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Senate Republicans are united as they brace for articles of impeachment

Posted January 9, 2020 5:06 p.m. EST

— Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quoted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during a lunch Thursday among Republican senators saying he expected the articles of impeachment could be delivered soon, according to one senator who attended, setting the expectation that the chamber should be prepared for a trial to begin shortly after that.

"He was quoting her. I don't know if he has any inside knowledge or not," the Republican senator cautioned.

People close to McConnell point to Pelosi's move to hold back the articles for the last several weeks as one of the factors that helped cement GOP unity, but they also say McConnell's decision very early on to model any process after the one designed for former President Bill Clinton in 1999 has been imperative to keeping senators and Trump on board.

The majority leader has been working for months behind the scenes to prepare his conference for this moment -- walking his members through the logistics (six days a week of work), convincing the President that a shorter, controlled trial would be best for his own reelection, while all the while trying to shield his members from taking contentious votes on witnesses like a whistleblower.

Pelosi might be feeling the heat from some in the Democratic Party for her decision to hold back the articles, but McConnell has his conference and the President right where he wants them at this moment.

"I think it is in his drawer ready to go," a different Republican senator said of the organizing resolution to start the trial. "He has explained it is a process that has precedent. I saw (former Senate Majority Leader) Trent Lott last night and he was the Republican leader during Clinton, and he explained it exactly the way McConnell has explained it to us."

McConnell made it clear earlier this week that he has the votes for the resolution and even as Democrats argue they don't understand what the process will look like, Republicans are very comfortable with what McConnell has laid out for them.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and a close ally of Trump's, also said that he thinks McConnell has earned Trump's trust and that has helped with a President who during moments of frustration can careen widely from one position to another when it comes to how he thinks the impeachment trial should be done. At the end of the day, Trump knows McConnell can deliver for him.

"The President wants to get it over with and then the next day, he wants to call 20 witnesses. It's just frustration," Graham said.

But, Graham also noted McConnell has been able to convince Trump to just stick with the process he's laid out.

"The President has great respect for Mitch's political skills. ... He got (Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett) Kavanaugh through. We have done a lot with Republican-only votes. All these judges. I can tell you that the President has a lot of respect for Mitch McConnell as majority leader," Graham said.

Pelosi might say she doesn't know what the process will look like but ask any Republican senator and he or she can tell you exactly what to expect down to how long each side will have to present their case based off the 1999 organizing resolution that McConnell is modeling the trial after.

The undertaking is no small feat given the diversity of his members with independent-minded Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, serving in the same conference as lock-step allies of the President's like Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue.

But, McConnell's two-prong approach to keep Trump's confidence while tending to his most vulnerable members up in 2020 has left the majority leader ready at a pivotal point in this process. McConnell has also made the case to the President that the sooner the impeachment trial is finished, the sooner Trump can pass a crowning achievement of his presidency: the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. That, aides say, has been very helpful in recent days as the trade deal has been stalled a bit after the parliamentarian ruled that the trade agreement had to be approved by all seven relevant committees before it can come to the Senate floor.

One key question multiple senators told CNN is whether there might be slight changes to the 1999 resolution including whether to keep the vote on the motion to dismiss. CNN has reported that Republicans view it as unnecessary given the votes would not be there anyway in the beginning of the process, and McConnell has made the case to Trump that it would be better to clear his name with a vote at the very end on acquittal. But, Republicans say that is still a debate given the fact that they worry any changes to the 1999 resolution could be used as an argument from Democrats that they aren't following the Clinton model and are thereby making up their own rules.

"There is some discussion about whether to include a motion to dismiss like Sen. (Robert) Byrd had in the Clinton impeachment. I don't think there is a lot of interest in voting on a motion to dismiss as opposed to moving to a final vote of 67 votes," one of the Republican senators said. "Why would you want to have a vote on motion to dismiss that isn't successful?"

Sen. James Lankford, Republican from Oklahoma, argued however that "I doubt it would be taken out. As much as we can leave it the same the whole Clinton trial, then there is less argument on this. Let's just leave it the same."

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