Behind the scenes of McConnell's impeachment drama

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTop GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat Everytown plans ad blitz on anniversary of House background check bill Kentucky state official says foreign adversaries 'routinely' scan election systems MORE (R-Ky.) had to quell a revolt in the Senate Republican Conference on Friday after he floated a proposal to extend President TrumpDonald John TrumpComey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' Congress to get election security briefing next month amid Intel drama New York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff 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 CollinsThe new American center Democratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump budget includes proposal for US Consulate in Greenland Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in 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 RomneyProgressives hope Nevada offers roadmap for pro-union 2020 victory Texas woman sentenced for illegal voting faces deportation after parole Trump campaign buys top advertising spot on YouTube for Election Day MORE (Utah), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Trump administration's harmful and immoral attack on children Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (Tenn.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTop GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate Democratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January MORE (N.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzPompeo to speak to influential conservative group in Iowa Top National Security Council aide moved to Energy Department role Ted Cruz takes aim at Alabama vasectomy bill: 'Yikes' MORE (Texas), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseOvernight Health Care: Nevada union won't endorse before caucuses after 'Medicare for All' scrap | McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills | CDC confirms 15th US coronavirus case McConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Behind the scenes of McConnell's impeachment drama MORE (Neb.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran 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 BarrassoSenators to meet with Zelensky after impeachment trial GOP senators defend Sondland, Vindman ousters: They weren't 'loyal' What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNew York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff Top GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat Hillicon Valley: Intel officials warned lawmakers Russia interfering in 2020 | Pompeo condemns Russian cyberattack on country of Georgia | Tech activists see Kickstarter union as breakthrough | Pentagon agency suffers data breach 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNew York man accused of making death threats against Schumer, Schiff Top GOP super PAC spent money on NC Democrat Hillicon Valley: Intel officials warned lawmakers Russia interfering in 2020 | Pompeo condemns Russian cyberattack on country of Georgia | Tech activists see Kickstarter union as breakthrough | Pentagon agency suffers data breach 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 CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran Coronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 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 Bolton'Parasite' studio fires back after Trump criticism: 'He can't read' Trump swipes at 'little wise guy' Brad Pitt, Korean film 'Parasite' during rally Bolton on impeachment: 'My testimony would have made no difference to the ultimate outcome' MORE, acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyMulvaney confirms he'd have to take a pay cut to be permanent White House chief of staff The Hill's Morning Report — Sanders, Dems zero in on Super Tuesday Issues with CDC coronavirus test pose challenges for expanded screening 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 GiulianiKerry responds to Trump accusation he violated Logan Act: 'Another presidential lie' Giuliani worked for Dominican Republic candidate amid Ukraine efforts: report Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer, who was pushing for an investigation of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPoll: Bloomberg stalls after Vegas debate Bloomberg campaign: Vandalism at Tennessee office 'echoes language from the Sanders campaign and its supporters' Democratic strategist says Biden 'has to' get second place in Nevada MORE.

Some Republican senators thought the votes — which could come back to haunt lawmakers in tough races this year, such as Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott Gardner8 people arrested outside Trump rally in Colorado for 'obstructed traffic' Trump seeks to boost vulnerable GOP senator with Colorado rally Nonpartisan election forecaster moves Colorado Senate race to 'leans Democratic' MORE (R-Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyTrump seeks to boost vulnerable GOP senator with Colorado rally Democratic Senate campaign arm raised more than .5 million in January On the Trail: Senate GOP hopefuls tie themselves to Trump 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.