Impeachment state of play: House Democratic managers to make key closing arguments


This is their closing shot — the last full opportunity to make their case not just for removal of President Donald Trump, but to Republican senators who may be willing to vote in favor of considering subpoenas for witnesses and documents.

  • At this point I think we can go ahead and pencil in a press conference by a certain Senate Democratic leader for 11 a.m. ET.
  • GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Mike Braun of Indiana and Mike Lee of Utah hold a press conference at 11:40 a.m.
  • Closed-door Senate lunches at 11:30/12 p.m.
  • The U.S. Senate gavels into session for the fourth day of the impeachment trial at 1 p.m.

Your comprehensive rundown of the day that was:

Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox and the Hill team have everything you may have missed — and what it all meant — right here.

Programming reminder

Do keep an eye on our baller Live Story. So many good and interesting details and tidbits in there folks are picking up minute by minute throughout the day.

What you will see and hear on repeat on TV

House Intelligence chairman and lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff’s close to Thursday’s presentation, urging the removal of Trump and punctuated by repeating several times “Right matters.”

“You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he’ll do what’s right for Donald Trump.”

Schiff’s appeal on the floor

Intentional or not, Schiff appeared to hit directly at the idea presented by a number of Republicans this week that what Trump is accused of doing doesn’t merit removal from office. Though they largely avoided weighing in directly on whether they thought the President’s actions were wrong, several made the point that whatever it was he did do wasn’t worth removal.

It cuts at an issue I’ve heard from Democrats and some Republicans: there is no middle ground here. There is no censure option. There is no secondary way to reflect disapproval. This is a binary choice — acquittal or removal.

A timing update

Senators were coalescing behind the idea of a short Saturday session with an early start time (think: 9 a.m.) and much earlier end time (think between noon and 1 p.m.)

There are a number of reasons for this, according to senators, ranging from allowing some senators to go home and allowing others to go campaign in Iowa, to ensuring the White House defense team doesn’t make the bulk of their presentation on a Saturday when fewer people are paying attention.
Democrats zero in on winnable Republicans in Trump trial

This isn’t locked in yet — and would take unanimous consent by the Senate. But things were certainly moving in that direction on Thursday.

Here’s more from Ted Barrett, Manu Raju, Lauren Fox and me.

A clock update

The House managers have seven hours and 53 minutes remaining in their allotted presentation time.

Keep an eye on this

While House managers have another day to present and the White House defense team will have 24 of their own hours, senators are starting to think about the questions they want to ask at the end of the presentations. To this point, senators I’ve spoken to say neither side has coalesced around the strategy they plan to deploy for the 16-hour period, but that should start coming together soon.

What the managers will focus on Friday

The final day of the House manager’s presentation will focus on two things: a full dive into the merits of the second article of impeachment (Obstruction of Congress) and their closing argument.


Interesting dispatch from Lauren Fox here:

During the closed-door Senate GOP lunch on Thursday, Republican leaders encouraged their conference to make themselves available during the breaks to the press in an effort to more publicly defend the President during a time when the entire public is focused on three days of Democratic arguments. According to one aide familiar with the discussion, constituents back home are calling lawmakers and expressing concern that no one on the Republican side is getting a chance to step in to defend Trump live on TV during the trial.


Along those lines, just remember that the White House defense team gets its own uninterrupted shot to make its case soon. That case will be the last presentation senators have on their minds when they move to the question-and-answer period — which comes right before the arguments and vote on whether to hear from witnesses. Multiple Republican senators have told me they are genuinely curious about how the White House is going to approach their moment (only a select few have been looped into to the general details of what’s coming).

Jay Sekulow, the President’s outside counsel, has said repeatedly his team will both challenge the Democratic presentation and aggressively make their own case. We’ll see what that means — Sekulow hasn’t tipped his hand yet — but it’s a good reminder that the other side will get a free and clear shot for hours on end soon.

Coming soon

Both Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sekulow said the same thing about the decision by Democrats to go directly at, and attempt to take apart and debunk piece by piece, allegations about former Vice President Joe Biden’s actions with Ukraine: it “opens the door” for the White House defense team to dive in on the issue.

(Just saying: anyone who didn’t think this would be part of defense team’s presentation probably has been asleep the last five months.)

McConnell’s (potentially) most effective argument

We reported Tuesday on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s building effort to use concerns over executive privilege-related court cases — from the time they would add to the trial to the potential precedents those cases could set — to rally his members against voting to consider subpoenas for witnesses.
We reported Wednesday that the closed-door GOP lunch featuring former Attorney General Michael Mukasey focused in detail on exactly that idea.
We reported Thursday that Republicans are starting to move sharply behind McConnell’s view.

The key quote in that piece

That would be from Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who is widely thought to be one of three Republicans ready to vote to consider witnesses (and who worked quite a bit to lock in an explicit up-or-down vote in McConnell’s organizing resolution):

“The House made a decision that they didn’t want to slow things down by having to go through the courts,” Murkowski told CNN’s Jeremy Herb. “And yet now they’re basically saying you guys gotta go through the courts. We didn’t, but we need you to.”

How a plan goes into place

There may be no better window into how McConnell works than this argument. Look at the timeline above. Here’s some more detail. Starting about the middle of last week, a small number of senators started bringing this up to me, but not as a hard and fast issue. Instead it was clear it had started to circulate, both on the staff and principal level, but as more of an FYI than a hard pitch. Nobody I spoke with seemed locked in on it — just becoming aware, as if the groundwork was being laid to some extent.

One person who spoke to McConnell late last week cryptically texted me “watch exec privilege with our guys,” but wouldn’t expand on it.

By Tuesday, McConnell went hard at the issue on the Senate floor, explicitly warning senators thinking about voting to subpoena witnesses about his view of the potential repercussions related to executive privilege. It was just moments before the trial gaveled into session for its first substantive day, so most people watching kind of ignored what McConnell said. But what he was doing was very, very intentional.

Stuck in Washington: Democratic senators trade campaign trail for impeachment trial

By Wednesday, he’d made the issue the central piece of the closed-door Senate GOP lunch, bringing in Mukasey to present in the weeds details of how problematic subpoenas for witnesses could become.

By Thursday, the vast majority of the GOP conference was firmly in the same place as McConnell had been two days prior on the Senate floor, and made it clear to reporters throughout the day.

To be clear — this isn’t a “McConnell is a puppet master” story. Instead, this is a really good look into how he works within his conference story. He identified a real issue that may resonate with his members. He tested it over a few days. Then he went big on it publicly. Then he brought in an expert to detail it at length behind closed doors. Had his members rejected the idea, McConnell would have likely shifted, but they didn’t. And now you can expect to hear it on repeat all the way up to the vote on whether to hear from witnesses.

The Democratic response

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, to Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper Thursday, on GOP concerns about subpoenas dragging out the process for weeks or months: “Well, we asked to do witnesses, we asked to do documents at the beginning of the trial.”

The Democratic view on witness prospects

Democrats are decidedly downbeat on the prospects of getting four Republican votes on witnesses, despite their high praise for the presentation of the Democratic managers.

One Senate Democrat told me he’d tried for days to connect with Republicans, both on and off the floor during breaks, only to be politely rebuffed after pleasantries. This is not new — it’s a continuation of weeks of several Democrats with GOP relationships telling me they’ve been taken aback by how Republicans simply haven’t been open to even talking about what they are thinking or willing to consider.

As Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut put it:

Republican senator attacks National Security Council aide who testified in impeachment probe

“I was much more optimistic last week than I am this week about winning the vote on witnesses. I thought by this week there would be a critical mass of Republicans.”

If the votes for witnesses materialize

Here’s a good rule of thumb for the coming days on whether Democrats will have the votes to move to subpoena witnesses and documents: the leading indicator likely won’t be the on-the-fence GOP senators. It will likely be McConnell.

If McConnell gets the sense he’s going to lose the vote on whether to consider witnesses, history would show he will move quickly to take control of the process and try and shift it toward his and his conference’s favor. In this case, that would likely mean moving firmly behind Cruz’s “reciprocity” idea, which would involve Republicans pursuing someone like Hunter Biden if Democrats pursue their preferred witnesses.

To be clear: McConnell isn’t even close to doing this right now (which is part of the reason Democrats don’t currently think they’ll win the vote). But if he starts heading in that direction, you can be sure he’s been told he’s going to lose more than three Republicans on the witness vote.

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