Senior Republicans, who spoke about witness strategy in their weekly leadership meeting Monday evening and will almost surely discuss it again at a party-wide lunch on Tuesday, are dismissing Schumer’s demands, arguing that decisions about witnesses shouldn’t be made before the trial begins.
That would echo what occurred during President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, when senators unanimously agreed on the broad parameters of the proceedings – such as the length of time for opening arguments and questioning by senators – but dealt with the issue of witnesses only weeks into the trial.
“I don’t think that can be decided in advance of this thing getting underway,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), the second-ranking GOP senator, said of witnesses to call before the Senate.
Other Republican senators were largely dismissive of Schumer’s proposal.
“It’s a political statement,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said.
Though decisions are far from final, Senate Republicans have largely coalesced around a strategy of calling no witnesses despite Trump’s persistent demand for them. By the time House impeachment managers and Trump’s attorneys finish making their case in a trial, senior Republicans hope there will be a majority of senators ready to vote without having to hear from witnesses.
But Schumer and Senate Democrats are zeroing in on a handful of Republican senators who may be willing to break off from McConnell and insist on hearing from more officials who may have insight into the administration’s decision to hold up nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine.
One senator being closely watched by Democrats – Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) – declined to comment Monday on the issue of witnesses. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also did not elaborate beyond saying she hoped McConnell and Schumer would be able to work together. Similarly, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also did not weigh in, saying she would reserve comment until McConnell and Schumer have had a chance to speak privately on procedure.
But Collins also distanced herself from McConnell and his comments proclaiming that he was closely coordinating with the White House on trial strategy, telling reporters: “That would not be the approach I’ve taken.”