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McConnell, Schumer trade barbs about impasse over Senate impeachment trial of Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/Copyright 2020 The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday, Jan. 3, that the chamber was no closer to setting rules for an impeachment trial of President Donald Trump than it was before breaking for the holidays.

Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., traded barbs during floor speeches. In his remarks, McConnell chided the Democratic-led House for a delay in transmitting articles of impeachment and said his chamber would continue with "ordinary business" while it waits.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has held off sending the two articles - alleging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress - as Democrats seek guarantees about witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed regarding Trump's conduct toward Ukraine.

At the heart of the Democrats' case is the allegation that Trump tried to leverage a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine to combat Russian military aggression, to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as a probe of an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Schumer's assessment about the status of Senate impeachment trial came during floor remarks in which he continued to press the case for subpoenaing documents relevant to Trump's conduct toward Ukraine and calling several witnesses, including acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who declined to participate in the House impeachment inquiry.

Schumer said McConnell "hasn't given one good reason why there shouldn't be relevant witnesses or relevant documents."

"Instead of trying to find the truth, he is still using the same feeble talking points that he was using last December," Schumer said.

McConnell has argued that the Senate should wait to decide whether it needs to hear from witnesses until after opening statements from House managers and Trump's lawyers.

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Schumer has called that "Alice-in-Wonderland logic."

McConnell said Friday that the Senate would continue with its "ordinary business" until the Democratic-led House can "muster the courage" to transmit the articles of impeachment against Trump.

"Their turn is over," McConnell said during a speech on the Senate floor. "They've done enough damage. It's the Senate's turn now to render sober judgment as the Framers envisioned. But we can't hold a trial without the articles. The Senate's own rules don't provide for that."

He continued: "So for now, we are content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate while House Democrats continue to flounder. . . . If they ever muster the courage to stand behind their slapdash work product and transmit their articles to the Senate, it will then be time for the United States Senate to fulfill our founding purpose."

After walking off the Senate floor, McConnell dismissed questions from reporters about whether he will meet with Schumer and when he expects the trial to start.

McConnell said he had already "addressed all of the relevant issues" in his floor remarks.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Trump administration and Pelosi return to court in Washington on Friday in two separation-of-powers lawsuits over testimony and evidence, which the Democrats are requesting in the lead-up to a Senate impeachment trial and "ongoing inquiry into the president's conduct."

House lawmakers are seeking testimony from Trump's former White House counsel Donald McGahn and secret grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller Russia investigation.

Even as the timing of an impeachment trial remains uncertain, the House Judiciary Committee is "continuing to conduct its inquiry into whether the president committed other impeachable offenses," House lawyers said in court filings in advance of oral argument at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans think Trump has committed an impeachable offense, but the public is more evenly split on whether voters should decide his fate in this year's elections rather than have the Senate remove him from office, according to a new poll.

The 538-Ipsos poll also finds that congressional Democrats, Republicans and Trump alike get low marks from the public for how they are handling the impeachment process.

The poll finds that 57% of Americans think Trump has committed an impeachable offense, while 40% think he has not. Of those who think he has, 50% are "absolutely certain," while 31 percent are "pretty certain."

This article was written by John Wagner, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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