By Zachary Stieber
The Senate will vote on whether to call any witnesses in the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump on Jan. 31, but with a dearth of Republicans signaling a willingness to side with Democrats, witnesses are expected to be blocked.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) became the latest potential swing vote to announce late Thursday that he’d vote against calling additional witnesses.
“I worked with other senators to make sure that we have the right to ask for more documents and witnesses, but there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” he said.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said Wednesday that he’d also vote against calling witnesses. “I do not believe we need to hear from an 18th witness,” he said, referring to the 17 witnesses calling during the House impeachment inquiry.
With Alexander and Gardner voicing their opposition, Democrats face a dwindling number of GOP senators who might side with them in the witness vote.
“I hope we can get witnesses and documents. It’s an uphill fight. Is it more likely than not? Probably no. But is it a decent, good chance? Yes,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Thursday.
Friday’s trial will open with four hours of arguments about the need to call more witnesses. The Senate will then vote on the matter. The vote comes after senators submitted 180 questions, the vast majority of which were answered by House impeachment managers, Trump’s legal team, or both.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said they’ll vote for calling witnesses. Collins announced her vote late Thursday.
“I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity,” she said in a statement.
A Romney spokesman confirmed his upcoming vote on Friday, writing on Twitter that Romney “has said he wants to hear from Ambassador Bolton, and he will vote in favor of the motion today to consider witnesses.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she’d announce her decision on Friday but signaled skepticism that testimony from former National Security Advisor John Bolton would be relevant.
“Isn’t it true that the allegations still would not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, and that therefore for this and other reasons his testimony would add nothing to the case?” a query from Murkowski and Alexander on Thursday read.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate. A simple majority is required to call additional witnesses. A tie could be broken by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, but he has rarely wielded his authority as the officer presiding over the trial.
It’s possible that Democrats need more than four Republican votes, as one or more moderate Democrats could side with Republicans.
Trump was impeached by the House last month in a sharply partisan vote. The charges of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress were sent to the Senate earlier this month, triggering the trial.
Democrats say Trump was acting in his personal interest when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July 2019 to “look into” allegations of corruption against former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter. They allege he paused congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine to try to pressure Zelensky into launching an investigation into the Bidens.
Trump has said it was his duty to look into the matter and noted that a slew of experts, including a number of witnesses who testified during the impeachment inquiry, said there were continuing concerns about corruption in Ukraine.
The election of Zelensky, who ran promising reform, didn’t cause the concerns to vanish overnight, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told lawmakers during the trial.
“Does anybody think that one election of one president that ran on a reform platform, who finally gets a majority in their legislative body, that corruption in Ukraine just evaporates?” Sekulow said.
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