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Behind the scenes of McConnell's impeachment drama

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo MORE (R-Ky.) had to quell a revolt in the Senate Republican Conference on Friday after he floated a proposal to extend President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE’s trial into a third week.

Most of the GOP conference, especially conservatives, wanted to vote late Friday or very early Saturday morning to acquit Trump, allowing him to deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday without the cloud of impeachment proceedings.

Meanwhile, moderates such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Overnight Health Care: Johnson & Johnson vaccine safe, effective in FDA analysis | 3-4 million doses coming next week | White House to send out 25 million masks Biden's picks face peril in 50-50 Senate MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Health Care: Johnson & Johnson vaccine safe, effective in FDA analysis | 3-4 million doses coming next week | White House to send out 25 million masks Biden's picks face peril in 50-50 Senate Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo MORE (R-Alaska) wanted a chance to speak on the floor to explain their vote and sought to avoid, if possible, a final up-or-down vote on the articles of impeachment in the dead of night.

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McConnell anticipated that Democrats would vote in unison against the Republican organizing resolution to set up the final phase of the trial, culminating with a vote on the articles of impeachment themselves.

If he lost three moderates or three Republicans on either side of his conference, he would suffer the embarrassment of the organizing resolution failing on the floor.

He convened a meeting of what one attendee called a “diverse group” of Republican senators in his Capitol office Friday afternoon in an attempt to settle the internal squabble.

The participants included Collins and Murkowski as well as Republican Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney-Cotton, a Cancun cabbie and the minimum wage debate Biden's picks face peril in 50-50 Senate Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo MORE (Utah), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (Tenn.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump MORE (N.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Shelby endorses Shalanda Young for OMB director should Biden pull Tanden's nomination MORE (Texas), Ben SasseBen SasseOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Key vote for Haaland's confirmation | Update on oil and gas leasing | SEC update on climate-related risk disclosure requirements Josh Hawley is a conservative without a clue Republican Party going off the rails? MORE (Neb.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Senate GOP campaign chief talks strategy with Trump Graham, Trump huddle to talk GOP's 2022 strategy MORE (S.D.), the majority whip.

One Republican senator who attended the hastily arranged meeting said it was important to end the trial with decorum instead of rush to complete it in the middle of the night.

“You don’t move quickly. You show some respect to the other side, and that’s really what the discussion was about. It’s what that timeline needed to look like. And it couldn’t have been tonight, and it shouldn’t have been tomorrow,” the lawmaker said Friday evening.

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After McConnell kept a firm grip on the impeachment proceedings and his Republican conference throughout the first two weeks of the impeachment trial, things threatened to get out of control on Friday.

GOP senators, forced to sit at their desks quietly through 35 hours of opening arguments and 16 hours of submitting written questions, appeared to have a lot of pent-up energy to release.

McConnell’s plan, which was first reported by The Washington Post on Friday morning and attributed to an administration official and a congressional official, caught Republican senators completely by surprise.

The vast majority of the Senate GOP conference expected to acquit Trump on Friday or early Saturday morning if Democrats forced procedural delays so that Trump would be free of the articles of impeachment and could take a victory lap at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

“There was kind of an early announcement that this was going to end Wednesday and everyone was like, ‘Really?!’” said a Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the internal debate over how to end the trial.

“I do know it surprised virtually the entire conference when they announced that they were going to Wednesday. We were like, ‘We’re going to do it after the State of the Union address? That doesn’t make any sense,’” the lawmaker added.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoHaaland courts moderates during tense Senate confirmation hearing Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing MORE (R-Wyo.) had said only the day before that the goal was to get Trump acquitted by Friday or Saturday morning at the latest if Democrats dragged out the process with procedural objections.

“The goal would be to get this done tomorrow evening. I don’t know if Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE has opportunities to try to slow down the process, but I don’t think we end up leaving the Senate floor or leaving the chamber until it’s done,” Barrasso told reporters Thursday, referring to Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill Budowsky: Cruz goes to Cancun, AOC goes to Texas MORE (D-N.Y.).

A second GOP senator who requested anonymity said he felt McConnell had “communicated” to the conference that there would be an effort to move to acquittal immediately after a vote for additional witnesses and documents failed — a vote that was required by the organizing resolution 53 Republicans voted for last week.

“That was everyone’s presumption — we didn’t just dream it up,” said the lawmaker, who said there was “frustration” in the conference.

The lawmaker said that Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonRomney-Cotton, a Cancun cabbie and the minimum wage debate On The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Biden health nominee faces first Senate test MORE (R-Ark.), a firebrand conservative and staunch Trump ally, was one of the most outspoken in voicing his frustration over what he saw as a lack of clarity from McConnell about the plan for ending the trial.

A source close to Cotton said, “I wouldn’t characterize it as frustration directed at leadership. But more a frustration that the trial would extend. He’s over it, though! On to Wednesday.”

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Other GOP senators wanted to know why the trial had to be postponed until next week.

McConnell told at least one of his colleagues that the White House wanted it pushed to Wednesday, according to a Senate GOP aide familiar with the conversation.

But when that GOP lawmaker asked Trump’s legal defense team on the floor whether it wanted to extend the trial into next week to make closing arguments, the lawyers said they wanted to end it and acquit the president as soon as possible, the source said.

Instead, Republican senators opted to skip a procedural fight that would have dragged on with Democrats into the early hours of Saturday morning, allowing Schumer the victory of Trump delivering his State of the Union address without the impeachment proceedings being over.

The plan had the added benefit of giving GOP moderates a chance to explain their votes on the floor and avoid the bad optics of voting in the middle of the night to acquit Trump, something that surely would have given Democrats more rhetorical ammo.

Under the agreement McConnell and Schumer struck on Friday, the Senate held four additional votes on witnesses and documents that evening, set up time for the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team to present closing arguments on Monday and scheduled time over three days for senators to speak on the floor.

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Passing the resolution required Republicans to vote on a Schumer amendment to subpoena former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonTrump offered North Korea's Kim a ride home on Air Force One: report Key impeachment figure Pence sticks to sidelines Bolton lawyer: Trump impeachment trial is constitutional MORE, acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyOMB nominee gets hearing on Feb. 9 Republicans now 'shocked, shocked' that there's a deficit Financial firms brace for Biden's consumer agency chief MORE, senior White House adviser Robert Blair, and Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffe, as well as several sets of documents.

Schumer also secured two separate votes on subpoenaing just Bolton, who shook up the trial again on Friday when The New York Times reported his claim in an unpublished manuscript that Trump asked him in early May to help set up a meeting between then Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky and Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiMyPillow CEO says boycotts have cost him M Dominion targets MyPillow's Mike Lindell with .3B defamation suit Trump legal troubles may not be over despite Senate acquittal MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer, who was pushing for an investigation of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenKlain on Manchin's objection to Neera Tanden: He 'doesn't answer to us at the White House' Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video MORE.

Some Republican senators thought the votes — which could come back to haunt lawmakers in tough races this year, such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (R-Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyNew rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees The Seventeenth Amendment and the censure of Donald Trump Ex-astronaut Mark Kelly jokes about piloting congressional subway MORE (R-Ariz.) — were a key concession. They believed they could have been avoided after the chamber earlier in the day defeated a motion to debate and consider additional subpoenas.

A Wednesday vote also accommodated Murkowski’s desire not to have the impeachment vote and the State of the Union on the same day. She indicated it would be inappropriate to have such a divisive vote shortly before Trump’s address to Congress and the nation, which is supposed to be a unifying event.

A spokeswoman for Collins on Saturday said her boss did not have a strong preference as to when the final vote on the articles of impeachment would be held but wanted to make sure she and other senators had a chance to explain their positions on the floor.

“There was multi-party disagreement about how the Senate should proceed. It was not held up by the moderates. As part of that discussion, Senator Collins believed that before Senators cast their final votes they should have the opportunity to stand up and briefly state their reasons for voting to acquit or convict. She did not care what day that occurred or how much time the members got,” said Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins.