WASHINGTON (CN) — The cadre of Republicans who may break party lines and vote to hear from witnesses at the Senate impeachment trial fired off pointed questions Wednesday, offering a glimpse into their take on the case against President Donald Trump after six days of arguments.
Rising with the first question in what will be a 16-hour question-and-answer period, Senator Susan Collins, on behalf of herself and fellow Senators Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski, asked the president's counsel how senators should consider Trump’s motives when evaluating the abuse of power charge.
Democrats are banking on the trio, along with Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, to break party lines and vote to subpoena witnesses.
Following procedure, Collins first needed the recognition of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass the question to a Senate page who delivered it to Chief Justice John Roberts.
“This is a question for the counsel for the president," Roberts said, reading Collins’ submission. "If President Trump had more than one motive for his alleged conduct, such as the pursuit of personal political advantage, rooting out corruption and the promotion of national interests, how should the Senate consider more than one motive in its assessment of Article One?”
McConnell reportedly does not have the “nay” votes to kill the Democratic push for witnesses, placing all eyes and severe pressure on Collins, Murkowski, Romney and Alexander to vote for the motion or fall in line behind GOP leadership.
Off the Senate floor and away from the public eye, McConnell met with Murkowski on Wednesday morning before the question-and-answer period kicked off. When Republican Whip John Thune joined Collins and Murkowski at their desks ahead of the start of Wednesday’s proceedings, Murkowski could be seen shaking her head both “yes” and “no.”
Cream-colored question cards — adorned at the top left corner with the seal of the Senate — were scattered on the desks of senators on both sides of the aisle. Democrat and Republican leadership cleared the questions in the days prior to prevent duplicates, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer telling reporters Tuesday that he would not censor Democrats.
Senators directed questions to the House managers, the president’s counsel, or both. Collins, Murkowski and Romney were among a relatively small group of senators who gave both teams the chance to answer their query, with the majority of Republicans passing questions to Trump’s legal team and Democrats to House managers.
Deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin responded to Collins’ question by restating the defense team’s position that, regardless of Trump’s motives, the articles of impeachment are deficient.
Turning to the House managers table adjacent the lectern, Philbin said the Democrats have set a standard for impeachment establishing there is no possible public interest in the investigations Trump solicited from Ukraine.
“And if there is any possibility — if there is something that shows a possible public interest and the president could have that possible public interest motive — that destroys their case,” Philbin said.
Romney pulled out a white legal pad to take notes as Philbin answered the first question. Collins, Murkowski and Romney have routinely taken notes through the past seven days of historic proceedings.
In his response to a separate question from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, lead House manager Representative Adam Schiff said, even if Trump wanted the investigations only in part to boost his election chances, that is impeachable conduct.