Behind the scenes of McConnell's impeachment drama

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Progressive group knocks McConnell for talking judicial picks during coronavirus Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill 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 TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report 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 CollinsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves GOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus Murkowski pushes Mnuchin for oil company loans 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 RomneyTrump selects White House lawyer for coronavirus inspector general Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans MORE (Utah), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday MORE (Tenn.), Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisNorth Carolina Senate race emerges as 2020 bellwether The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina emerges as key battleground for Senate control Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (N.C.), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal Oil giants meet at White House amid talk of buying strategic reserves Florida sheriff asks for new leads in disappearance of Carole Baskin's former husband after Netflix's 'Tiger King' drops MORE (Texas), Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseAmerica's governors should fix unemployment insurance Mnuchin emerges as key asset in Trump's war against coronavirus House Republican urges Pompeo to take steps to limit misinformation from China on coronavirus MORE (Neb.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill 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.

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“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 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.

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“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 BarrassoOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns Lobbying world 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 SchumerBiden calls on Trump to appoint coronavirus 'supply commander' Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar 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 SchumerBiden calls on Trump to appoint coronavirus 'supply commander' Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar 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 CottonTrump's ambitious infrastructure vision faces Senate GOP roadblock  GOP lawmaker touts bill prohibiting purchases of drugs made in China Wisconsin Republican says US must not rely on China for critical supplies 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.”

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.

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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.

Passing the resolution required Republicans to vote on a Schumer amendment to subpoena former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonChina sees chance to expand global influence amid pandemic Trump ignores science at our peril Bolton defends decision to shutter NSC pandemic office MORE, acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyOne year in, Democrats frustrated by fight for Trump tax returns Meadows joins White House in crisis mode Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House MORE, senior White House adviser Robert Blair, and Office of Management and Budget official Michael Duffe, as well as several sets of documents.

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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 GiulianiSunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Biden campaign blasts Twitter for refusing to sanction retaliatory 'hoax' Trump ad Google to spend .5 million in fight against coronavirus misinformation MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer, who was pushing for an investigation of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Sunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' 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 GardnerGOP senator calls for investigation into 'mismanagement' of strategic ventilators Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads MORE (R-Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Democratic super PAC targets McSally over coronavirus response McSally calls on WHO director to step down 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.