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Impeachment state of play: Democrats lose patience with Nancy Pelosi

Patience with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has run out — among Democrats.

And not just Senate Democrats who have become quite vocal in their desire to see the impeachment articles transmitted, finally, to the Senate. Several House Democrats that CNN spoke to Wednesday made clear (though notably not attributable to them by name), that while they believe Pelosi’s strategy has been successful to a degree, and their trust in the Speaker remains rock solid, it was time for the speaker to pull the trigger and send the articles to the Senate.

Bottom line: Lawmakers close to Pelosi still insist they have been given no sense of when she will tee up the vote on the House managers to transmit the articles to the Senate, but in the words of one senior House Democrat: “We’re all working under the assumption it’s coming this week.”

How to know things are shifting: Democrats generally, but specifically House Democrats, are extremely cautious in ever appearing to criticize the decision making of Pelosi. There’s a level of trust — trust earned over years, it should be noted — with her judgment.

There’s also a level of fear in crossing Pelosi publicly, instead of keeping things in house. As CNN’s Dana Bash reported Thursday morning on House Democrats posture on this: “They are being more careful about being public because she never forgets”

So when Democrats start saying on the record it’s time to send the articles to the Senate, it’s a good indicator things are about the change — particularly when it comes from swing-district members or key committee chairs. Members from each of those groups called for the articles to be sent on Thursday morning. “I think it is time to send impeachment to the Senate and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial. He ultimately is,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat, told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” on Thursday morning.

It took all of a few hours for Smith to change his tune.

“I misspoke this morning, I do believe we should do everything we can to force the Senate to have a fair trial,” Smith tweeted a few hours after breaking with Pelosi. “If the Speaker believes that holding on to the articles for a longer time will help force a fair trial in the Senate, then I wholeheartedly support that decision.”

But this is perhaps even more noteworthy.

“I think it’s time” to send the articles over to the Senate, Rep. Ben McAdams, a Utah Democrat in a key frontline seat, told CNN’s Manu Raju.

One scheduling and messaging note: The House will vote later Thursday on the Iran War Powers resolution, which would direct President Donald Trump to halt US military action related to Iran unless or until he comes to Congress for authorization. This is a serious vote intended to send a serious message from House Democrats on a deadly serious issue that has enormous stakes. It would seem unlikely Pelosi would want to do anything to step on that before that vote occurs.

Senate Democrats are over it

The public turn by Senate Democrats on withholding the articles has been striking, but also understandable on several levels, from procedure and logistics, to concerns about losing a message they many thought they were succeeding with for the past few weeks.

But there’s a more tangible issue here, according to several. Every day Pelosi holds out, the handful of Senate Republicans who may — may — join Democrats to vote to subpoena witnesses and documents get more frustrated and annoyed. That’s not an editorial comment — that’s what a Democratic senator who has been attempting to bring Republicans into the fold told CNN directly Wednesday.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, also got at this point and broadly framed it the best Wednesday:

“My belief is that leverage over Republicans exists in votes we take inside the trial,” Murphy said. “That’s where our greatest leverage exists.”

To that point: there will be votes on subpoenaing witnesses and documents. Democrats will get rolled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans on the initial rules of the trial. But votes on witnesses are coming, and the threshold is a simple majority.

Where we are: There’s a point where a strategy starts to hit diminishing returns. That point, at least according to Democratic senators, has been reached with Pelosi’s strategy to withhold the articles of impeachment.

A behind the scenes look: CNN’s been told multiple Senate Democrats have spoken directly to Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. Those senators have made clear to him privately that it’s time to let Pelosi know that the trial needs to get started. It’s not just public comments, but behind the scenes Democrats in the Senate are trying to get this moving.

What Democrats got from the delay

Pelosi allies make clear the combination of emails and leaks related to the administration’s knowledge related to the hold on the Ukraine security assistance, along with the statement from former national security adviser John Bolton that he’s willing to testify if subpoenaed by the Senate, mark legitimate victories over the course of the weeks in which the articles have remained in the House. They all go to the idea that there is simply more information out there the Senate should consider if it the chamber wants a fulsome trial.

That said, the delay did nothing to force McConnell to shift course on his preferred path for the initial stages of the Senate trial. In fact, it served to give him time to ensure all 53 members of the Senate GOP conference lined up with his plan — to address only the opening stages of the trial, from filing briefs and the presentations from the managers and defense, to the senator questions, all before queries (and votes) on whether to subpoena witnesses and documents are entertained.

As McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday, regarding the idea that holding the articles increased Democratic leverage to force specific elements into the trial’s initial organizing rules: “I’ve made clear from the beginning that no such ‘leverage’ exists. It’s nonexistent.”

What McConnell is doing

Mostly taking the Senate floor each day to lambaste Pelosi and Democrats for not sending over the articles of impeachment, but he’s also working in a detailed manner behind the scenes to tee up the looming trial.

He’s methodically walked through, and brought along, his conference for months now on the trial structure he prefers, using briefings, presentations and one-on-one meetings and calls, according to multiple senators — and now every member of his conference is on board.

In a much quieter fashion, he’s done the same thing with Trump, people familiar with their conversations say, in regular phone calls and some in-person meetings. He’s made his points on the trial structure he wants to see, on the drawbacks, in his view, that calling witnesses may have for the President and made clear Trump’s defense team should be geared around ensuring Republican senators are comfortable with what they’re seeing and hearing on the floor, not Fox News hosts.

That effort continued Wednesday during a meeting at the White House.

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.