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Dems soften tone after Nadler dust-up

By Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris

As Rep. Zoe Lofgren approached the Senate lectern late Thursday with her trial presentation in hand, she paused and did something surprising.

“Thank you so much for the attention that you have given to our presentation throughout this day,” the House impeachment manager said to the visibly weary group as they were entering the ninth hour of the trial that day. “It’s a long day ... It’s not easy but you’re paying attention and the country and the managers thank you for that.”

Lofgren’s appreciative tone was in stark contrast to early Wednesday morning when Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) lectured senators, telling them they would be taking a “treacherous vote” and engaging in a “coverup” if they chose not to allow more witnesses.

Nadler’s barbed remarks — while commonplace in the House — earned a rare rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts and gasps and angry glares from some GOP senators.

The seven House Democrats tasked with prosecuting President Donald Trump in the Senate have noticeably shifted their demeanor over the last three days, carefully adopting a more deferential — and at times, outright apologetic — tone in their final attempt to convince even a single Republican of the breadth and weight of their case against the president.

GOP senators say they have noticed Democrats’ stylistic change, with the impeachment managers deploying more personal appeals to the 100 jurors who will decide Trump’s fate. Several Republicans praised the performance of Democrats like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) — who delivered an impassioned closing speech on Thursday night — even as they quickly dispelled the substance of his case.

“They started off very aggressive and without the kind of decorum we expect in the Senate,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said in an interview Friday, just before Democrats began the third, and final day, of their opening arguments.

“They’ve figured out they sort of overplayed their hand ... They’ve just been way more sort of respectful, serious, less accusatory in some ways,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

“Still, the tone’s harsh, it’s impeachment. They use words like cheat, corrupt and things like that. But in terms of the way they’re approaching the body, it’s different,” Thune added.

Some of the changes are more subtle, like the impeachment managers straying from prepared remarks to commend senators for their patience and attention.

Then there’s the more blatant attempts to lighten the mood, like New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries cracking a timely joke on baseball legend Derek Jeter’s entry into the Hall of Fame. Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) followed up to Jeffries’ with a retort of his own on Friday: “I can only conclude this is only a New York Yankees problem,” he quipped.

Democrats also leaned on some self-deprecating humor during the dozens of hours of dense arguments, like Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) ad-libbing when an audio clip failed to load during her presentation.

Schiff used part of his presentation on Wednesday to specifically acknowledge the Senate’s demanding role in the trial.

“We have adrenaline going through our veins, and for those who are required to sit and listen, it is a much more difficult task,” Schiff said Wednesday, the morning after Nadler’s late-night comments that irked senators, especially Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “And, of course, we know our positions. You have the added difficulty of having to weigh the facts and the law.”

But the strategy shift had several Republican senators doing something rare — particularly in the hyper-partisan environment that has clouded Capitol Hill during impeachment — in that they were willingly complimenting the impeachment managers on Friday as Democrats prepared to wrap up their opening arguments.

“I think they’ve done a good job of presenting their case,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), one of the potential key swing votes. “As the House managers have said, they’ve offered a mountain of overwhelming evidence so we have a lot to consider.”

Some senators chalked up the tonal switch to a change in scenery: House lawmakers, they said, were simply adjusting to the more high-minded ways of their own chamber and the weight of the task at hand.

“I’m sure that they were a little bit overwhelmed, a little bit intimidated, you know just the circumstances of the event, talking literally to the entire world,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.). “I think they’ve kind of settled down a little bit.”

The kudos were a sharp contrast from earlier this week, when Republicans were livid after Nadler’s comments and even some Senate Democrats were publicly asking for a reset between the two sides.

Multiple senators said although Nadler’s remarks were the most glaring example, other aspects of Democrats opening presentation on Tuesday also rankled them, including Schiff’s tone at times. The California Democrat occasionally used what came across as sarcasm, senators said.

“I think part of the problem with the impeachment managers is they think this impeachment trial is about them. And hence we got a lot of repetition because everybody’s got their 15 minutes of fame,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

And while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) complimented the managers on Friday for “how they’ve conducted themselves,” and was even seen earlier this week shaking Schiff’s hand, he was also quick to ding the California Democrat’s closing speech the night before.

"He told me that I have to get rid of this president now because I can't trust him to do what's best for this country because he'll only do what's best for Donald Trump. That decision needs to be made by the voters," Graham said.

"The idea that a politician says he can't serve anymore because he's been so self centered -- I find that to ring hollow."

Many GOP senators, however, argued that the tone of the Democrats’ presentations hardly matters if the seven impeachment managers continue to repeat the facts of their case over and over. Democrats plan to use all 24 hours of their allotted time on the floor, which senators of both parties say has resulted in overlapping and repeated arguments.

And it certainly doesn’t change their positions on the substance of the case, of which the vast majority of Senate Republicans have already rejected.

“We’re trying to get to the facts of the case and when we hear the same thing over and over and over again, it’s not the tone that matters at that point,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “It’s that you’re wasting my time.”

Even some Democratic senators acknowledged that the substance of the trial was becoming repetitive and plodding as the arguments stretched into their third day.

“It’s getting a little tedious, but they’ve done it in the right way,” Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), a former prosecutor, said of the Democrats’ case so far, though he overall praised the effort. “So far, it’s been pretty compelling.”

Burgess Everett, Marianne LeVine and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.