Pressure builds over impeachment impasse in Senate

The Senate is set to return on Friday with impeachment trial negotiations stuck at an impasse.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Democrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications MORE (D-N.Y.) left town last month without a deal on key points like rules for the proceeding and who, if anyone, will be called to testify. Schumer left Washington urging Republicans to use the two-week break to consider an initial offer.

But the holidays have done little to break the stalemate between the Senate leaders, or between McConnell and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiREAD: House impeachment managers' trial brief Desperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Pelosi offers message to Trump on Bill Maher show: 'You are impeached forever' MORE (D-Calif.), who has not yet revealed when she plans to send the two articles of impeachment to the Senate.

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McConnell didn’t speak to either Schumer or Pelosi about the trial over the holiday recess, according to aides, underscoring the depth of the standoff.

The GOP leader kept a relatively low profile over the holidays after indicating during a press conference that the talks were on ice until January. That makes Friday the first chance for McConnell to fire back at Democrats, when the Senate reconvenes at noon.

Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerThe Hill's Morning Report — Impeachment unknowns await returning lawmakers Pressure builds over impeachment impasse in Senate Trump faces pivotal year with Russia on arms control MORE (R-Neb.), an adviser to McConnell, said this week that she had not received an update from the Kentucky Republican over the holidays. Asked about the negotiations, a spokesman for the GOP leader, pointed to McConnell’s floor speech from mid-December saying the remarks “still stand.”

McConnell late last month said he and Schumer were at an “impasse” because of a disagreement about when lawmakers should decide whether they will call witnesses.

“We remain at an impasse because my friend the Democratic leader continues to demand a new and different set of rules for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE,” McConnell said at the time.

McConnell wants the Senate to pass a resolution at the outset of the trial that would establish the ground rules for the proceeding and punt a decision on who, if anyone, should be called as a witness until after both sides give opening arguments. The GOP leader, who is running for reelection and has tied himself closely to Trump, has shown no signs of bending to Democrats amid the standoff.

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“This was something the Senate never wanted to begin with,” Scott Jennings, a political adviser to McConnell, said about the Democrats’ strategy. “Where do they think this pressure is going to come from?”

Republicans appear to be digging in after Pelosi decided against immediately sending the articles to the Senate and appointing impeachment managers — a move that has rankled Trump and thrown a curveball into the timeline for a likely trial.

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Biden calls for revoking key online legal protection House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate MORE (R-Mo.) is planning to introduce legislation on Monday to “dismiss” the articles of impeachment over “lack of prosecution.”

“This will expose Dems’ circus for what it is: a fake impeachment, abuse of the Constitution, based on no evidence. If Dems won’t proceed with trial, bogus articles should be dismissed and [Trump] fully cleared,” Hawley added.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioApple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Surging Sanders draws fresh scrutiny ahead of debate MORE (R-Fla.) tweeted that Democrats are “playing stupid games.”

“A Senate trial will be on the two Articles of Impeachment passed by House (if Speaker ever decides to send them over). House voted on them based on testimony of certain witnesses,” he said. “Senate has no duty to go beyond those witnesses in our trial.”

Democrats believe that a steady stream of new details released over the break about Trump’s decision to delay the Ukraine aid, which was eventually released in September, bolster their case that a trial needs to include witnesses and that the White House should hand over a slew of documents and emails.

Schumer seized on unredacted emails between the Office of Management and Budget and the Pentagon about the decision to delay the Ukraine aid. In one email, Michael Duffey, the associate director of national security at the Office of Management and Budget, told the acting Pentagon comptroller that there was "clear direction from POTUS to hold,” according to Just Security.

"These emails further expose the serious concerns raised by Trump administration officials about the propriety and legality of the president’s decision to cut off aid to Ukraine to benefit himself," Schumer said Thursday.

He added that the emails deal a “devastating blow” to McConnell’s preferred impeachment strategy.

Pelosi also knocked Trump over the emails, saying he had used a “phony complaint about the House process” to avoid turning them and other documents over during the impeachment inquiry. 

The House passed two articles of impeachment — one on Trump abusing power in his dealings with Ukraine and another on him obstructing Congress during its investigation of those actions — making Trump the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

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But Pelosi, surprising GOP senators, would not say when, or if, she would transmit the two articles to the Senate, noting she wants to see the details for how the trial will work before she names impeachment managers.

A Pelosi aide said she has not spoken to McConnell and indicated that she would not negotiate with the GOP leader, leaving that instead to Schumer. The two Democratic leaders, according to the aide, are in “regular contact.”

Democrats want to call four witnesses during the trial, including Duffey, former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonDemocrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Pelosi offers message to Trump on Bill Maher show: 'You are impeached forever' MORE and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyDemocrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare' Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Trump trial poses toughest test yet for Roberts MORE.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate opens Trump impeachment trial Democrats ask if US citizens were detained at border checkpoints due to Iranian national origin Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week MORE (D-Calif.) sent a letter to every senator on Thursday urging them to support the request for witnesses and Ukraine-related documents.

“Agreement on Senator Schumer’s requests for these witnesses and documents requires a simple majority. This should be easy to achieve as all Senators should want this information from the outset to ensure a full and fair trial,” she wrote.

To successfully compel documents and witnesses, Democrats will need 51 votes, including the support of four Republicans.

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No Republican has publicly backed Schumer’s request, with most of the caucus embracing a quick trial with few, if any, witnesses.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump beefs up impeachment defense with Dershowitz, Starr The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (R-Maine) told two Maine publications this week that she was “open” to calling witnesses. But, aligning herself with McConnell’s position, she argued that a decision on witnesses should wait until after opening arguments from both sides and questions from senators.

With 67 votes needed to convict Trump and remove him from office, the outcome of the trial is all but guaranteed. Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP mulls speeding up Trump impeachment trial Biden calls for revoking key online legal protection GOP threatens to weaponize impeachment witnesses amid standoff MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told a Missouri radio station this week that he thought the trial would be “pretty predictable" and happen "quickly.” He predicted it would be over by Feb. 4.

Jennings added that Republicans should “lock arms” behind McConnell’s floated framework of passing an initial resolution on the rules and punting the decision on witnesses until after the trial starts, similar to the Clinton proceeding in 1999.

“Republicans just don’t think this is an impeachable item,” he said. “They’re just not going to throw the president out of office over it."