had not given up his call for the Bidens and other witnesses he believes could testify about Ukrainian corruption to testify before the Senate.

The GOP senator said Trump has made McConnell’s job challenging by repeatedly changing his mind about whether he wants witnesses, which would lengthen the trial.

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“Sometimes it’s ‘I want this over. Can’t we just reject it the day it comes in? Can’t you dismiss it all?’ and then it’s ‘I want a full trial,’” the lawmaker said, describing Trump’s shifting views of the best strategy to respond to the articles of impeachment.

McConnell has made it clear to GOP colleagues that he prefers a short trial without additional witness testimony.

He is betting that once the House impeachment managers make their case and the president’s legal team has a chance to respond, he will have enough votes to acquit Trump on the articles of impeachment and the president at that point will be happy to end the trial without witness testimony, said a GOP senator familiar with McConnell’s thinking.

But at least one Republican senator is undercutting McConnell’s strategy to avoid witnesses.  

On Monday, Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz no longer wearing mask in Capitol The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - CDC in limbo on J&J vax verdict; Rep. Brady retiring Democrats brace for new 'defund the police' attacks MORE (R-Texas), who has clashed with McConnell in the past, said Trump should be allowed to call witnesses such as the Bidens, even though some other Republicans such as Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study Biden aide: Ability to collect daily intel in Afghanistan 'will diminish' Leaving Afghanistan: Is it victory or defeat? MORE (R-S.C.) warn that could turn the Senate into a “circus.”

“If the president wants to call witnesses, if the president wants to call Hunter Biden or wants to call the whistleblower, the Senate should allow the president to do so,” Cruz said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.

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Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Biden outreach on infrastructure met with Republican skepticism McConnell seeks to end feud with Trump MORE (S.D.), McConnell’s top deputy, said votes on motions to call witnesses or move to a final up-or-down vote on the articles of impeachment could come after the House prosecutors and Trump’s legal team have presented their cases to the Senate.

“I don’t think that can be decided in advance of this thing getting under way,” Thune said when asked if there would be an agreement on witnesses before the trial’s start. “That’s not the way it’s been done in the past. I think those decisions will be made down the road and I think it’s going to be up to what 51 senators want to do.”

Thune added that McConnell and Schumer could begin negotiating the trial rules as soon as this week.