WASHINGTON (CN) — After weeks of investigation and arguments in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, Democrats will mount their final push Friday to call for witnesses and documents once proceedings resume inside the storied Senate chamber at 1 p.m.
There will be four hours allotted for debate on whether the Senate should hear from figures like former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Time will be split evenly between House impeachment managers and President Trump’s defense team.
Once debate concludes, the chamber will vote on a measure that has caused much consternation around Washington, though the timeline for the decisive vote on acquittal remains uncertain.
Senate Republicans all but secured victory on the witness vote Friday morning when Senator Lisa Murkowski announced she would not support hearing additional witnesses in the trial
Apart from a small handful who had not staked a public position on the issue, Republicans have broadly contested the impeachment trial since its inception and have spent the last two weeks doggedly fighting to exclude new witnesses and documents.
Murkowski’s proclamation, coupled with a similar announcement Thursday from Senator Lamar Alexander, gives Republicans 51 votes to defeat a motion for witnesses, barring a surprise flip.
Democrats needed to win four Republican votes to succeed on the witness vote and have only secured votes from Senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney.
The path to the historic trial began in earnest last year when a whistleblower filed a complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
As investigators built the case, the House of Representatives heard evidence and testimony that Trump had pressured Ukraine to publicly announce investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy conglomerate Burisma Holdings.
President Trump also wanted the announcement to include mention of a widely debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 election — not Russia, as the U.S. intelligence community has confirmed.
Witnesses also testified in the House they understood that Trump had made those announcements a condition for Ukraine to receive $391 million in U.S. military aid, as well as a much-coveted visit to the White House for the newly elected Ukrainian leader.
After the House impeached Trump in December for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, the Senate trial will determine whether he will be removed from office.
As a question-and-answer session in the proceeding wrapped near midnight Thursday, Democrats’ grasp on securing the witness vote began to slip. Key swing vote Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced he would not vote for additional witnesses, while another critical swing Republican vote — Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski — remained up in the air.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine announced Thursday night she would vote in favor of new witnesses, and reports indicate Utah Senator Mitt Romney will do the same.
Assuming all Democrats vote the party line on the witness issue in the Republican-held chamber, they still need four Republicans to cross the aisle. Failing that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to march ahead with the vote to acquit Trump on both articles of impeachment.
But a procedural wrinkle could emerge that may turn an already long day into an even longer night: Though McConnell can propose a motion to begin the final vote on the two articles of impeachment leveled against Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — this gives Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer the chance to propose amendments.
The adoption of the rules governing Trump’s impeachment in the Senate sparked a knock-down, drag-out fight by Democrats who offered up 11 amendments over 13 hours. With the Republican majority’s vice grip, all amendments were shot down on party lines.
Such a maneuver by Schumer on Friday may only delay what is considered a largely inevitable outcome.
At a press conference Friday morning, Schumer called the possibility of an acquittal vote “deeply disturbing,” and said he was disappointed that Republican Senator Lamar Alexander will vote no on the issue of witnesses.
Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Senate Republicans had been focused on acquittal since the trial reached the floor. Most Americans are united on the issue of witnesses, she said, with an overwhelming percentage of the country wanting to hear additional testimony.
“But here’s the deal, you cannot have a true acquittal if you’ve not had a fair trial,” she said. “So, they are not going to get what they’ve been trying to get if they do not allow witnesses to come forward. This is not a fair trial.”
Before senators came flooding into the interior of the Capitol Friday, voters gathered on the marble steps outside to protest. Ellen McDaniel-Weissler carried two large signs that said, “GOP Serve Truth Not Your Own Interests” and “It’s Not About Left or Right It’s About Right or Wrong.”
The first time McDaniel-Weissler protested, it was for a march against the Vietnam War. She has protested both Democrat and Republican administrations since then and told Courthouse News on Friday she believes the exercise of one’s First Amendment right is now one of the few solutions left to Americans who feel like the U.S. Senate has abdicated its responsibility to uphold the Constitution.
“I could say all the stereotypical things like it isn’t a trial without witnesses or documents but it’s so much more than that,” she said. “We really need to demonstrate to the rest of the planet that we are about justice and we are about seeing that everyone gets a fair shake and that this isn’t just a sham.”
McDaniel-Weissler is a registered independent but echoed the sentiments of Democratic senators who have made their case to impeach and remove Trump.
“It’s unbearable to me that the Republicans are throwing away their own children’s futures and the future of our democracy for the sake of their own short term gain and holding onto their own power because they’re afraid of the rage tweeting of the toddler in the White House,” she said.
Also outside the Senate, Stephen Parlato of Colorado said has protested regularly since impeachment began.
Parlato said he has always believed the trial would end in acquittal, though he hoped for witnesses.
“We’ll have them, but it will be after the fact,” he said. “But I absolutely believe we will have a tsunami of an election that will resemble the midterms and will unseat this criminal presidency.”
As to what the future holds, Parlato said he had a message for his fellow Americans.
“Do not despair!” he said.