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Tensions between McConnell and Schumer run high as trial gains momentum

Tensions are running high between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) after a bruising battle over the Senate impeachment trial’s rules.

Schumer has turned the proceedings into a trial of McConnell and Senate Republicans as much as President Trump, which has hardened partisan divisions.

McConnell in return has rebuffed Schumer’s efforts to negotiate a bipartisan organizing resolution for the trial, ignoring repeated requests to meet. He angered Schumer by not sharing the text of the resolution setting the trial’s rules until Monday evening.

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“It appears that Leader McConnell decided to go along with the president’s desire to cover up his wrongdoing, hook, line and sinker,” Schumer said Tuesday morning after the resolution was made public.

A Senate Republican aide said Schumer seems to be obsessed with making the trial about McConnell and tying incumbents up for reelection such as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) to the GOP leader.

Republicans are pointing to interviews Schumer did earlier this month in which he highlighted the potential political payoff for Senate Democrats in the November elections, arguing that making the fight about additional witnesses and documents will either reveal new damaging information on Trump or hurt the standing of vulnerable GOP incumbents.

“It’s a win-win,” he told The New York Times.

And there’s no love lost between Senate Republicans and Schumer; Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said many of his colleagues are determined to oppose the Democratic leader.

“We’re not going to make Chuck happy,” he said.

Democrats aren’t worried about Schumer’s tactics when it comes to Republicans. 

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They say their leader can make deals when he wants to, and they also point out that McConnell can dish it out as well as take it.

“McConnell is not an easy person to deal with. But when he has to, Schumer tries,” said a person close to Schumer. 

Some Republicans argue that Schumer’s tactics, including his decision to force votes on 11 amendments Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, are souring any chances he’ll convince Republicans to back witnesses later in the trial.

“I think at this point all of these amendments are dilatory,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who said the hours of arguments on Tuesday are “really trying senators’ patience.”

Josh Holmes, a GOP strategist and former chief of staff to McConnell, warned on Twitter “the mood in the chamber will be toxic by Saturday.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), a key GOP moderate and swing vote, voiced impatience with the steady drumbeat of outrage from Democrats over the way Republicans are handling the trial.

“I think the Democrats make a mistake when they cry outrage time and time again. If everything is an outrage, then nothing is an outrage,” he grumbled in an interview with CNN.

But another key swing vote, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), said she wasn’t surprised by Schumer’s tactics and did not necessarily feel alienated.

“I think it was expected,” she said, adding that she explained to constituents ahead of time that she planned to vote against all of Schumer’s amendments. “I don’t think there was any great surprises there. It was long, but I don’t think it was unexpected.”

Murkowski, however, said “the tone and the tenor” of the debate in the early hours of Wednesday morning “was unnecessary” and said she was “appreciative the chief justice shut that down.”

Democrats are siding with Schumer’s argument that McConnell has let politics take over what is supposed to be a solemn, impartial constitutional event.

“With McConnell, it’s all politics all the time,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is running for president, when asked about his handling of the organizing resolution.

McConnell exasperated Democrats when he declared last month: “I’m not impartial about this at all,” referring to the trial.

Senators said they were surprised the two leaders never met more than a few minutes to hammer out a deal to avoid Tuesday’s protracted messy floor fight.

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“I was surprised. I would have thought Sen. McConnell would have understood the importance to the institution” of negotiating rules for the trial ahead of time, said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

“Even though you may not be able to resolve everything, there’s a process that could have been much more harmonious,” he added. “It’s extremely disappointing that Sen. McConnell clearly did not reach out to Sen. Schumer at all.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Wednesday slammed McConnell for passing an organizing resolution designed “to speed through this trial as quickly as possible.”

“This is the first time that the Senate has adopted rules designed to prevent evidence from being entered into the record,” he added.

Another telling moment came Tuesday night, after hours of skirmishing on the Senate floor between the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team on proposed changes to the Senate rules.

As the clock ticked close to 9:30 p.m., McConnell asked Schumer if he would agree to stack the votes on amendments, which would give senators an outside chance of going home before midnight instead of 2 a.m. or later.  

Schumer offered to postpone the votes until Wednesday but insisted that the House prosecutors retain their time to explain the amendments, infuriating some Republicans who had been sitting at their desks for hours.

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When McConnell then called for a break in the proceedings, instead of meeting with Schumer to work out an agreement, as might have been expected, the GOP leader left the chamber outside the south door.

McConnell looked irritated when he reentered the chamber, walking to the cloakroom with a slight limp and raising his hands with a look of exasperations as he approached GOP staff.

Schumer later said that brief exchange on the floor was the only negotiation the two leaders had the whole evening.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they can’t see the McConnell-Schumer relationship getting much worse and acknowledge it reflects the growing partisanship of a chamber that once prided itself on collegiality.

One senior Republican senator said things are worse now than they were when Sen. Harry Reid (Nev.) was the Democratic leader tangling with McConnell.

“I thought the McConnell-Reid relationship was as bad as it could be, but I think McConnell’s and Schumer’s relationship is worse. At least, Reid was able to make a decision,” the GOP senator said. “Sen. Schumer is very reluctant to do anything that makes his members mad.”

The senator cited what Republicans view as Schumer’s reluctance to cut deals that may provoke liberals such as Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is also running for president.

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McConnell and Reid’s relationship was notoriously bad and hit multiple low points during their frequent fights over the federal judiciary.

McConnell once declared Reid was “going to be remembered as the worst leader here ever,” while Reid routinely highlighted the number of filibusters the Republicans waged under McConnell’s leadership.

Reid went so far as to call McConnell “craven” at the 2016 Democratic National Convention because of “what he’s done to our democracy.”

Another GOP senator said Schumer used to be known as a Senate dealmaker but since becoming the Democratic leader has become more aligned with liberals in his party.

“Schumer hasn’t been very receptive to any kind of discussions,” the lawmaker said. “We used to think of him as kind of a deal-cutter, but that’s not where his party is now.”

The senator noted that Schumer was one of only nine members of the Democratic caucus who voted against the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, along with Sanders.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who was a junior member of the Senate during President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, recalled relations between then-Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and then-Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) were quite different.

“There was much more openness at that time and more open conversation,” he said.

“We didn’t agree on everything, by any means,” he added. “But it was a much different attitude. This situation now with Sen. McConnell is much more confrontational.”

In 1999, all senators gathered in the Old Senate Chamber before the trial to hash out an organizing resolution that eventually passed 100 to 0.

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