WASHINGTON (CN) — Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has charted a path to acquit President Donald Trump as the Senate impeachment trial draws to a close.
After initial reports this week that McConnell’s tight grip on the GOP caucus may have slipped, Republicans killed the Democrats’ motion for new witnesses and evidence on Friday evening by a 49-51 vote. Republicans then passed a resolution Friday night that plots out the trial’s endgame, after battering down four Democratic amendments in rapid succession.
The Senate will reconvene on Monday for closing arguments, with a vote to acquit expected Wednesday. The timeline lands Trump at the State of the Union on Tuesday unable to vaunt that he has been cleared of charges brought against him by Democrats.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune said the resolution was necessary to prevent Democrats from dragging out a vote to acquit Friday night with procedural tactics, and to ease concerns from moderate Republicans about rolling straight into final proceedings to clear the president.
Thune added that Republicans have no plans to push the State of the Union past Trump’s acquittal on Wednesday, telling reporters “he’s planning on full steam ahead on Tuesday.”
But the resolution did not pass without pain. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer forced votes on four amendments requiring Republicans to again go on record on the witness issue defeated just hours earlier. Republicans easily defeated the series of amendments, despite Senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney voting in favor of subpoenas for former national security adviser John Bolton.
The first amendment would have subpoenaed documents Democrats have long demanded from Trump administration officials and agencies, while two others would have subpoenaed former national security adviser John Bolton. The final defeated amendment would have required Chief Justice John Roberts to rule on motions to subpoena witnesses and documents, as well as on any privilege claims the White House might fall back on.
It was preordained by Friday afternoon that the trial would not feature new witnesses and evidence, with the four GOP senators - Collins and Romney along with Senators Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski - who could have handed the minority party a victory announcing ahead of time where they planned to cast votes. Collins and Romney broke ranks to vote with Democrats while their GOP colleagues Alexander and Murkowski toed the party line.
Schumer called the outcome a “grand tragedy” and said the inevitable acquittal for Trump by Republicans will have no value because the trial was without witnesses and evidence.
After the Republican resolution organizing the end of the trial passed, Senator Sherrod Brown predicted the American people will come to see the result of Trump’s trial as illegitimate amid the steady drip of information damaging to the president.
“When the country looks at this, 75 percent of the country wanted witnesses,” Brown said as he exited the chamber, referring to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University. “That number will keep going up as more bad information comes out—or information that shows corruption—and I think we’re going to see that the country doesn’t think this was a real trial.”
Leaving the Capitol, an exhausted Murkowski told reporters she thought nothing the Senate did would be enough for “those who were seeking the result that they wanted,” a reference to the House managers prosecuting the case against Trump.
“So, we started with a flawed product and well, I’m at that point where I’m frustrated and disappointed and angry at all sides,” Murkowski said.
A yes from Murkowski on witnesses would have landed the Senate with a 50-50 vote count, leaving Chief Justice Roberts as a possible tie-breaker. The Alaska Republican said that possible outcome weighed heavily on her decision to vote no.
Responding to a question from Schumer before the amendment votes, Roberts said he would not break tie votes during the trial, despite Chief Justice Salmon Chase having done so in the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.
“I think it would be inappropriate for me, an unelected official from a different branch of government, to assert the power to change that result so that the motion would succeed,” the chief justice said.
Senator Richard Blumenthal said the judicial branch should not have to carry the weight of the legislative.
Nevertheless, the Connecticut Democrat criticized Murkowski for her deciding role in making Trump’s trial the first in U.S. presidential impeachment history without witnesses.
“Each of us is responsible for his or her vote, individually, without regard to whether it would create a tie, or add to the numbers one way or the other,” Blumenthal said. “We are accountable for our votes on the merits.”
The chamber stilled to nearly perfect silence during the vote for witnesses Friday evening, save for a few coughs that echoed across the Senate floor. Some lawmakers rose to announce their vote but many remained seated at their desks.
In a final appeal doubtful to change the votes secured by McConnell, House manager Adam Schiff, ahead of the roll call, warned senators Friday that regardless if they voted to subpoena witnesses and documents blocked by the White House that the American people will learn the truth in time.
“The facts will come out,” Schiff said. “In all of their horror they will come out.”
The warning to Republicans underlined that, whether or not under oath, Bolton’s voice will be heard with the March release of the former national security adviser’s memoir, "The Room Where It Happened."
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