McConnell urges GOP senators to keep powder dry on witness question

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKentucky state official says foreign adversaries 'routinely' scan election systems Don't let 'welfare for all' advocates derail administration's food stamp program reforms Whistleblower retaliation: Stop confusing unlawful attacks with politics MORE (R-Ky.) on Monday tried to regain control over the Senate’s impeachment debate by urging Republican senators at lunch to keep their powder dry on deciding the question of whether to subpoena additional witnesses and documents.

McConnell reminded colleagues that they don’t have to decide the question now in the immediate aftermath of a report that former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonOvernight Defense: Dem senator met with Iranian foreign minister | Meeting draws criticism from right | Lawmakers push back at Pentagon funding for wall We should listen to John Bolton The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms MORE is claiming in an unpublished book manuscript that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE explicitly told him he wanted to freeze military aid to Ukraine to pressure the government there to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE.  

McConnell told colleagues in a private meeting they will have a chance to answer that question later this week, once Trump’s lawyers have had a chance to present their arguments and senators have a full 16 hours to ask questions.

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McConnell sent a message to colleagues that they shouldn’t feel pressured to answer the question of whether they now support witnesses after reporting on Bolton’s claim because they will have a chance to decide the question after phase one of the trial is complete, the timeline laid out by the organizing resolution 53 GOP senators voted for last week.

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump Fed nominee stirs controversy ahead of hearing Senators, bruised by impeachment, hunt for deals Plan to probe Bidens sparks GOP divisions MORE (R-N.D.), who attended the lunch, said McConnell gave senators “the wisest counsel” by telling them “remember we passed a rules package that gives us an opportunity to vote on this very issue of witnesses after we hear both sides and ask our questions."

“It seemed wise at the time and it seems even wiser now,” Cramer said.

“He just reiterated that a couple times as did some other people just to remind us that we have dealt with this and we don’t have to deal with the next step of it until the end of phase one,” Cramer said.

The organizing resolution drafted by McConnell says that after the House managers and Trump’s defense team have 24 hours to make opening arguments and senators have a chance to ask questions, the Senate shall have four hours to hear arguments on whether it should be in order to consider motions to subpoena witnesses and documents.

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Two moderate Republicans, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSusan Collins in statistical tie with Democratic challenger: poll Ernst endorses bipartisan Grassley-Wyden bill to lower drug prices Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony MORE (Maine) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump looms as flashpoint in Alabama Senate battle Mellman: Primary elections aren't general elections On The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare MORE (Utah), on Monday said, respectively, that Bolton’s news bombshell strengthens the argument for witnesses and makes it more likely for other GOP senators to vote for subpoenas.

But Democrats need four Republicans to defect in order to overrule McConnell’s effort to block new evidence and keep the trial short.

Two other potential swing votes, Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump budget includes proposal for US Consulate in Greenland Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Alaska) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDemocrats worried about Trump's growing strength The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' MORE (R-Tenn.), said Monday afternoon they would stick with McConnell’s timeline and wait to decide the need for new witnesses until later in the week.

“I’ve also said there is an appropriate time for us to evaluate whether we need additional information —that time is almost here. I look forward to the White House wrapping up presentation of its case,” Murkowski tweeted.

Alexander reminded reporters that he pushed for language to the organizing resolution to guarantee a debate on calling for new evidence.

"I worked with my colleagues to make sure we have a chance after we've heard the arguments, after we've asked our questions to decide if we need additional evidence and I'll decide that at that time," he said.