Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican senators on Tuesday that he lacks the votes to block a Democratic request for witnesses at President Trump’s impeachment trial.
McConnell (R-Ky.) carried a list of yes and no vote commitments at the meeting of fellow Republican senators, according to reports. Some senators sought to sway their colleagues at the meeting.
The Senate will vote Friday on whether to call witnesses, potentially extending Trump’s trial for weeks. Many Republican senators have not said publicly where they stand.
Three Republican senators have consistently expressed an interest in hearing from witnesses, but Democrats would need a fourth to reach the 51 votes needed to overcome opposition led by McConnell.
The announcement by McConnell comes as little surprise given the tight vote-count.
Retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told reporters Monday he would decide if he wanted to hear from witnesses only after the end of a question-and-answer period of the trial on Thursday.
“After we’ve heard all the arguments, after we’ve heard the questions and the answers to the questions, after we’ve studied the record, then we’ll have that vote. And at that time I will make a decision about whether we need additional evidence,” Alexander said.
Though Alexander’s vote alone could tip the balance, other Republicans have said they’re open-minded.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told reporters Tuesday morning that “we’ll make up our minds on further documentation and on witnesses on Friday. Until then we will listen to the rest of the defense team’s argument today, and then we will make up our minds and make that decision on Friday.”
At the meeting where McConnell discussed the news, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) told colleagues a longer trial would open him to more Democratic attacks, The Wall Street Journal reported. Other vulnerable GOP incumbents including Sens. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) spoke.
Democratic senators had all but abandoned hope of calling witnesses before a bombshell revelation Sunday that a book manuscript written by former National Security Advisor John Bolton alleges that Trump confessed he stalled about $400 million in aid to Ukraine to force investigation of Democrats.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has named four potential witnesses, including Bolton and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. If those witnesses are called, Republicans have threatened to call Joe Biden’s son Hunter and the whistleblower who filed an anonymous complaint against Trump.
Trump’s defense team argued Monday that the president was rightfully concerned about Hunter Biden working for a reputedly corrupt Ukrainian energy company while his father led the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy, but his defense denies Trump liked the request for a Ukrainian investigation to the aid hold.
The three Republicans consistently seen as likely to support a call for witnesses are Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
“I’d like to hear from John Bolton,” Romney said Tuesday morning. “I think that Bolton probably has something to offer us, so we’ll figure out how we’re going to learn more,” Murkowski said.
Collins, who has avoided reporters during Trump’s trial, said in a statement: “The reports about John Bolton’s book strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.”
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