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'End this': Republicans poised to call no witnesses during Trump impeachment trial in Senate

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 12/10/2019 David M. Drucker
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone © Provided by Washington Examiner

Senate Republicans do not expect to call witnesses President Trump might want to hear from most in an impeachment trial, conceding there are not the votes to summon key figures such as Hunter Biden and the unidentified government whistleblower whose complaint sparked the process.

Senate impeachment rules require a majority vote to call witnesses, and with just two out of 53 votes to spare, there is no “appetite” among Republicans to pursue testimony from people that Democrats blocked Republicans from subpoenaing during the House investigation. Indeed, Republicans might forgo calling witnesses altogether, saying minds are made up on Trump’s guilt or innocence and that testimony at trial on the Senate floor would draw out the proceedings unnecessarily.

“Here’s what I want to avoid: This thing going on longer than it needs to,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told the Washington Examiner. “I want to end this.”

Top Republicans are leaning toward calling for a vote to acquit Trump immediately after House Democrats and the White House have delivered their arguments to head off partisan disagreements that might lengthen the trial.

“At that point, I would expect that most members would be ready to vote and wouldn’t need more information,” said John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3-ranked Senate Republican. “Many people have their minds pretty well made up.”

That would amount to a slightly extended version of events (two weeks or so) of what some observers had once thought might occur, though was never seriously considered: Republicans holding no trial at all and simply voting to acquit.

House Democrats on Tuesday introduced two articles of impeachment, charging Trump with abusing his power in dealings with Ukraine and obstructing Congress. A vote to impeach the president is expected before Christmas, kicking the matter to the Senate for a January trial. Complaining that the Democratic-run investigation in the House was unfair, Trump is planning to wage a vigorous defense in the Republican-controlled Senate, where he expects more even-handed treatment.

That has led some of the president’s defenders to hope the Senate calls witnesses such as Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden; the whistleblower; Democratic operative Alexandra Chalupa; and Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, whose firm, Fusion GPS, was contracted during the 2016 campaign to dig up dirt on Trump. The president is not in danger of being removed from office by the Senate, a move that requires 67 votes.

But in a trial, he is seeking exoneration. Some Republicans question whether that’s possible without hearing from witnesses, whether it be these or other less politically charged figures. “Not sure how you have a fair trial without calling witnesses,” said one Trump ally in the House. But with some Senate Republicans facing uncertain 2020 reelection contests and others privately unhappy with Trump’s behavior, mustering 51 GOP votes for Trump’s dream witness list appears impossible.

“How many senators would enjoy a Trump rally? That’s probably your whip count for calling Hunter,” a Republican senator said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly. Senate Democrats are not expected to provide any votes to call Biden or the others. Or, they might ask so high a price, demanding that in exchange, they be allowed to call Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, that Republicans balk.

“It becomes endless motions to call people, and I’m not sure what anybody gains from all that,” said John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2-ranked Senate Republican.

Any decision to forgo witnesses, not yet formally adopted by Senate Republican leaders, could run afoul of Trump world and his grassroots supporters off of Capitol Hill. The White House did not respond to a request for comment, and the president has yet to address the issue directly.

"President Trump's allies will want to see witnesses called. How many, and which witnesses, will quickly become a dividing line," said Jason Miller, a former adviser to Trump who now co-hosts a podcast with Steve Bannon that defends the president against impeachment.

Under Senate rules, the power of lawmakers to influence the impeachment trial is limited.

The chief justice of the United States, in this case John Roberts, presides, with the power to rule on motions brought by senators. Lawmakers can overrule the judge, but only by a majority vote. In an impeachment trial, the vice president is not available to cast tie-breaking votes on motions, which could include a request for witnesses to testify.

It is possible that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York might negotiate an agreement governing trial procedure. But even during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton nearly 20 years ago, when Democrats and Republicans were nearly unanimously agreed on the rules package that dictated the trial, the motion deciding which witnesses would testify only passed on a party-line vote.

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