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Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images   

Chuck Schumer told party donors during recent calls that the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fact that Cal Cunningham "couldn't keep his zipper up" crushed Democrats' chances of regaining the Senate, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democrats are hoping for a 50-50 split by winning two upcoming special elections in Georgia. But their best chance for an outright Senate majority ended when Cunningham lost in North Carolina and Sen. Susan Collins won in Maine.

  • During a recent donor call, the minority leader lamented being unable to successfully recruit Stacey Abrams to run for a Senate seat in Georgia, one of the sources said. He also said he regretted successfully recruiting Cunningham.
  • Schumer has made the zipper comment on numerous calls, the source added.
  • One source familiar with the private discussions told Axios that, when discussing the Georgia Senate races, Schumer acknowledged he tried to recruit Abrams but says she insisted Raphael Warnock was the right choice.

The backstory: Many thought North Carolina could go blue before news of Cunningham's affair surfaced. Ginsburg's death, meanwhile, let Collins reshape the debate about filling Supreme Court vacancies, Schumer said.

  • The Maine Republican was chastened for voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh after he faced charges of sexual assault.
  • When Ginsburg died, Collins appealed to Democrats, independents and undecideds by opposing filling her seat until voters picked the next president.
  • The Senate still plowed ahead with confirming conservative Amy Coney Barrett, but Collins got political cover from her no vote. She went on to defeat Democrat Sara Gideon.

Go deeper

Jan 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Kaine, Collins pitch Senate colleagues on censuring Trump

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks with Sen. Susan Collins. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP via Getty Images

Sens. Tim Kaine and Susan Collins are privately pitching their colleagues on a bipartisan resolution censuring former President Trump, three sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: Senators are looking for a way to condemn Trump on the record as it becomes increasingly unlikely Democrats will obtain the 17 Republican votes needed to gain a conviction in his second impeachment.

Most Senate Republicans join Rand Paul effort to dismiss Trump's 2nd impeachment trial

Photo: Joshua Roberts-Pool/Getty Images

Forty-five Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, supported an effort to dismiss former President Trump's second impeachment trial.

Why it matters: The vote serves as a precursor to how senators will approach next month's impeachment trial, making it highly unlikely the Senate will vote to convict. The House impeached Trump for a second time for "incitement of insurrection" following events from Jan 6. when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.

Updated 6 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.