That’s when the vote to keep the trial going by having witnesses testify failed. Two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, voted with all Democrats in favor of witnesses. But Democrats needed four Republicans to break from their party to get a majority. House impeachment managers spent a lot of the time they were allotted trying to make the case to include new evidence in the trial.
We learned Thursday that one potential swing vote, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) had seen enough. Friday morning, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) sealed things by announcing she would be a no for witnesses.
“Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate,” she said.
The motion to call new witnesses failed 51 to 49.
With that, we enter the beginning of the end of Trump’s trial. Starting Monday, both sides will have a chance to give their closing arguments. The Senate is then scheduled to vote Wednesday afternoon on whether to convict Trump of the two counts of impeachment passed by the House: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Trump is expected to be acquitted on both charges. Which means even though the House of Representatives impeached him, he can continue being president — and running for reelection.
But here’s a silver lining for Democrats
Nothing done wrong, READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2020
The case Democrats made that Trump pressured Ukraine for his own political benefit was apparently pretty solid to a number of Republicans who felt they had no choice but to publicly acknowledge he did it. (They just don’t think it’s worth impeaching Trump for in an election year.) That’s a big admission in a political climate where Republicans are loath to contradict the president on even the smallest of things.
Yet, here’s Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.): “Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office.”
And here’s Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio): “I believe that some of the president’s actions in this case — including asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine — were wrong and inappropriate.”
And here’s Alexander: “The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did.”
The battle now goes to the court of public opinion
On Friday night, Democrats will force the Senate to vote on what are ultimately political motions about the trial and its lack of witnesses.
Why extend a trial that everyone knows is basically over? November. For Democrats, it’s worth a shot to try to spin a defeat into a victory by using these votes against vulnerable Senate Republicans. More votes mean more things Democrats can point to and say that Republicans refused opportunities to thoroughly adjudicate this.
Polls show that a majority of Americans support having witnesses.
In a good year for Democrats — like they win the presidency kind of good year — control of the Senate could be in reach.
But it’s an open question if impeachment changes any voters’ minds in a significant way. Americans have been split 50/50 since this began in September, despite all that has been uncovered since. Independents have also been split for much of this. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll has 51 percent of independents opposing Trump’s removal.
That suggests views on this have been baked into people’s partisan leanings, perhaps because the outcome (Trump’s impeachment by the House and acquittal by the Senate) wasn’t really ever in doubt.
The Bolton question mark
It’s a huge victory for Trump that Republicans didn’t vote to call John Bolton as a witness, even as more news came out Friday about what Trump’s former national security adviser knows.
The New York Times reported that Trump asked Bolton to get involved in his personal lawyer’s efforts to pressure Ukraine, and high-level people, like his acting chief of staff and White House counsel, were there for it.
This is all in Bolton’s manuscript for a book, which is under review by the White House now. (They’re currently at loggerheads about whether the Ukraine chapter contains classified information.)
The Senate trial will end in the coming week, but the Ukraine controversy may not. When Bolton’s book does get published, how much more will the public learn about Trump and Ukraine? And could it shape public opinion to be even more opposed to what the Senate did Friday in deciding not to hear from witnesses in an impeachment trial? And what impact will this have on the November elections?