McConnell takes heat from all sides on impeachment

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPoll shows Collins displaces McConnell as most unpopular senator Hill.TV's Saagar Enjeti on impeachment: 'CNN can see through this nonsense' Trump says impeachment trial should move 'very quickly' MORE (R-Ky.) is under pressure from Senate Democrats, House Republicans and President TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president 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 BidenLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Ex-Obama official on Sanders-Warren feud: 'I don't think it played out well for either of them' Parnas says he doesn't think that Joe Biden did anything wrong regarding Ukraine 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.


“There’s a lot of incoming right now,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynKoch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Seven things to know about the Trump trial New Parnas evidence escalates impeachment witnesses fight 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 Brian GarlandThe Trumpification of the federal courts Juan Williams: GOP are hypocrites on impeachment Finding an animating issue is Democrats' biggest 2020 challenge — not Trump MORE and Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughDemocratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment January reminds us why courts matter — and the dangers of 'Trump judges' Planned Parenthood launches M campaign to back Democrats in 2020 MORE in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

“He can handle it,” Cornyn said.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications Senators are politicians, not jurors — they should act like it GOP senator: 2020 candidates must recuse themselves from impeachment trial 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 HannityTrump wants To 'deescalate,' but will his supporters let him? McConnell tells GOP senators to expect impeachment trial next week Graham predicts Senate will take up impeachment trial next week MORE that he would essentially let Trump’s legal team dictate the Senate Republican’s position on what a trial should look like.


Separately, Schumer’s No. 2, Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer Overnight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump's border wall Senators under strict orders to pay attention during weeks-long impeachment trial 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 DemingsThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems to lay out impeachment case to senators next week Seven things to know about the Trump trial House delivers impeachment articles to Senate MORE (Fla.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassOmar calls on US to investigate Turkey over possible war crimes in Syria McConnell takes heat from all sides on impeachment Sunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial 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 MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyCollins says she's 'likely' to support calling witnesses for impeachment trial Schumer doesn't rule out calling Parnas to testify in impeachment trial Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE, former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonParnas says he doesn't think that Joe Biden did anything wrong regarding Ukraine Parnas: Environment around Trump 'like a cult' Collins says she's 'likely' to support calling witnesses for impeachment trial 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 CollinsPoll shows Collins displaces McConnell as most unpopular senator Collins says she's 'likely' to support calling witnesses for impeachment trial Democratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment 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.


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: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon Schiff schedules public hearing with US intel chief  Harris calls for Parnas to testify at Senate trial 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.


“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 CruzSeven things to know about the Trump trial All the frontrunners could survive initial Iowa test Republicans face internal brawl over impeachment witnesses 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 GrahamDemocratic group plans mobile billboard targeting Collins on impeachment Paul predicts no Republicans will vote to convict Trump Roberts sworn in to preside over Trump impeachment trial 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.


Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate to vote on Trump's Canada, Mexico trade deal Thursday Senate braces for Trump impeachment trial Republicans face internal brawl over impeachment witnesses 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.