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 Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters.

Asked if the trial proceedings should go past Friday, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), another member of Senate GOP leadership, said it “shouldn’t.”

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

The chamber is expected to vote Friday on whether to allow new witnesses or documents in President Trump’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 McConnell (R-Ky.) has advocated both publicly and privately.

But former national security adviser John Bolton’s allegation, included in his forthcoming memoir, that Trump tied Ukraine aid to the country helping investigate Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, has added fresh uncertainty to the witness fight. 

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 Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Jerry Moran (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 Braun (R-Ind.) as he left the meeting. 

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

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) added that there were “no deals” made in the meeting. 

“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 Graham (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.

Tags Donald Trump Jerry Moran Joe Biden John Barrasso John Bolton John Cornyn John Thune Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Mike Braun Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Susan Collins

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