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Senate Majority Leader McConnell And House Speaker Pelosi Spar Over Impeachment


President Trump has been impeached. Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she will hold on to the articles of impeachment as senators work to reach a deal on a fair trial. The partisanship that defined the House impeachment process is emerging in the Senate, too, where the parties are divided over what fair means. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis has this report.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: The Senate can't begin a trial until the House appoints impeachment managers, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won't do that for now.


NANCY PELOSI: I was not prepared to put the managers and that bill yet because we don't know the arena that we are in.

DAVIS: Democrats say they can't pick impeachment managers until they know what the trial will look like, and they want to use it as leverage against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to try and secure agreements for things like how long the trial will go and any possible new witnesses. McConnell laid into the Democratic strategy this morning.


MITCH MCCONNELL: They said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process, but now they're content to sit on their hands. This is really comical.

DAVIS: The House gets no say in how the Senate trial will go, but withholding the articles can prolong the time for negotiations between McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer's asking for additional testimony from four witnesses who didn't cooperate with the House investigation, including acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. Here's Schumer.


CHUCK SCHUMER: I have yet to hear one good argument why less evidence is better than more evidence, particularly in such a serious moment as impeachment of the president of the United States.

DAVIS: Senate Democrats are behind this strategy, including West Virginia's Joe Manchin, who's seen as a swing vote on impeachment.


JOE MANCHIN: I think the speaker has done an admirable job of what she's done and how she's been able to navigate this so far. In her wisdom, I think it was definitely the right thing to do.

DAVIS: McConnell isn't likely to agree to any witness testimony up front, if at all. He has the backing of Republicans, including Tennessee's Lamar Alexander. Republicans want to follow the precedent set during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Senators reached an initial deal to start the trial and then a second deal to hear from three witnesses. Here's Alexander.


LAMAR ALEXANDER: I would assume the House wouldn't be presenting articles of impeachment if they hadn't gathered all the evidence they need to prove it, so we may or may not need witnesses. But there's no way to decide that, in my opinion, until after we've heard the case.

DAVIS: Democrats are angry at McConnell's open admission that he does not see himself as an impartial juror and that he'll work with the White House for a short trial and acquittal. McConnell previewed his impeachment defense today on the Senate floor.


MCCONNELL: President Trump is not the first president with a populist streak, not the first to make entrenched elites uncomfortable. He's certainly not the first president to speak bluntly, to mistrust the administrative state or to rankle unelected bureaucrats.

DAVIS: Pelosi responded this way.


PELOSI: I heard some of what Mitch McConnell said today. And it reminded me that our founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected that there could be a rogue president. I don't think they suspected that we could have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.

DAVIS: McConnell's position does not bother Senate Republicans. Here's Alexander again.


ALEXANDER: Have you noticed any bias in Schumer? (Laughter). I mean, there - most of the Senate has stated its position, so it's not a surprise that - I mean, I don't think Senator McConnell has been any clearer than Senator Schumer about what he thinks about the House impeachment process.

DAVIS: The standoff has led to speculation over whether the House could just continue to hold on to the articles of impeachment. Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan says that's not an option on the table.


DAN KILDEE: Some outliers have suggested a much longer period of time for some tactical purpose. I don't think anyone's taking that seriously.

DAVIS: Democrats run the risk of looking like they're the ones playing political games with impeachment, which is why vulnerable Democrats like Michigan's Elissa Slotkin say they support the strategy but not for forever.


ELISSA SLOTKIN: The speaker discussed it with us. And I believe she has a plan, but I hope the plan is expedient.

DAVIS: The plan is to see if McConnell and Schumer can cut a deal. Lawmakers are headed home for the holidays, and those negotiations are now expected to continue into the new year.

Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.