Jan 28, 2020

Republicans brace for domino effect on witnesses

Photo: Getty Images

If at least four Senate Republicans decide to vote with Democrats this week to subpoena witnesses and documents in President Trump's impeachment trial, Hill Republicans fear a potential domino effect, with additional GOP senators — especially those up for reelection in November — falling.

What they're saying: “You don’t want to be one of the first four. But no one gives a f*** about the fifth vote,” a GOP senate aide told Axios. “Especially for all of the 2020-ers. If it turns into a free vote, why wouldn’t you vote for witnesses?”

  • Republicans still see the four most likely to break with the party line as Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
  • But Cory Gardner of Colorado, Thom Tills of North Carolina, Martha McSally of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania would face pressure to follow.

What we're hearing: Sources close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tell Axios that, if it appears that at least 51 senators will vote for witnesses, McConnell and Schumer will likely try to hash out an agreement rather than going straight to a vote.

  • If the Senate goes that route, Republicans are likely to demand their own list of witnesses — with Joe Biden's son Hunter at the top.

This has privately created a dilemma for some Democrats, who are eager for more information but recognize that a vote for witnesses could open the door for Republicans to use the impeachment stage to try to deal an insurmountable blow to the campaign of a rival thought to pose the greatest risk to Trump in the general election.

  • “They want us to become complicit” in destroying the Bidens, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who says he would not support a one-for-one witness deal, told reporters. “I would strongly argue against becoming co-conspirators.”
  • "To make a quid pro quo deal when the essence of the impeachment is a quid pro quo by the president — why should we be compromising the truth?" Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said about a potential witness trade.

But McConnell doesn't need to strike a deal with Democrats on Hunter Biden to subpoena him. Republicans would just need need 51 votes, and they currently rule the Senate with a 53-47 majority.

  • “There is zero doubt we’re getting witnesses. If there’s witnesses, we’re calling witnesses. We just need 51 votes," a source close to Trump's legal team told Axios.
  • "There's no way they're going to bring in John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney and not bring in our people, that would just be completely unfair and it would undermine their whole reason for having witnesses in the first place.”

The bottom line: Trump's legal team is expected to continue their defense of the president on Monday. Then a 16-hour Q&A session will begin, a crucial period that will solidify whether senators feel satisfied with the evidence they have now or if they will vote for more. A vote on witnesses will then take place at the end of this week.

Go deeper:

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McConnell says Republicans do not yet have the votes to block witnesses

Sen. Mitch McConnell. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his caucus Tuesday that Republicans currently lack the votes needed to block witnesses from being called in the impeachment trial against President Trump, but are hopeful they could get there by Friday, three sources familiar with the closed-door meeting tell Axios.

The big picture: Most Republicans have tried to avoid calling witnesses, and just a few days ago it looked like their efforts would be successful. But bombshell revelations from former national security adviser John Bolton's forthcoming book have swayed more GOP senators in recent days, with some signaling they're more likely to vote for witnesses than before.

Go deeperArrowJan 28, 2020

Democrats struggle to count to four

McConnell, Alexander and Collins in a hallway at the Capitol last month. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Democrats may fall short of securing the minimum number of Republican senators needed to bring new witnesses into President Trump's impeachment trial, 10 senior staffers to key Senate Republicans tell Axios.

The big picture: As of Thursday night, the prevailing view emerging among Republican Senate aides was that Democrats — who need four GOP senators' votes and not to lose any from their own party — will struggle to get more than three.

Go deeperArrowJan 24, 2020

Key senator commits to sinking witness vote

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) speaks with reporters as he leaves the Capitol. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Senate is on track to swiftly acquit President Trump after Sen. Lamar Alexander announced Thursday night that he will vote against calling for additional witnesses.

Why it matters: Alexander's vote is crucial to whether the impeachment trial extends beyond this weekend, and his decision to stick with his party all but guarantees that Friday's witness vote will fail.