WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican senators Tuesday he does not currently have the votes to block additional witnesses from entering President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, according to multiple reports.
The Kentucky Republican made the announcement to his caucus during a closed-door meeting Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Trump’s defense team finished its opening arguments in the trial. Senators are expected to begin a 16-hour question and answer period Wednesday, giving McConnell several days before a potential vote on witnesses.
According to the Washington Post, there are enough Republican objections that McConnell cannot defeat an initial vote on whether additional witnesses should be called in the trial. The question of which specific witnesses would appear would be subject to separate votes later.
The issue of whether to bring additional evidence and witnesses into the trial has dominated the week of proceedings, especially following reports concerning a manuscript of former national security adviser John Bolton’s upcoming book.
The New York Times reported Sunday that Bolton’s manuscript says Trump directly connected a $391 million military aid package to Ukraine announcing investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
The allegation that Trump placed a hold on that aid package, as well as a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in exchange for investigations into the Bidens and a discredited theory about the 2016 presidential election is the crux of the House impeachment case.
Democrats have demanded that the Senate hear from Bolton and calls for his testimony have grown louder since news of his manuscript broke over the weekend, blindsiding Republican leadership in the Senate.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close Trump ally, on Tuesday endorsed the idea of senators reviewing Bolton’s manuscript in a confidential setting – a proposal quickly dismissed by Democrats.
While Republicans have generally opposed the idea of hearing new witnesses, a group including Senators Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski have been more open to the idea.
Other Republican senators have said they would be open to hearing new witnesses, but only if the GOP can call witnesses of its own – possibly the Bidens. Democrats have resisted this call too, saying neither Biden’s testimony would be relevant to the allegations against the president.
There was little indication from senators leaving Tuesday’s closed-door caucus meeting that the witness vote could prolong the trial. Senate Majority Whip John Thune told reporters “we’re kind of on schedule” and that the trial should not run beyond Friday.