Behind the scenes of McConnell’s impeachment drama


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate Democrats outraise Republicans, but GOP has cash edge Protesters flock to the Capitol after Senate impeachment votes Senate GOP passes resolution setting up end of Trump trial 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 TrumpSenate Democrats outraise Republicans, but GOP has cash edge Comey op-ed: US democracy won’t ‘come apart’ if Trump isn’t removed from office Protesters flock to the Capitol after Senate impeachment votes 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 CollinsSenate Democrats outraise Republicans, but GOP has cash edge Senate GOP passes resolution setting up end of Trump trial Pelosi calls senators who voted against trial witnesses ‘accomplices to the President’s cover-up’ MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate GOP passes resolution setting up end of Trump trial Pelosi calls senators who voted against trial witnesses ‘accomplices to the President’s cover-up’ Final impeachment vote postponed to Wednesday amid internal  GOP spat 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.

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 RomneySenate GOP passes resolution setting up end of Trump trial Pelosi calls senators who voted against trial witnesses ‘accomplices to the President’s cover-up’ Mike Lee defends Romney after vote on witnesses in Trump trial MORE (Utah), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate GOP passes resolution setting up end of Trump trial Alexander supports Trump’s reelection despite ‘inappropriate’ Ukraine call Final impeachment vote postponed to Wednesday amid internal  GOP spat MORE (Tenn.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate Democrats outraise Republicans, but GOP has cash edge Final impeachment vote postponed to Wednesday amid internal  GOP spat Overnight Defense: Bolton, GOP senators see close ties challenged | Republicans fume over Dem maneuver on Iran bills |Trump criticizes Democrats over war powers vote MORE (N.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFinal impeachment vote postponed to Wednesday amid internal  GOP spat Senate moves to impeachment endgame Rand Paul to ‘insist’ on whistleblower question blocked by John Roberts MORE (Texas), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseSenate rejects impeachment witnesses, setting up Trump acquittal GOP senator: Trump’s actions to withhold Ukraine aid ‘wrong’ but not impeachable Pompeo presses Britain to take second look at Huawei 5G ruling MORE (Neb.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP passes resolution setting up end of Trump trial Final impeachment vote postponed to Wednesday amid internal  GOP spat Senate rejects impeachment witnesses, setting up Trump acquittal 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.

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 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 BarrassoFinal impeachment vote postponed to Wednesday amid internal  GOP spat Senate faces hours of late-night votes without agreement on ending impeachment trial Senators signal impeachment trial could spill over into next week 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 SchumerFox’s Chris Wallace: ‘Every side is going to come out a winner’ on impeachment Attorney tells McConnell that Parnas has records ‘directly relevant’ to impeachment Dershowitz: Trump trial is my ‘worst controversy’ 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 Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerFox’s Chris Wallace: ‘Every side is going to come out a winner’ on impeachment Attorney tells McConnell that Parnas has records ‘directly relevant’ to impeachment Dershowitz: Trump trial is my ‘worst controversy’ 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 CottonOvernight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — Trump officials to allow Medicaid block grants | WHO declares emergency over coronavirus | CDC reports first coronavirus case that spread in US WHO declares public health emergency over coronavirus White House announces task force to monitor coronavirus MORE (R-Ark.), a firebrand conservative and staunch 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! Onto Wednesday.”

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 they 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 not letting Trump deliver his State of the Union 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.

Passing the resolution required Republicans to vote on a Schumer amendment to subpoena former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonProtesters flock to the Capitol after Senate impeachment votes Senate GOP passes resolution setting up end of Trump trial Pelosi calls senators who voted against trial witnesses ‘accomplices to the President’s cover-up’ MORE, acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyProtesters flock to the Capitol after Senate impeachment votes Senate GOP passes resolution setting up end of Trump trial Senate GOP rejects last-ditch attempt to subpoena Bolton, Mulvaney MORE, senior White House advisor Robert Blair, and Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffey, 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 GiulianiYovanovitch retires from State Department: reports Impeachment managers make final arguments for witnesses Senate faces hours of late-night votes without agreement on ending impeachment trial MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer, who was pushing for an investigation of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPelosi calls senators who voted against trial witnesses ‘accomplices to the President’s cover-up’ Senate rejects impeachment witnesses, setting up Trump acquittal Poll: 44 percent say Trump should be removed from office 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 GardnerSenate Democrats outraise Republicans, but GOP has cash edge Swing votes steal spotlight in marathon Trump impeachment Q&A Overnight Defense: Bolton, GOP senators see close ties challenged | Republicans fume over Dem maneuver on Iran bills |Trump criticizes Democrats over war powers vote MORE (R-Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySenate Democrats outraise Republicans, but GOP has cash edge Live coverage: Senators query impeachment managers, Trump defense Gun control groups spend big in 2020 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. 





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