Senate

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 Trump’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.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (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 Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

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 Pelosi (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 Garamendi (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 Murphy (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 Hollen (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.”

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 Murkowski (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 Collins (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 Hawley (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?”

Tags Charles Schumer Chris Murphy Chris Van Hollen Donald Trump Impeachment John Bolton John Garamendi Josh Hawley Lisa Murkowski Mick Mulvaney Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Susan Collins
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