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McConnell urges GOP senators to keep powder dry on witness question

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocrats go down to the wire with Manchin Schumer unloads on GOP over elections bill: 'How despicable of a man is Donald Trump?' This week: Senate set for voting rights fight 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 BoltonUS drops lawsuit, closes probe over Bolton book John Bolton: Biden-Putin meeting 'premature' Republicans request documents on Kerry's security clearance process MORE is claiming in an unpublished book manuscript that President TrumpDonald TrumpWhat blue wave? A close look at Texas today tells of a different story Democrats go down to the wire with Manchin Trump's former bodyguard investigated in NY prosectors' probe: report MORE explicitly told him he wanted to freeze military aid to Ukraine to pressure the government there to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMilitary must better understand sexual assaults to combat them The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population On The Money: Democrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit | White House confident Congress will raise debt ceiling 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 CramerSenate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office GOP senator introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Trump dismisses climate change, calls on Biden to fire joint chiefs 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 CollinsPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Democratic clamor grows for select committee on Jan. 6 attack Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (Maine) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOvernight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions Senate panel delays war authorization repeal after GOP push Eliminate family and child poverty: Richard Nixon may help in today's debate 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 MurkowskiPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (R-Alaska) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain 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.