Why aren't Democrats making life miserable for vulnerable Republicans on impeachment?

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Image: FILE PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Senator Cornyn arrive for the beginning of the Trump impeachment trial in Washington
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn on Capitol Hill on Jan. 16, 2020.Joshua Roberts / Reuters

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — It sure looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to ram through an incredibly speedy impeachment trial, which could result in President Trump’s acquittal by as early as next week.

The ground rules for the trial that McConnell issued last night: Each side gets 24 hours to make their case, but has to do so within two days (so get ready for some long 12-hour days). What’s more, his proposal also suggests that none of the evidence the House collected will be admitted automatically into the record (the Senate will have to vote to admit any documents).

If McConnell gets his way — Senate Democrats will offer amendments to try to modify the ground rules — Democrats might have only themselves to blame.

As it turns out, they’ve put little to no pressure so far on vulnerable GOP senators like Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and even Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Indeed, according to our ad trackers at Advertising Analytics, there are 11 impeachment-themed TV ads airing across the country right now, and all 11 are by Republicans and GOP groups.

Not a single one is by Democrats putting pressure on Republicans.

If the shoe were on the other foot — say a President Hillary Clinton facing a Senate impeachment trial — we’re fairly certain we’d see GOP ads directed at Doug Jones in Alabama, Gary Peters in Michigan and (probably) Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona.

So why haven’t Democrats tried to pressure GOP senators? Especially in the month since the House passed their impeachment articles against Trump?

Democrats might have the overall facts on their side. And they have a slight majority of Americans supporting Trump’s conviction and removal, according to yesterday’s CNN poll.

But they’ve yet to make life miserable for the Cory Gardners, Martha McSallys and Susan Collinses.

And that makes it much easier for Mitch McConnell to win on process.

Impeachment trial update

Here’s what’s on tap inside the U.S. Senate for today’s impeachment trial, per NBC’s Kasie Hunt and the NBC Capitol Hill team:

At 12:30 pm ET, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks on the Senate floor before the trial starts; Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to follow.

At 1:00 pm ET, the impeachment trial convenes, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presiding. The Senate holds up to two hours of debate on the organizing resolution — followed by two hours of debate on Schumer’s rebuttal amendment. And that’s potentially followed by two hours of debate for every following amendment.

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

That’s the share of Americans who think that President Trump has personally encouraged foreign interference in American elections, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

The survey also found that 41 percent of Americans say that the U.S. is not very prepared or not prepared at all to keep November’s election safe and secure.

And a majority — 56 percent — say Trump has not done very much or has done nothing at all to prevent future election interference.

2020 Vision: Sanders apologizes, but his movement keeps up the fight

On Monday — the day before Senate impeachment trial into President Trump was to begin in earnest — the Sanders campaign and a prominent supporter alleged that Joe Biden was corrupt.

The Sanders campaign newsletter by combative speechwriter David Sirota flagged this op-ed by Zephyr Teachout, who has endorsed Sanders: “‘Middle Class’ Joe Biden has a corruption problem — it makes him a weak candidate.”

And after a Sanders campaign spokeswoman was unable to defend the allegation to MSNBC’s Katy Tur, the candidate himself apologized, per NBC’s Shaquille Brewster and Gary Grumbach.

“It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way. And I'm sorry that that op-ed appeared," Sanders said in an interview with CBS while in Iowa.

Biden quickly accepted Sanders' apology in a tweet, writing: "Thanks for acknowledging this, Bernie. These kinds of attacks have no place in this primary. Let’s all keep our focus on making Donald Trump a one-term president."

But the story doesn’t end there. Last night on Twitter, guess what hashtag was trending — #BidenIsCorrupt.

It’s a reminder that, like what we saw in 2016 (especially at the Dem convention after the WikiLeaks’s DNC disclosures), Sanders is often unable to control the movement he created.

Even when he apologizes — and it’s not every day he does that — many of his supporters continue the attack.

On the campaign trail today

The activity for the non-senators is mostly in Iowa: Joe Biden has community events in Ames and Fort Dodge… Pete Buttigieg holds town halls with Rep. Dave Loebsack in Keokuk, Mount Pleasant, Muscatine and Cedar Rapids… Tom Steyer is in Council Bluffs and Atlantic… Andrew Yang has town halls in Forest City and Waverly… And John Delaney hits Fort Dodge… Outside of the Hawkeye State, Tulsi Gabbard stumps in New Hampshire.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

On the eve of the impeachment trial, NBC’s Maura Barrett reports on Bernie Sanders trying to close the deal in Iowa, before heading back to DC: “’As all of you know, tonight I'm going back to DC, and tomorrow I will be in an impeachment trial. How long it lasts? Honestly don't know. So, I will not be able to be back here in Iowa as much as I would like,’ Sanders said. He continued, ‘So ironically, the us, not me, is becoming very much a reality in the last two weeks of this campaign. Because I am not going to be able to be here as much as I would like. So you guys are going to have to carry the ball.’"

"Sanders also picked up a notable endorsement in Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who used language in her endorsement eerily similar to that of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. ‘We need bold structural change because if we don't do that this suffering is going to continue,’ and another point in her portion, the phrase ‘deep structural change’ was used. (To spell it out: Warren’s catch phrase is ‘big structural change.’”

Tweet of the day

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Here are the initial rules of the road for the impeachment trial, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Trump’s lawyers and his allies in the Senate are working to keep John Bolton from testifying publicly in the impeachment trial.

Kellyanne Conway suggested that Martin Luther King Jr. would have opposed Trump’s impeachment.

Here’s our team-on-the-ground’s dispatch from the Richmond gun rights rally yesterday.

The New York Times gives a glimpse of what campaign life is like for organizers in Iowa.

Trump Agenda: Davos Man

Trump is in Davos, but impeachment remains on his mind.

The Supreme Court will take on a church-vs-state religion case today.

Michael Avenatti’s lawyer says that he is being housed in El Chapo’s old cell.

Trump’s legal team maintains that he did “absolutely nothing wrong.”

2020: GOP group vs. Steve King

A Republican group is backing Steve King’s primary challenger.

How many tickets out of the Hawkeye State are there, really?

“Stop-and-frisk” is still a major problem for Mike Bloomberg.

Joe Biden got a little heated over doubts about his support from African-Americans.

Warren and Sanders voters are digging in after the candidates’ he-said-she-said on gender politics.