Murkowski: Decision on impeachment witnesses should wait until after start of trial

Murkowski: Decision on impeachment witnesses should wait until after start of trial
© Greg Nash
 
With that decision Murkowski aligns herself with the process advocated by Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellProfessional sports players associations come out against coronavirus liability protections Democratic leaders report 'some progress' in talks with White House Top GOP senator urges agencies to protect renters, banks amid coronavirus aid negotiations MORE (R-Ky.) and bolsters the chances that Republicans — absent an 11th hour deal with Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) — will be able to force through their own impeachment rules. 
 
"I think we need to do what they did the last time they did this ... and that was to go through a first phase, and then they reassessed after that," Murkowski told reporters after leaving McConnell's office. 
 
McConnell has urged the Senate to pass two resolutions. One at the outset would deal only with the rules for the impeachment trial, including things like how long both sides would get to present their opening arguments. Under McConnell's plan a second resolution, passed after both sides present their case, would tackle what witnesses are called to testify. 
 
Murkowski said on Monday that she supports having the initial resolution being focused solely on the rules. 
 
"I think what we need to do is get to the first step," Murkowski added. 
 
Murkowski's decision is a blow to Democrats, who want to pass one resolution at the outset that would deal with both rules and what specific witnesses would be called. 
 
Schumer would need to be able to win over four Republican senators to try to amend an initial rules resolution to get specific witnesses included. But no Republican senator has endorsed working out a deal on witnesses at the outset. 
 
Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsObama announces first wave of 2020 endorsements Senate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  On The Trail: The first signs of a post-Trump GOP MORE (R-Maine), another potential swing vote, has endorsed waiting to make a decision on witnesses until after the impeachment trial starts. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate GOP divided over whether they'd fill Supreme Court vacancy  Stimulus checks debate now focuses on size, eligibility CNN chyron says 'nah' to Trump claim about Russia MORE (R-Utah), also a possible swing vote, told reporters on Monday that he wants to hear from national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonCongress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity The 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence Senate-passed defense spending bill includes clause giving DHS cyber agency subpoena power MORE, but has stopped short of drawing hard lines about when that should be worked out. 
 
Murkowski did not indicate on Monday if she would support hearing from Bolton, who offered earlier Monday to testify in the trial if he is subpoenaed. 
 
"I think first we have to get to basically the first phase, which is having articles to deal with," she said, asked if she had early interest in hearing from Bolton. 
 
Murkowski's support for the process advocated by McConnell comes as the GOP leader and Schumer are deep into a weeks-long stalemate over the negotiations for a Senate trial. That fight is set to come to a head within days with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHillicon Valley: Trump backs potential Microsoft, TikTok deal, sets September deadline | House Republicans request classified TikTok briefing | Facebook labels manipulated Pelosi video Trump says he's considering executive action to suspend evictions, payroll tax Trump won't say if he disagrees with Birx that virus is widespread MORE (D-Calif.) expected to send the articles over as soon as this week. 

McConnell has argued that the dual-phase resolutions would let the Senate follow the precedent set by the Clinton impeachment trial. Republicans are expected to discuss their impeachment strategy at a closed-door caucus lunch on Tuesday. 

If McConnell can hold together his 53-member caucus he could pass the impeachment trial rules that he wants over the objections of Democrats.

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"House Democrats' hunger to break on Senate precedents just like they broke their own precedents could not be more telling. But the Senate does not just bob along on the currents of every news cycle," McConnell said from the Senate floor on Monday.

But Democrats believe if McConnell is able to start a trial without a deal on witnesses it will make it less likely that they'll agree to call individuals down the line. 

"Leader McConnell’s view of the trial is ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ First the trial, then the evidence. If the Senate were to agree to Leader McConnell’s proposal, the Senate will act as little more than a nationally televised meeting of a mock trial club," Schumer said from the Senate floor. 

McConnell has said he personally does not believe either side should call witnesses. Schumer pointed to that during his speech, calling his proposal to make a formal decision later "a poorly disguised trap. He has already actually made clear what his goals are." 
 
—Updated at 7:22 p.m.