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 McConnellSchumer: Trump's team made case for new witnesses 'even stronger' Trump, Democrats risk unintended consequences with impeachment arguments CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group 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 CollinsKaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Romney: 'It's very likely I'll be in favor of witnesses' in Trump impeachment trial Schumer: Trump's team made case for new witnesses 'even stronger' MORE (Maine), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyKaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Des Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Romney: 'It's very likely I'll be in favor of witnesses' in Trump impeachment trial MORE (Utah) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiKaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Romney: 'It's very likely I'll be in favor of witnesses' in Trump impeachment trial Trump defense team signals focus on Schiff MORE (Alaska), who have criticized President TrumpDonald John TrumpKaine: Obama called Trump a 'fascist' during 2016 campaign Kaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Louise Linton, wife of Mnuchin, deletes Instagram post in support of Greta Thunberg MORE’s conduct, and colleagues in tough races next year such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum MORE (Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyDemocrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Senate Republicans confident they'll win fight on witnesses How Citizens United altered America's political landscape 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 CardinTensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum New Parnas evidence escalates impeachment witnesses fight Pressure building on Pelosi over articles of impeachment 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 HannityHannity to interview Trump during Super Bowl pregame show GOP cries boredom in attack on impeachment case Hannity: 'Lunatic' Schiff 'the worst liar in all of politics' 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president Impeachment has been a dud for Democrats Trump insults Democrats, calls on followers to watch Fox News ahead of impeachment trial 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 BoltonRomney: 'It's very likely I'll be in favor of witnesses' in Trump impeachment trial George Conway: Witness missing from impeachment trial is Trump Democrats see Mulvaney as smoking gun witness at Trump trial 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 MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyDemocrats see Mulvaney as smoking gun witness at Trump trial Trump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president Trump legal team launches impeachment defense 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 KaineKaine: GOP senators should 'at least' treat Trump trial with seriousness of traffic court Senate Dems to Pompeo: Comments about NPR reporter 'insulting and contemptuous' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner 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.