Senate leaders punt impeachment trial deal until after holidays

The Senate is set to leave town for the year without a deal on key components of President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE's impeachment trial, including whether to have witnesses.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Florida becomes epicenter of COVID-19 surge | NYC to require vaccination for indoor activities | Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates McConnell warns Schumer cutting off debate quickly could stall infrastructure deal Top House Democrat says party would lose elections if they were held today: report MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck Schumer'The Squad' celebrates Biden eviction moratorium Overnight Health Care: Florida becomes epicenter of COVID-19 surge | NYC to require vaccination for indoor activities | Biden rebukes GOP governors for barring mask mandates National Organization for Women calls for Cuomo resignation MORE (D-N.Y.) met Thursday just hours before the chamber is expected to wrap up its work for 2019.

But the two leaders signaled after the meeting that they did not reach an agreement on witnesses or requests for additional documents — two key sticking points for Democrats.

McConnell said that they had a "cordial" conversation but described negotiations as at an "impasse" as the impeachment trial looms.

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"As of today, however, we remain at an impasse because my friend, the Democratic leader, continues to demand a new and different set of rules for President Trump," McConnell said on Thursday evening. "We remain at an impasse on these logistics."

Schumer declined to comment as he left the Capitol, but Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer, said the Democratic leader asked McConnell to "consider Sen. Schumer's proposal over the holidays."

“Senator Schumer made clear to Sen. McConnell that the witnesses and documents are necessary to ensure a fair trial in the Senate," Goodman said in a statement. "Sen. Schumer asked Sen. McConnell to consider Sen. Schumer’s proposal over the holidays because Sen. Schumer and his caucus believe the witnesses and documents are essential to a fair Senate trial." 

The two leaders have been at a stalemate over the specifics of the Senate's trial.

Schumer and his caucus are asking for four witnesses in the impeachment trial, including former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Will Pence primary Trump — and win? Bolton: Trump lacked enough 'advance thinking' for a coup MORE and 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. He also wants the Senate to pass one resolution that governs both process and specific witnesses, instead of two separate resolutions as occurred during the Clinton trial in 1999.

"Is the president’s case so weak that none of the president’s men can defend him under oath? If the House’s case is so weak, why is Leader McConnell so afraid of witnesses and documents?" Schumer said from the Senate floor earlier Thursday.

McConnell, however, has indicated that he does not want any witnesses. He also wants to pass two separate resolutions on process and potential witnesses, similar to the Clinton trial.

"I continue to believe that the unanimous bipartisan precedent that was good enough for President Clinton ought to be good enough for President Trump. Fair is fair," McConnell said on Thursday night.

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During Clinton's impeachment trial, senators voted 100-0 on a resolution laying out the process for a trial, but a vote on a subsequent resolution calling for specific witnesses broke down along party lines.

The decision to punt comes after a flurry of behind-the-scenes negotiating on Thursday. In addition to the McConnell-Schumer meeting, Schumer also met with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries On The Money: Biden issues targeted eviction moratorium | GOP skepticism looms over bipartisan spending deal 'The Squad' celebrates Biden eviction moratorium MORE (D-Calif.).

Pelosi threw a curveball into the impeachment timeline when she declined to providing timing on when — or even if — Democrats will deliver the articles to the Senate.

"We'll make that decision as a group, as we always have, as we go along," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

The House late Wednesday passed two articles of impeachment against Trump, making him the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. One charged Trump with abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and the second with obstructing Congress during its investigation of those actions.

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House Democrats left for the year on Thursday with the next votes scheduled for Jan. 7, meaning they will not be able to transmit articles or appoint mangers before then.

McConnell knocked House Democrats for waffling about when to send the articles to the Senate, calling it a "very unusual spectacle" and accused Pelosi of trying to "hem and haw" about the fate of the articles.

"I admit I'm not sure what leverage there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want," McConnell said. "So we'll see, we'll see whether House Democrats ever want to work up the courage."

Under the chamber's rules the Senate trial will start the day after the House sends the articles of impeachment to the chamber, unless that day is a Sunday.

McConnell told GOP senators during a closed-door lunch Tuesday that they should expect an announcement on a trial date by Friday.

But three GOP senators told The Hill as they left the Senate's final vote on Thursday that they still did not know when they were supposed to return to Washington after the holiday recess.

McConnell announced that the Senate would return on Jan. 3, but that the first roll call votes were not going to be until Jan. 6.

"For the information of all of our colleagues, the Senate will convene on Friday, Jan. 3, to kick off the second session of the 116th Congress. However, no roll call votes are expected that day and members should be prepared to be back and voting on Monday, Jan. 6," McConnell said from the Senate floor.

-- Updated at 6:35 p.m.