Schumer aims to drive wedge between Republicans on impeachment

Senate Democrats are waging a pressure campaign to try get their GOP colleagues to break ranks on impeachment witnesses.

Absent a deal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Democrats are expected to force floor votes on their requests for trial documents and witnesses, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), backed by members of his caucus, is working to put Republicans in a bind and drive a wedge between GOP leaders, who say they don’t want witnesses, and a handful of moderate and retiring senators viewed by Democrats as persuadable on procedure.

Schumer — who has been hitting the interview circuit to try to gain traction — lashed out at McConnell on Wednesday for saying he won’t be an “impartial juror” and stressed that decisions in the trial rest with individual senators, not the GOP leader.

“Each individual senator will have the power, will have the responsibility to help shape what an impeachment trial will look like. Do my Republican colleagues want a fair, honest trial that examines all the facts, or do they want to participate in the cover-up?” Schumer asked.

Schumer has predicted that GOP senators who reject Democratic impeachment requests will face blowback, but he has been careful not to mention any senators by name as he works to convert the four Republicans he’ll need support from during floor votes.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican senator, said he thought Schumer was miscalculating if he thought GOP senators would face political repercussions from voters if they don’t allow for impeachment trial witnesses.

“I’m sure Schumer’s calculation in the Senate is maybe different than what everybody else’s is because of where the Senate seats [are] he is contesting this year, but I just think that this whole issue politically is moving against the Democrats. If they don’t see that, they should,” Thune said.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway met with Senate Republicans on Wednesday during a closed-door lunch to argue that public opinion was turning against Democrats on impeachment.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday found Americans deadlocked on removing the president with, 48 percent favoring impeachment and 48 percent opposed. A Gallup poll released the same day found that 46 percent support impeachment and removal, while 51 percent oppose impeachment.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2, argued that Americans “overwhelmingly” supported the Senate carefully considering the articles against Trump and that McConnell’s stance “cuts off the evidence.”

“I think it will be difficult for several Republicans who proclaim to be moderate to explain why they stood with Sen. McConnell,” Durbin said, but added that GOP senators haven’t indicated to him they would support an attempt by Democrats to force Mulvaney or Bolton to testify.

Senate Democrats’ campaign arm and state Democratic parties have started targeting GOP senators running in key elections next year, including Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Cory Gardner (Colo.).

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) knocked Collins on Wednesday after video surfaced of her backing impeachment witnesses, who ultimately gave closed-door depositions, during the 1999 impeachment trial of former President Clinton. Collins’s comments were made after the Senate trial had started.

“It’s been a long time since Senator Collins could credibly call herself an independent voice in the Senate, and her refusal to do her job and stand up to Mitch McConnell’s partisan cover-up scheme makes it clear why,” said Stewart Boss, a DSCC spokesman, in a statement.

The North Carolina Democratic Party similarly questioned whether Tillis would “be another rubber stamp for McConnell and enable this cover-up.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), however, appeared hesitant that Republicans would face political blowback specifically on procedure, questioning how much people would follow a process fight while noting that Americans generally didn’t want a truncated trial.

“I don’t think that people support a rushed trial,” Murphy said. “There are a lot of people that don’t think Trump should be impeached who also don’t think the process should be rushed.”

Under impeachment trial rules, any senator can force a vote on a motion, with a simple majority needed to be successful. Unlike normal Senate votes, Vice President Pence cannot break a tie. That means Schumer needs four GOP senators to successfully call witnesses or request documents. He needs only three Republicans if he wants to block a GOP motion because, according to senators, a 50-50 vote would result in a motion failing.

Schumer has predicted that he’ll have a “whole bunch” of GOP support on the floor if Democrats force votes on witnesses, but his tactics appeared to have gained little traction with Republicans this week.

“I think the leader is viewing it as I do, as the political process that it is,” Tillis said. “It’s not going to take long to go through the information that the House has provided.”

When asked about witnesses, Collins, who is one of two Senate Republicans running for reelection in a state won by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, said it was “premature for us to make a decision.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of Trump’s most vocal critics within the GOP caucus, has said he’s “indifferent” on whether senators make a decision on witnesses before the trial starts, like Schumer wants.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is up for reelection next year, called Schumer’s effort on witnesses a “political ploy” to “put a handful of Republicans in a box.”

“He’s always thinking of ways to take advantage in a crisis. It’s falling on deaf ears, I hope,” Graham added. “He’s trying to find a way to create a political issue for a handful of Republicans.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is also up for reelection, dismissed Schumer’s campaign as “posturing.”

“He’s pulling out all the stops,” Cornyn said, “but I think in the end there will be no live witnesses.”

Tags Charles Schumer Chris Murphy Cory Gardner Dick Durbin Hillary Clinton John Bolton John Cornyn John Thune Kellyanne Conway Lindsey Graham Mick Mulvaney Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Susan Collins Thom Tillis

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