Democrats hammer home impeachment case in an argument that's (finally) uninterrupted

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Image: Night falls on the Capitol, Wednesday evening, Jan. 22, 2020, during in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Night falls on the Capitol, Wednesday evening, Jan. 22, 2020, during in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — The evidence in the Ukraine scandal has been in plain sight for months, as we wrote when the impeachment inquiry first began in late September.

But what the House Democratic impeachment managers did on Wednesday — in their opening arguments of the Senate impeachment trial — was tell an uninterrupted story about the actions by President Trump and his administration.

And it sets a high bar for the defense, when the president’s lawyers begin their counterarguments on Saturday.

The president of the United States asked a foreign leader to investigate a political rival. (“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it ... It sounds horrible to me,” Trump said to Ukraine’s Zelenskiy in that July 25 phone call.)

The president also asked the same leader to look into a conspiracy that Ukraine — not Russia — interfered in the 2016 presidential election. (“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike.”)

The administration linked a White House visit by Zelenskiy to Ukraine undertaking those desired investigations. (“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes,” E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland told Congress.)

It also held up security aid to Ukraine that Congress had already passed. (“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Bill Taylor, the State Department’s top official in Ukraine, told Sondland on Sept. 9.)

The president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, admitted the administration held up the aid in order for Ukraine to investigate what happened in 2016. (“The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate,” Mulvaney told reporters on Oct. 17.)

And the aid to Ukraine was finally released on Sept. 11 — two days after three House committees launch an investigation into the Ukraine matter.

It’s a damning set of facts and statements.

Then again, it’s Republican votes to convict — and not the facts — that will ultimately decide President Trump’s fate.

Data Download: The number of the day is … 51 percent

51 percent.

That’s the share of Americans who say that the Senate impeachment trial should end in President Trump’s removal from office, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Forty-six percent say the outcome of the trial should be Trump remaining in office.

The same poll also found that majorities of Americans believe that Trump has probably or definitely done things while campaigning or serving in office that are illegal (63 percent) and unethical (70 percent.)

What’s in that Pence-Zelenskiy call?

At the end of last night’s session, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts gave the U.S. senators a homework assignment.

“John Roberts noted that a ‘single one-page classified document’ identified by the House managers for filing with the Secretary of the Senate would not be made part of the public record or printed, ‘but shall be made available’ to senators to review in a classified setting,” the Wall Street Journal writes.

That classified document appears to be connected to this, as Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., explained last night: “And September is the month where Mike Pence and Zelenskiy were on the phone, and [Pence aide] Jennifer Williams has classified information to share with you that I hope you'll take a look at because it is relevant to these issues.”

What’s in that Pence-Zelenskiy call?

Impeachment trial update: Day 2 for the prosecution

NBC’s Kasie Hunt and the NBC Capitol Hill team say that today’s focus by the Democratic House impeachment managers will be making the case how President Trump abused his power in the Ukraine matter – and how that’s a high crime and misdemeanor.

“We will go through the law, the Constitution, and how it pertains to the president’s abuse of power,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., previewed last night.

That begins at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Where are we?

This past Tuesday: procedural jousting over the organizing resolution; rules passed around 2:00 a.m. ET

Yesterday: prosecution opening arguments, 8 hours

Today: prosecution, 8 hours

Friday: prosecution, 8 hours

Saturday: White House defense, 8 hours

Sunday: off

Monday: White House defense, 8 hours

Tuesday: White House defense, 8 hours

Wednesday: Senators’ questions

Thursday: Senators’ questions

Friday: Senators’ questions

Saturday: Vote on witnesses?

Sunday: off

Monday: Iowa caucuses

Tuesday: State of the Union

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Making sense of the new polls

A national CNN poll has Bernie Sanders ahead!

No, Monmouth’s national survey still has Joe Biden in the lead!

What those polls tell us — in addition to the early-state polls we’ve seen — is that the Democratic race is starting to consolidate around both Biden and Sanders. (Folks, the separation between both men is within the margin of error of both polls.)

They also tell us that Elizabeth Warren has lost altitude, while Pete Buttigieg has flatlined.

And Amy Klobuchar looks like she’s going to have a hard time getting to 15 percent — the viability threshold in Iowa, as well as the minimum level to win delegates.

On the campaign trail today

Pete Buttigieg addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting in DC before heading to South Carolina… Julian Castro campaigns for Elizabeth Warren in Iowa… Michael Moore does the same for Bernie Sanders in the Hawkeye State… Andrew Yang holds multiple town halls in Iowa… Michael Bloomberg is in Minnesota… And Tulsi Gabbard and Deval Patrick stump in New Hampshire.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

After over a week of failed attempts from the press corps to get Joe Biden to talk about potentially testifying at the Senate’s impeachment trial, NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor reports from Iowa that a man from Arizona did just that: “During the Osage town hall, Biden was asked whether he would consider testifying before the Senate in exchange for witnesses from the Trump administration. ‘Have you ever thought of just calling their bluff and maybe even you and your son [testifying]? And that might take the gas right out of them,’ Steve Delgado asked Biden.

‘I don't think they got much gas in the tank to begin with,’ Biden said in a response that prompted the roughly 100 people present to laugh.

‘The reason why I would not make the deal, the bottom line is, this is a constitutional issue and we're not gonna turn it into a farce, into some kind of political theater,’ Biden responded.”

And NBC’s Julia Jester reports that Tulsi Gabbard is still working out the details on her lawsuit against Hillary Clinton — namely, who’s paying for it. When Gabbard was asked “Is the lawsuit being paid for in funds from your campaign?” She answered, “I think that’s something that’s being worked out, and we’ll announce that once it’s finished.”

Talking policy with Benjy

Joe Biden defended his record on Social Security on Wednesday, an area where rivals Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have gone after him lately over his past interest in bipartisan deals to rein in entitlement spending, NBC’s Benjy Sarlin observes.

"No, no, no, no,” Biden said on Morning Joe when asked if he’d consider cutting Social Security. "We go back and look at statements, many of them, most of them taken out of context of 10, 20, 30, 35 years ago. It's like my going back and pointing out how Bernie voted against the Brady bill five times while I was trying to get it passed,” he added.

Biden, like Warren and Sanders, has proposed expanding Social Security benefits in his 2020 run, but his history has made for one of the uglier intra-Democrat fights lately. The Sanders campaign, in a newsletter, started things off last week by misleadingly claiming a 2018 video of Biden showed him endorsing entitlement cuts in line with former Speaker Paul Ryan. (He appeared to be mocking Ryan instead).

But Sanders, whose campaign pressed ahead with Social Security attacks on Wednesday, has a point, too. Biden took pride in being a deficit hawk and called in the 1980s for a “freeze” on all spending, including Social Security. When he ran for president in 2007, he told then-“Meet The Press” host Tim Russert he’d consider changes like raising the retirement age for entitlement programs.

Biden wasn’t alone in this regard. For years, centrist Democrats and Republicans explored trading entitlement cuts for higher taxes, an idea that gained traction again while he was Vice President. As recently as 2013, President Obama offered to tie Social Security benefits to a less generous rate of inflation to woo Republicans into a grand bargain. (It didn’t work).

The backlash among Democrats — including Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren — to these and other bipartisan proposals helped push the party towards its current position, where cuts are largely off the table.

The Lid: Margins for error

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we tried to make sense of the latest dueling national polls.

Shameless plug: The latest ToddCast

Check out the latest Chuck ToddCast, when Iowa Democratic strategist Jeff Link joined Chuck to talk about the state of the Iowa race. Plus Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Phil Rucker and National Investigative Reporter Carol Leonnig spoke about their new book "A Very Stable Genius."

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Jonathan Allen walks through exactly what Democrats are doing with their intricate impeachment arguments.

Joe Biden says he’s opposed to testifying in the impeachment trial because he doesn’t want to participate in “political theater.”

Trump will be the first sitting president to personally attend the March for Life.

Maura Barrett and Gary Grumbach report on how Bernie Sanders is addressing growing tensions with Joe Biden in the final campaign stretch.

Trump Agenda: I gotta have faith(less) electors

NBC’s Adam Edelman has the backstory of the “faithless elector” whose case has gone all the way to the Supreme Court.

The New York Times looks at Kevin McCarthy’s central role in Trump’s White House.

Gordon Sondland is still carrying on with his ambassadorial duties while his name is invoked over and over again in the impeachment proceedings.

Trump wants to make cars cheaper and safer, but new documents show that the plan may be backfiring.

2020: Biden says he won’t cut Social Security

After taking fire from Sanders over Social Security, Biden repeated that he won’t cut it.

Mike Bloomberg is out with a plan to address racial economic inequality.

Bill Bradley has endorsed Joe Biden.

Is Tom Steyer really surging in South Carolina?