Republicans signal renewed confidence they'll avoid witness fight

Senate Republicans emerged from a closed-door caucus meeting on Tuesday voicing renewed confidence that they will bypass a nasty witness fight in the impeachment trial.

“The consensus is that we’ve heard enough and it’s time to go to a final judgement,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Trump rolls back Obama-era fuel efficiency standards | Controversial Keystone XL construction to proceed | Pressure mounts to close national parks amid pandemic Critics blast Trump mileage rollback, citing environment and health concerns Lobbying world MORE (R-Wyo.) told reporters.

Asked if the trial proceedings should go past Friday, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDurbin: Bringing senators back in two weeks would be 'dangerous and risky' Trump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill MORE (R-S.D.), another member of Senate GOP leadership, said it “shouldn’t.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“We’re kind of confident,” Thune added.

The chamber is expected to vote Friday on whether to allow new witnesses or documents in President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal Trump says he'll look into small business loan program restricting casinos MORE's trial. If they skip witnesses, that will pave the way for a swift vote to acquit Trump.

Democrats will need four Republican votes in order to call for additional witnesses. Both sides would then make motions for specific individuals, and the Senate would vote on whether to call them. 

Senate Republicans had voiced confidence last week that they would be able to finish the trial with no witnesses, a strategy Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell to try to pass small business funds Thursday, warns against holding it 'hostage' Overnight Health Care: Trump steps up attack on WHO | Fauci says deaths could be lower than first projected | House panel warns federal stockpile of medical supplies depleted | Mnuchin, Schumer in talks over relief deal House Republicans, key administration officials push for additional funding for coronavirus small business loans MORE (R-Ky.) has advocated both publicly and privately.

But former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonChina sees chance to expand global influence amid pandemic Trump ignores science at our peril Bolton defends decision to shutter NSC pandemic office MORE's allegation, included in his forthcoming memoir, that Trump tied Ukraine aid to the country helping investigate Democrats, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Sanders exits, clearing Biden's path to nomination Former Clinton staffers invited to celebrate Sanders dropping out: report Sanders exit leaves deep disappointment on left MORE and his son Hunter Biden, has added fresh uncertainty to the witness fight. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Underscoring the urgency of the caucus discussion, Senate Republicans met Tuesday only hours after their normal closed-door caucus lunch. 

Though Thune and Barrasso signaled leadership is more confident about the possibility that Republicans could avoid calling Bolton or other witnesses, several other GOP senators signaled no decisions were made during the caucus meeting. 

There are still several Republican senators, including Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHouse Republicans threaten pushback on Saudi Arabia amid oil market slump Zoom, grocery delivery, self-isolation: How lawmakers are surviving coronavirus Lawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil MORE (Alaska), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Senators push for changes to small business aid President tightens grip on federal watchdogs MORE (Maine), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenators demand more details from Trump on intel watchdog firing Zoom, grocery delivery, self-isolation: How lawmakers are surviving coronavirus Outgoing inspector general says Trump fired him for carrying out his 'legal obligations' MORE (Utah), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday MORE (Tenn.) and Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranZoom, grocery delivery, self-isolation: How lawmakers are surviving coronavirus Rand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate Sinema criticizes Paul for alleged behavior ahead of coronavirus test results: 'Absolutely irresponsible' MORE (Kansas), who have not said how they will vote on witnesses. 
 
The indecision of the handful of GOP senators underscores that, despite public confidence, McConnell still does not have a lock on 51 votes to block witnesses.
 
Tuesday's gathering, according to GOP senators, was to check the temperature of the caucus as a whole as Republicans face intense external pressure to call Bolton. 

It was “just a broad discussion like we had at all the meetings. No clear conclusions,” said Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunDemocrats, Trump set to battle over implementing T relief bill Senate GOP looking at ,200 in coronavirus cash payments GOP divided on next steps for massive stimulus package MORE (R-Ind.) as he left the meeting. 

Asked if a decision was made, he replied, "No, nothing at all." 

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers announce legislation to fund government purchases of oil GOP senator: National shelter-in-place order would be an 'overreaction' Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package MORE (R-Texas) added that there were "no deals" made in the meeting. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"We're still talking. Everybody is taking this very seriously. ... I know those conversations are continuing," Cornyn said. "I think we'll all just have to wait for Friday." 

Calling witnesses would put a spotlight on a messy fight within the Senate Republican Conference. Conservatives are warning that if Republicans vote to help call Bolton, they will try to subpoena Hunter Biden, Joe Biden and the whistleblower. 

"If we do call witnesses, we're not just going to call one witness. We're going to call a bunch of witnesses," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump attacks WHO amid criticism of his coronavirus response Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill UN biodiversity chief calls for international ban of 'wet markets' MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters after the meeting. 

When a reporter noted that it sounded like Graham thought there were going to be witnesses, he responded, "I would not say that. I would not take that from what I just said. ... We'll see Friday." 

"I feel good. I feel good that we're in a good spot in terms of ending trial sooner rather than later," he added. 

Mike Lillis and Scott Wong contributed.