McConnell urges GOP senators to keep powder dry on witness question

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally The Memo: Dems face balancing act on SCOTUS 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 BoltonDiplomacy with China is good for America The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep DOJ launches probe into Bolton book for possible classified information disclosures MORE is claiming in an unpublished book manuscript that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBubba Wallace to be driver of Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin NASCAR team Graham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Southwest Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid MORE explicitly told him he wanted to freeze military aid to Ukraine to pressure the government there to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJoe Biden looks to expand election battleground into Trump country Trump puts Supreme Court fight at center of Ohio rally Special counsel investigating DeVos for potential Hatch Act violation: report 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 CramerMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day On Paycheck Protection Program, streamlined forgiveness is key McConnell shores up GOP support for coronavirus package 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 CollinsGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate MORE (Maine) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year Grassley, Ernst pledge to 'evaluate' Trump's Supreme Court nominee 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 MurkowskiGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate MORE (R-Alaska) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy This week: Supreme Court fight over Ginsburg's seat upends Congress's agenda 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.