McConnell takes heat from all sides on impeachment

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money — McConnell searches for debt deal votes GOP working to lock down votes on McConnell debt deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Debt limit maneuvers; Biden warns Putin MORE (R-Ky.) is under pressure from Senate Democrats, House Republicans and President TrumpDonald TrumpJury in Jussie Smollett trial begins deliberations Pence says he'll 'evaluate' any requests from Jan. 6 panel Biden's drug overdose strategy pushes treatment for some, prison for others 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 BidenPharma lobby eyes parliamentarian Demand for US workers reaches historic high Biden to award Medal of Honor to three soldiers who fought in Iraq, Afghanistan: report 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 CornynGOP working to lock down votes on McConnell debt deal Manchin quietly discusses Senate rules changes with Republicans House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike 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 GarlandBiden Supreme Court study panel unanimously approves final report Lawmakers call for investigation into proposed AT&T WarnerMedia, Discovery merger Family asks for better treatment for Maxwell as trial stretches on MORE and Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughConservative justices appear open to religious claim in Maine school case Budowsky: Pro-choice women can save Democrats in 2022 Trump considered withdrawing Kavanaugh nomination over beer comments, being 'too apologetic': Meadows book MORE in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

“He can handle it,” Cornyn said.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerGillibrand slams committee leadership, Pentagon for military justice reform cuts Build Back Better Is bad for the states  Dole to lie in state 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 HannityLeft and right take aim at Big Tech — and the First Amendment Rittenhouse says he's destroying gun used in fatal Kenosha shootings Dr. Oz expected to run for Senate in Pennsylvania as a Republican: reports 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 DurbinDemocrats seek to avoid internal disputes over Russia and China Schumer steps on the gas to move Biden agenda Demand Justice launches ad campaign backing Biden nominee who drew GOP pushback 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 DemingsSununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority Democrats brace for flood of retirements after Virginia rout Rep. Brown to run for Maryland attorney general MORE (Fla.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassFor Democrats it should be about votes, not megaphones Proposed California maps put incumbents in jeopardy Bass calls 'Black pastors' comment during Arbery trial 'despicable' 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 MulvaneyJan. 6 committee issues latest round of subpoenas for rally organizers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - To vote or not? Pelosi faces infrastructure decision Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 11, including Pierson, other rally organizers MORE, former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonWhen will Biden declare America's 'One China, One Taiwan' policy? India's S-400 missile system problem Overnight Defense & National Security — GOP unhappy with Afghan vetting 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 CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Debt limit maneuvers; Biden warns Putin Senate confirms Biden's nominee to lead Customs and Border Protection Hillicon Valley — Presented by Connected Commerce Council — Incident reporting language left out of package 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 SchiffRoger Stone to plead the Fifth in Jan. 6 investigation Jan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth Jan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote 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 CruzInstagram chief gets bipartisan grilling over harm to teens McConnell faces GOP pushback on debt deal Democrats seek to avoid internal disputes over Russia and China 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 GrahamMcConnell faces GOP pushback on debt deal Bottom line GOP senators introduce bill targeting Palestinian 'martyr payments' 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 ThuneOn The Money — McConnell searches for debt deal votes GOP working to lock down votes on McConnell debt deal Manchin quietly discusses Senate rules changes with Republicans 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.