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Republican counsel Steve Castor listens to Rep. Jim Jordan. Photo: Joshua Roberts - Pool/Getty Images

Republicans' goal this week is to create as much distance as possible between President Trump and the witnesses and make the case that Trump himself never specifically ordered a halt on aid to Ukraine with the intention of forcing a political investigation.

Behind the scenes: Republicans think Trump's former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former NSC official Tim Morrison will be their star witnesses, though some are griping that Schiff has tucked their hearing into Tuesday afternoon, Republican officials working on impeachment tell Axios.

  • "Their testimony is super important, and Schiff knows they undermine his case. So what he's done is taken these two critical witnesses and buried them in the afternoon when no one pays attention," one GOP official said.

And while Democrats think Gordon Sondland will be a damaging witness for the president, Republicans think they can use him to their advantage.

  • They'll say Sondland only talked to the president a handful of times about Ukraine, and he was eager to please Trump.
  • They'll also focus on the idea that Sondland's knowledge was "presumed" and the president never directly linked the two.
  • Still, they concede that Sondland's decision to revise his testimony to say he told a Ukrainian aide that military assistance was tied to an investigation of Burisma could be problematic.

Meanwhile, White House communication with the Hill has tightened over the past week, according to people involved. Trump has made clear to aides he wants them to fight on substance — "he's done nothing wrong" — not just process, a senior administration official said.

  • The White House has been monitoring the Hill for any signs of wobbliness. Some senior aides were concerned about Trump's tweet attacking Marie Yovanovitch — believing that it was the type of thing that could fracture Republican support.
  • Two senior officials told me that Trump has been advised that his Yovanovitch tweet was not helpful.

What to watch: Republicans will continue to hammer Schiff about bringing in the whistleblower to testify, which Democrats have repeatedly said is a nonstarter.

You'll also see Republicans attack Democrats for trying to ditch the "quid pro quo" language in exchange for describing Trump's actions as "bribery" — accusing them of playing politics.

The bottom line: "So long as this impeachment stays in the echo chamber of hyperpartisan Democrats and their allies in the media and doesn't break through into the country," an administration official said, "we have the advantage."

  • The White House is betting that many voters are confused, only vaguely interested and "tuned out," the official added.

Go deeper: Inside Democrats' Week 2 impeachment strategy

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

Mike Allen, author of AM
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.