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GOP rebellion breaks out on Iran as Senate inches toward impeachment

Posted January 9, 2020 12:11 a.m. EST

— A President impeached at home and using lethal force abroad. Threats of a nuclear program in the Middle East, questions about an international coalition and a Gulf War in the not-so distant memory.

Those are the basic contours of Bill Clinton's address to the nation in December of 1998. They are the same for Donald Trump's address from the White House on Wednesday after Iran retaliated for the US strike that had killed the country's top general while he was visiting Iraq last week.

But history, rather than repeating itself, has become inverted with the blunt and deadly application of American military might. It's like bizarro world, because the elements are largely the same, just reversed.

I spent Wednesday looking more closely at the Clinton example and how Trump has riffed on it. Clinton said he was building up an international coalition. Trump has taken pride in breaking coalitions down. Clinton used the military to attack Iraq's weapons program. Trump took out an Iranian general visiting Iraq in part as an act of retribution. Clinton's enemy was Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Trump's enemy is Iran.

But the constant is that the problems created by despotic leaders in the Middle East -- and US responses to them -- carry on from President to President to President.

'There will be no haggling'

It's been three weeks since the House voted to impeach Trump on two articles over his attempts to pressure Ukraine's President into helping to damage former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election. There has been no movement toward the next step laid out in the Constitution, a Senate trial. (Also, it is now less than four weeks before the first vote of 2020 -- the February 3 Iowa caucuses.)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried Wednesday to end his stalemate with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the impeachment trial by exerting Senate dominance. He said on the Senate floor that the California Democrat has no leverage to influence the Senate impeachment trial. "There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure," McConnell said. "We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment. The House Democrats' turn is over. The Senate has made its decision."

He was referring to his declaration that he has the votes to carry on with a trial and punt on whether to call witnesses like John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, after the House presents its impeachment case.

McConnell's comments came after Pelosi wrote to House Democrats on Tuesday night that the Kentucky Republican must release the text of the resolution on the impeachment trial rules before she would send the articles to the Senate.

McConnell vs. Pelosi was the topic of Wednesday's Impeachment Watch podcast, featuring David Chalian, Marshall Cohen and CNN analyst Michael Zeldin.

Also on Wednesday, McConnell and Trump met at the White House and discussed the upcoming trial, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. One of the sources said McConnell walked Trump through the format and discussed how Senate Republicans were reacting to developments around the trial.

The senator has not shared the text of the resolution with the White House, according to one of the sources, who says there's no negotiation with McConnell's office on how the language should be drafted. But the meeting is likely to fuel Democratic accusations that McConnell is improperly coordinating with the President before the trial.

Time for the trial

There are growing signs that even Democrats are done waiting.

CNN's Manu Raju reports the delay is upsetting efforts for senators to plan — both their work and personal schedules as well as their legislative efforts — amid the uncertainty over the standoff, according to multiple senators.

While most Democrats said that when to send the articles was the speaker's decision to make, they made clear that the trial should start soon, hoping for as early as next week.

Here's what they said:

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, said that "it's probably time" to begin the trial, but added he would leave the decision on sending the articles to Pelosi. "I think Mitch McConnell made clear what he's moving forward in terms of rules," he said.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said: "My hope is that we'll be able to get the trial started next week." Murphy added: "I think if we're trying to create leverage on the Republicans, that leverage really exists when we put them on the record on motions to call witnesses."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the senior Connecticut Democrat, added: "I'm ready to begin the trial tomorrow. As a former prosecutor, I'm ready to go to court."

War powers vote is set

While the timing of the impeachment trial remains unclear, Pelosi did make clear Wednesday there will be a vote this week to curb Trump's war powers, even as the President backs down from the brink on Iran.

War powers vote in the House -- CNN's Capitol Hill team reports that House Democrats will take up legislation on Thursday to restrain Trump's military actions amid hostilities with Iran, Pelosi announced.

The resolution, sponsored by freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a former CIA analyst, will be considered by the Rules Committee to set the parameters for the debate on Wednesday night, she said.

The decision to move forward with the bill follows Pelosi's initial announcement over the weekend that the House will take up a measure similar to one introduced in the Senate by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

What would the resolution do? -- It would force the removal of US forces from hostilities within 30 days short of a declaration of war or authorization for the use of military force by Congress. Read more.

GOP senator unloads re: Iran

The war powers issue, unlike impeachment, is drawing sharp criticism of Trump from Republicans, specifically from anti-interventionist conservatives like Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Which means the vote, when it comes to the Senate, will be a very interesting moment for Trump, whose party has been essentially unified behind him on the Ukraine scandal. (War powers matters are privileged under Senate rules and so this resolution will get a vote).

Lee unloaded on the administration after what was supposed to be an intelligence briefing for lawmakers. Lee was not impressed with what he heard. He pointed out that Congress is a coordinate branch of government in charge of funding and authorizing military activity.

"They had to leave after 75 minutes while they're in the process of telling us that we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public. I find this absolutely insane."


What are we doing here?

The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats impeached him for it. A Senate trial is next. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what's acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.

Keep track of the action with CNN's Impeachment Tracker. See a timeline of events. And get your full refresher on who's who in this drama.

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