The Senate rejects call for witnesses on Friday as they voted 49-51. The rejection means the trial has to go on without issuing subpoenas for witnesses or evidence.
This is a big blow on Democrats’ principal demand and also clearing the way for an all-but-certain acquittal to take place Wednesday afternoon. Democrats proposed subpoenas for John Bolton as well as acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and as well, the proposed that the chief justice rule on motions for subpoenas instead of senators. They all failed.
The vote, 49-51, was considered sharply partisan with only two Republicans: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, breaking ranks to join Democrats in their push to issue subpoenas for former national security advisor John Bolton and perhaps others.
Likely Setback For White House
- Logistical: the final vote will not happen as quickly as Trump had wanted and will not take place until after Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, meaning the president will not be able to use that prominent forum to declare himself acquitted.
- The tone of Republican Senators: Republican Senators are saying that while they have voted to keep Trump in office, they believe the evidence has proved that he committed misconduct.
It was quite honest that Republicans expressed frustration for different reasons. The GOP Senators have suggested that Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine were wrong, even if they didn’t warrant removal from office.
“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who had made it a point to not speak with reporters during the trial, broke that public silence Friday to make clear he agreed with Alexander. “Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us,” he said.
Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida similarly suggested Trump’s call was inappropriate, though they did not support the conviction.
“Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office,” Rubio said
Democrats expressed outrage over the GOP vote to reject witnesses, insisting that subpoenaing former and current Trump administration officials, as well as documents, was the only way to ensure fair consideration of the House’s claim. Without that, Trump’s acquittal will be forever tainted, they said.
“It’s a grand tragedy,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the vote, referring to the lack of witnesses in the impeachment trial. “Americans will remember this day, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) defended the move, saying in a statement: “Never in Senate history has this body paused an impeachment trial to pursue additional witnesses with unresolved questions of executive privilege that would require protracted litigation.”
“He cannot claim a true acquittal if this has not been a fair trial,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). “In every impeachment hearing, be it for a judge or a president, that has gone through completion, witnesses have been presented at the trial.”
Republicans blasted that claim, arguing that House Democrats rushed through a weak case and failed to subpoena the witnesses it now wanted the Senate to bring in. Video of several of the House witnesses played throughout the arguments this week.
Trump’s Republican allies, including McConnell, said early in the trial that agreeing to subpoena witnesses would open a Pandora’s box. They said that if Democrats were able to hear from Bolton, Republicans would issue several subpoenas, including to Biden, possibly extending the trial for weeks.
The outcome of the Rejection
Monday, Senators will hear closing arguments from House managers and Trump’s attorneys, and then be given time to speak on the floor about their position on the impeachment articles.
Tuesday, there will be more floor speeches, and the final vote would occur Wednesday, under a resolution approved Friday night.
Republican Senators’ Anxiety
Some Republicans wanted to hold a vote as quickly as possible because there is risk in waiting five days, even though the threshold for convicting the president is exceedingly high at 67 votes. More information about Bolton’s book has continued to come out this week.
“The cake is baked, and we just need to go ahead and move as soon as we can,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of several Republican senators who were advocating for a swift end to the trial.
The trial, with nine full days of arguments and questions from senators, will amount to the shortest impeachment trial of a president and will be the only one without witnesses testimony.
The timing of the final vote in the impeachment trial means that Trump will appear for his State of the Union address with the impeachment trial still technically unresolved, depriving him a chance to gloat that the process is in the rearview mirror, but he could still proclaim victory.
Justice John Robert’s Firm stand
Though he was never presented with the issue, Roberts said Friday — responding to a question from Schumer — that if the occasion arose, he does not have the authority to break a tie. The remark on the Senate floor will set a precedent that any future impeachment trial may feel beholden to follow, and was a surprisingly consequential decision for Roberts to make.
He said Chief Justice Salmon Chase’s decisions to break two ties in President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial of 1868 — which some had regarded as a precedent — were regarding nonconsequential issues. Roberts said he doesn’t think that he — as an unelected official — can change the Senate’s decision.
“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,” he said. “I do not regard those isolated episodes 150 years ago as sufficient to support a general authority to break ties.”