Senate Republicans secured the votes to block additional witnesses and documents for President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, with Sen. Lisa Murkwoski’s (R-AK) announcement Friday that she will oppose a measure seeking witnesses for the trial.
With only two Republicans planning to join Democrats in a witness vote slated for Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have the votes to move to the next phase of the trial without authorizing subpoenas House managers were seeking. Democrats needed four Republican votes to move to the next step of considering witnesses.
This will be the first impeachment trial in U.S. history to end without witness testimony.
From the moment the House passed its articles of impeachment last month, the drama in the Senate has centered on whether it would seek to to hear additional evidence about President Trump’s Ukraine scheme. With 67 votes required to remove Trump from office, his acquittal in the GOP-controlled Senate never appeared to be in doubt.
McConnell has consistently pushed for a quick, witness-less trial. However, he did not have enough votes at the beginning of the proceedings to block witnesses outright. So instead, he set up a process that would allow Republicans to wait until after the early stages of the trial, after both sides had presented and answered questions about their arguments, to make a final decision on witnesses.
President Trump is accused of abusing the power of his office by using military aid and a White House meeting as leverage to push Ukrainian investigations into his Democratic rivals. He’s also accused of obstructing Congress in his wholesale stonewalling of the House’s impeachment inquiry.
Democrats were hoping to call four top administration officials for Senate testimony, after they resisted, at Trump’s behest, the requests for their participation in the House probe. The House was also seeking Senate subpoenas for the documents the Trump administration refused to turn over in the House impeachment inquiry.
The GOP’s arguments against calling witnesses have ranged from blaming the House for not going to court to enforce their subpoenas, to accepting an assertion by one of Trump’s lawyers that even if the House had proven the facts of its case, the conduct described was not impeachable.
A wrench was thrown in McConnell’s plan for a witness-less trial earlier this week with the revelation that former National Security Adviser John Bolton — one of the Democratic-requested witnesses — had written in his soon-to-be-published book that Trump had told him the freeze on military aid was connected to the investigation demands. The claim was reportedly in a manuscript that has been submitted to the White House for prepublication review, and Senate GOP leaders were blindsided by the development, which was first reported on Sunday.
When it seemed possible that enough Republicans could join Democrats in opening a debate on witnesses, Trump’s biggest allies in the Senate warned that they would then call Hunter Biden and others whose testimony they argued would vindicate Trump’s behavior towards Ukraine.
By the end of the week, however, McConnell had convinced almost everyone in his caucus to forego any effort to secure Bolton or other witnesses.Democrats were hopeful that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) — an institutionalist who largely stayed mum on his thoughts on witnesses through most of the trial — would vote in their favor. Alexander dashed those hopes with a statement Thursday night announcing that he was opposing extending the trial because he believed the Trump conduct had been proven but was not impeachable.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) have indicated they will vote in favor of witnesses.
The House managers devoted a considerable amount their presentations to a pleas for more witnesses. At the beginning of the trial, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) told the senators that “most important decision” they will make is whether “the president and the American people get a fair trial.”
More recently Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) have previewed an argument that Trump’s inevitable acquittal is not legitimate because, without witnesses and documents, he never had a proper trial.
The failure of a witness vote on Friday will set the stage for the Senate to clear Trump quickly, perhaps as soon as Friday night. After a four-hour debate ahead the witness vote on Friday, Democrats will have the opportunity to try parliamentary tricks to extend the proceedings longer. Once they have run out of those maneuvers, Republicans will be able to move to deliberations and a final vote.
There was some suggestion in the Capitol that the Senate might not even hold closed deliberations ahead of the vote to acquit the President.