Democrats hope to focus public's attention on McConnell in impeachment battle

Senate Democrats hope that holding back articles of impeachment in the House will put more public attention on their fight with Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellIn rare move, Schumer forces vote to consider health care bill amid Supreme Court tensions COVID-19 talks hit crucial stretch Supreme Court nominee gives no clues in GOP meeting MORE (R-Ky.) over the rules for a trial and pressure moderate Republicans to vote with them on key procedural questions.

McConnell said Thursday that the Democratic tactic, which prevents a Senate trial from beginning, will put no pressure on him and that he will simply move ahead with Senate business.

“It’s beyond me how the Speaker and Democratic leader in the Senate think withholding the articles the of impeachment and not sending them over gives them leverage, is beyond me,” the GOP leader said.

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But Democratic senators say getting McConnell to budge isn’t the only reason for holding the articles.

They want to pressure McConnell’s moderate Republican colleagues such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Trump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins' Durbin: Democrats can 'slow' Supreme Court confirmation 'perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at most' MORE (Maine), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden's debate game plan? Keep cool and win President Trump faces Herculean task in first debate HBO's Oliver laments 'dark week' after Barrett nomination: 'Hopeless' MORE (Utah) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEnergy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress Durbin: Democrats can 'slow' Supreme Court confirmation 'perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at most' Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election MORE (Alaska), who have criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE’s conduct, and colleagues in tough races next year such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Breaking the Chinese space addiction Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error MORE (Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySenate Democrats want to avoid Kavanaugh 2.0 Compromise, yes — but how? A pre-debate suggestion Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election MORE (Ariz.).

Democratic senators hope that slowing down the pace will give them time to highlight Republican opposition to additional witnesses and documents.

“My hope is that my Republican colleagues will vote for specific witnesses and documents when the issue is presented,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“They will have that choice. It’s a historic choice. I hope they rise to that challenge because voters will haunt them in November and certainly history will haunt them if they fail,” he added.

Even if the Republicans don’t budge, Democrats hope they attention they’re shining on McConnell will pay dividends with the public.

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After weeks in which House Republicans tarred House Democratic investigations of Trump as shams, Democrats in the Senate are preparing to make the same arguments about a GOP-run impeachment trial in the Senate.

So far, there don’t appear to be any cracks in Republican unity, but Democrats are betting that might change as the procedural fight over the trial rules heats up.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinPelosi hopeful COVID-19 relief talks resume 'soon' Congress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out PPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  MORE (D-Md.) said he knows from private conversations that “a lot of Republican senators agree with what I’m saying” on the importance of having a fair trial.

“The way it should be done, you take four parties — the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate along with the managers and the president’s defense team — you sit down, you work out the list of witnesses, you work out the list of documents, you shake hands and you go forward,” he said. “Anything short of that compromises an impartial trial.”

Democrats will use the two-week Christmas and New Year’s break to vilify McConnell as an extreme partisan in lockstep with Trump who’s not interested in holding a fair trial.

They note McConnell’s comments in an interview with Fox News’s Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityFox News tops broadcast networks for first time in 3rd quarter Former White House physician echoes Trump's accusation of Biden drug use for debates Will Chis Wallace's debate topics favor Biden over Trump? MORE that he would coordinate closely with the White House and his statement Tuesday that “I’m not impartial about this at all.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate Warren won't meet with Barrett, calling Trump's nomination an 'illegitimate power grab' Schumer won't meet with Trump's Supreme Court pick MORE (D-N.Y.) hopes that growing public attention on the impasse over the trial rules will spur moderates to vote for motions to call for additional witnesses and documents.

“We want a fair trial. A fair trial to my way of thinking involves witnesses and documents. You don’t have trials without them,” he told reporters Thursday before meeting with Pelosi to discuss strategy.

“This is impeachment, it’s serious. Let’s hope some other Republicans rise to the occasion,” he said.

McConnell and Schumer met for the first time Thursday afternoon to begin negotiations on the trial procedures but failed to make much progress.

A senator briefed on the meeting, which lasted about 20 minutes, said it consisted mainly of both leaders stating their opening positions.

McConnell argued that the Senate should follow the precedent set by the 1999 trial of President Clinton, when the Senate passed in a 100-0 vote an opening resolution that set the time for the House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team to make their cases but deferred the question on additional witness testimony.

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Schumer reiterated his position that rules for witnesses and additional document demands be established at the outset.

McConnell, speaking later on the floor, announced “as of today, we remain at an impasse.”

The Senate will convene on Jan. 3 and hold its first votes of the new year on Jan. 6, but senators are not expected to receive the articles of impeachment until after the House reconvenes on Jan. 7.

Democrats across the spectrum warn that Republican senators will put themselves in a tough political situation if they block additional evidence from coming to the floor during the trial, predicting it’s likely to surface anyway at some point in the future.

“The last thing these people want is to take a vote and all of sudden 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’s book comes out and it completely undercuts their vote,” said Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), referring to former national security adviser John Bolton, who did not testify during the House impeachment inquiry.

Schumer sent a letter to McConnell Sunday requesting that Bolton, 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 and other senior administration officials testify in the Senate trial.

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“The last thing we need to see is this evidence dribbled out the next few years, and it will be. It will come out eventually,” Jones added.

Democrats say that Republicans in purple states and facing tough reelections in 2020 would put themselves at political risk if they vote to block key witnesses and documents from being introduced on the Senate floor.

“I don’t think that’s a good look for Republicans. Imagine there’s a roll-call vote on should documents that bear directly on the question of why Ukraine aid was withheld be produced. You really want to vote against that?” said Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineFears grow of chaotic election Trump taps Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court, setting up confirmation sprint Supreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink MORE (D-Va.).

“I think McConnell would serve his own team well by reaching some basic [agreement] about how the trial will proceed,” he added.