McConnell takes heat from all sides on impeachment

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Republican lawyers brush off Trump's election comments MORE (R-Ky.) is under pressure from Senate Democrats, House Republicans and President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick 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 BidenFormer Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida 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 CornynHillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Lawmakers introduce legislation to boost cybersecurity of local governments, small businesses On The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami 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 GarlandDoug Jones says he will not support Supreme Court nominee before election House Democrat to introduce bill imposing term limits on Supreme Court justices On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline MORE and Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughTrump plans to pick Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg on court Collins trails challenger by 4 points in Maine Senate race: poll SCOTUS confirmation in the last month of a close election? Ugly MORE in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

“He can handle it,” Cornyn said.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish 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 HannityFormer Florida attorney general calls Kyle Rittenhouse 'a little boy out there trying to protect his community' Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Cruz: Trump should nominate a Supreme Court justice 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.

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Separately, Schumer’s No. 2, Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Feinstein 'surprised and taken aback' by suggestion she's not up for Supreme Court fight Grand jury charges no officers in Breonna Taylor death 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 DemingsFlorida Democrat introduces bill to recognize Puerto Rico statehood referendum Sunday shows - Trump team defends coronavirus response Demings slams GOP coronavirus relief bill: Americans 'deserve more than the crumbs from the table' MORE (Fla.) and Karen BassKaren Ruth BassOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police Outrage erupts over Breonna Taylor grand jury ruling 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 MulvaneyOn The Money: House panel pulls Powell into partisan battles | New York considers hiking taxes on the rich | Treasury: Trump's payroll tax deferral won't hurt Social Security Blockchain trade group names Mick Mulvaney to board Mick Mulvaney to start hedge fund MORE, former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonJudge appears skeptical of Bolton's defense of publishing book without White House approval Maximum pressure is keeping US troops in Iraq and Syria Woodward book trails Bolton, Mary Trump in first-week sales 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 CollinsDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Poll: 57 percent of Americans think next president, Senate should fill Ginsburg vacancy On The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami 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 SchiffSchiff to subpoena top DHS official, alleges whistleblower deposition is being stonewalled Schiff claims DHS is blocking whistleblower's access to records before testimony GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power 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 CruzCrenshaw looms large as Democrats look to flip Texas House seat SCOTUS confirmation in the last month of a close election? Ugly The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' 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 GrahamLincoln Project mocks Lindsey Graham's fundraising lag with Sarah McLachlan-themed video The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error 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 ThuneHouse to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error Senate passes resolution reaffirming commitment to peaceful transition of power 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.