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 TrumpTrump orders US troops back to active duty for coronavirus response Trump asserts power to decide info inspector general for stimulus gives Congress Fighting a virus with the wrong tools 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 McConnellHillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike Trump signs T coronavirus relief package Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTexas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Pelosi not invited by Trump to White House coronavirus relief bill's signing COVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition 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 BoltonBolton defends decision to shutter NSC pandemic office US retaliates with missile strikes in Iraq The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the APTA - A huge night for Joe Biden MORE and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyTrump to nominate Russell Vought as budget chief Warren, Brown press consumer bureau on auto lending oversight Bottom line 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 PelosiDC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — US coronavirus cases hit 100,000 | Trump signs T stimulus package | Trump employs defense powers to force GM to make ventilators | New concerns over virus testing Hillicon Valley: Apple rolls out coronavirus screening app, website | Pompeo urged to crack down on coronavirus misinformation from China | Senators push FTC on price gouging | Instacart workers threaten strike 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 GaramendiBiden rise calms Democratic jitters California Rep. Costa endorses Biden Newly released emails reveal officials' panic over loss of credibility after Trump's Dorian claims 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 MurphyLawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Senate rejects GOP attempt to change unemployment benefits in coronavirus stimulus bill Last-minute complaints threaten T Senate coronavirus emergency aid 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 HollenOvernight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus Blame game heats up as Senate motion fails 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 MurkowskiGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Schumer: Senate should 'explore' remote voting if coronavirus sparks lengthy break Turning the virus into a virtue — for the planet 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 CollinsCampaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus Senate eyes quick exit after vote on coronavirus stimulus package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Trump, Dems close in on deal 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 HawleyCruise lines excluded from Senate's trillion stimulus bill 7 things to know about the coronavirus stimulus package Five sticking points to a T coronavirus deal 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?”