Impeachment battle lines harden ahead of pivotal week

Both sides are digging in as lawmakers enter a pivotal week in the entrenched fight over President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE’s impeachment trial.

The hardening battle lines come as the two articles of impeachment could be transmitted to the Senate as soon as this week. The House returns to Washington on Tuesday for the first time this year, and Democrats will meet on Wednesday, setting the stage for a crucial decision time.

There are no signs of a detente after the two-week holiday recess failed to move the needle in the stalemate over key issues like procedure and when to make a decision on trial witnesses.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump admin releases trove of documents on Ukrainian military aid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions What to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocratic senator blasts 'draconian' press restrictions during impeachment trial Feds seek 25-year sentence for Coast Guard officer accused of targeting lawmakers, justices Clinton: McConnell's rules like 'head juror colluding with the defendant to cover up a crime' MORE (D-N.Y.) traded barbs during a rare Friday session, with neither appearing closer to conceding.

McConnell appeared unmoved by Schumer’s request for Ukraine-related documents and witnesses.

“What I have consistently said is very simple: The structure for this impeachment trial should track with the structure of the Clinton trial,” the GOP leader said, outlining what has been his position, despite pressure tactics by Democrats, for weeks.

Schumer, meanwhile, accused McConnell of “finger pointing” and “name calling.”

The two men last met to discuss the impeachment trial on Dec. 17. They did not talk about the issue over the break and did not formally meet on Friday, though Schumer told reporters that they spoke briefly on the floor. The Democratic leader said he told McConnell “we need documents and we need witnesses” and that he hoped the GOP leader was “thinking'' about it.

Democrats are asking for one resolution passed at the outset of the trial that would outline both the rules and a specific deal on calling witnesses. They want four individuals to testify, including former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial MORE and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution MORE.

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McConnell, however, wants two resolutions: one at the start on the rules and a second, after opening arguments and questions from senators, that would determine which, if any, witnesses would be called.

It’s a fight the two sides have been having since Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now MORE (D-Calif.) threw a curveball into the timeline for a Senate trial by declining to say when the articles would be transmitted to the upper chamber. She has said she wants more details on what a trial would look like in the GOP-controlled Senate before deciding on impeachment managers.

Some House and Senate Democrats have pointed to this week as a likely decision point for Pelosi, predicting that she could send them over once the House returns.

“I suspect the first week of January you'll see all of this ironed out. And then Speaker Pelosi will be in an appropriate position to be able to say, ‘OK, here's what we're looking for. Here's the kind of managers that will be best suited for those kinds of witnesses and the documents and the questions that are inevitably going to be asked,’” Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiLA Mayor Eric Garcetti endorses Biden Impeachment battle lines harden ahead of pivotal week Pelosi faces decision on articles of impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) said on “CNN Newsroom.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), speaking during a Friday press conference in Hartford, Conn., characterized the Senate trial as “expected to begin this coming week.” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover-up,' 'national disgrace' MORE (D-Conn.), speaking alongside him, predicted it would be an “important and busy” week on both impeachment and fallout from the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Pelosi has not said when she will send the articles — a necessary step, according to McConnell, for the Senate to start a trial. But she said on Friday that the Senate “must immediately proceed in a manner worthy of the Constitution and in light of the gravity of the President’s unprecedented abuses.”

She also fired back at McConnell, saying he has made it clear that he will “feebly comply with President Trump’s cover-up of his abuses of power and be an accomplice to that cover-up.”

Democrats have praised Pelosi’s decision to hold back on sending the articles, crediting the move for helping shift the focus on what a Senate trial would look like.

“She will send them over. I mean, there’s no doubt about that,” said Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenImpeachment trial begins with furor over rules Fox's Bill Hemmer sees sizable viewer increase for debut in Shep Smith's former time slot Roberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight MORE (D-Md.). “I think she’s already succeeded in shining a light and putting a lot more attention on the character of the Senate trial.”

Blumenthal argued that in the intervening weeks “the McConnell wall is seeming to crack” but that it “remains to be seen” if Senate Republicans will act on their “misgivings.”

Though Pelosi is not directly involved in the negotiations, she is in regular contact with Schumer, who has used the past two weeks to try to increase pressure on McConnell and rank-and-file GOP senators.

“It may feel like we are no closer to establishing the rules for a Senate trial than when we last met,” Schumer said. “But the question, the vital question, of whether or not we have a fair trial ultimately rests with a majority of the senators in this chamber.”

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But Republicans have shown few signs of breaking with McConnell. Democrats need four GOP votes to call a witness or compel documents, and three Republicans to block McConnell from trying to hold votes on the articles of impeachment without either.

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Senate blocks push to subpoena Bolton in impeachment trial Impeachment trial begins with furor over rules MORE (R-Alaska) said over the recess that she was “disturbed” by McConnell’s pledge to coordinate with the White House, but was also critical of the House process.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Collins breaks with GOP on attempt to change impeachment rules resolution MORE (R-Maine), another potential swing vote, told two Maine publications that she was “open” to witnesses but that a decision should wait until after the initial phase of the trial — the framework pitched by McConnell.

The House passed the impeachment articles last month largely along party-line votes, with no Republicans supporting them.

Scott Jennings, a political adviser to McConnell, noted that while House Democrats weren’t able to pick up a GOP lawmaker in the votes, “now you want Mitch McConnell from Kentucky to … bend to your will on this?”

“You can’t change the dynamics of what happened. It was still a partisan impeachment,” he added.

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHow Citizens United altered America's political landscape Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Biden calls for revoking key online legal protection MORE (R-Mo.), who has pledged to introduce a measure to try to dismiss the articles, knocked Democrats, arguing they were “afraid.”

“The Senate stands ready to proceed. But Dems continue to stall [and] obstruct Senate trial,” he added. “Could it be this was all a political stunt from the beginning?”