Three ways the end of the impeachment trial could play out

Friday will be a make-or-break moment in President TrumpDonald TrumpLil Wayne gets 11th hour Trump pardon Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Trump expected to pardon Bannon: reports MORE’s impeachment trial as Republicans try to bring the proceedings to a close. 

Senators will hold a crucial vote on whether to call new witnesses or compel documents as part of the Senate’s proceeding. 

Though Trump is all but guaranteed to be acquitted at the end of the trial, Friday’s vote is a turning point that will determine what comes next, including how long it will last. 


The Senate is expected to convene by 1 p.m. on Friday. Senators are warning that if Republicans successfully block witnesses, senators are likely to move quickly to Trump’s acquittal on Friday night or early Saturday.  

Before a vote on witnesses, both Trump’s legal team and House managers get up to two hours each to make their cases to the Senate, according to a resolution passed last week on the rules for the trial. 

What happens after that? There are a few scenarios to watch for.  

Scenario One: The Senate rejects calling witnesses and moves to acquit Trump

This appears to be the most likely outcome, as the pool of potential Republican votes is quickly shrinking. 

In a stark turnaround from just days ago when Republicans were caught flat footed by allegations from former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonPence, other GOP officials expected to skip Trump send-off NSA places former GOP political operative in top lawyer position after Pentagon chief's reported order After insurrection: The national security implications MORE, GOP senators are voicing renewed confidence that they will be able to defeat the request for witnesses. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate presses Biden's pick for secretary of State on Iran, China, Russia and Yemen GOP senator questions constitutionality of an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office Graham pushes Schumer for vote to dismiss impeachment article MORE (R-S.C.) stopped short of declaring victory but told reporters, “I’ve never been more optimistic that we’re in a good spot.”

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Georgia keeps Senate agenda in limbo Spending bill aims to reduce emissions, spur energy development MORE (R-Wyo.) added that he expects a vote on “final judgment” to happen by Friday night.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump has talked to associates about forming new political party: report McConnell, Schumer fail to cut power-sharing deal amid filibuster snag McConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment MORE (R-Ky.) can afford to only lose two Republican senators to defeat the push for witnesses outright. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyMcConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment Senators vet Mayorkas to take lead at DHS Romney calls for Senate to pass sanctions on Putin over Navalny poisoning MORE (R-Utah) is viewed as likely to vote to allow witnesses, while Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Memo: Biden prepares for sea of challenges Biden's minimum wage push faces uphill battle with GOP GOP senators wrestle with purging Trump from party MORE (R-Maine) became the first Republican to formally say she would vote to allow witnesses.

"I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity. Therefore, I will vote in support of the motion to allow witnesses and documents to be subpoenaed," Collins said in a statement. 
In a blow to Democrats, Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.) announced that he would oppose calling new witnesses. Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment FDA chief says he was 'disgusted' by Capitol riots, considered resigning The Memo: Biden prepares for sea of challenges MORE (R-Alaska), well known for her independent streak, has not said how she will vote. 

If Republicans block new witnesses, GOP senators expect McConnell to try to take control of the floor and make a motion to go to the votes on the two articles of impeachment.

In a potential procedural snag, McConnell’s request will be amendable on the floor, meaning Democrats could force vote after vote to try to slow down or delay Trump’s acquittal. 
"I suspect the Democrats if they want to can engage in any number of dilatory tactics to drag it out. ... I suspect they'll want to offer amendments," Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell keeps GOP guessing on Trump impeachment Yellen champions big spending at confirmation hearing This week: Tensions running high in Trump's final days MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said of Friday's schedule. 
Democratic senators are reviewing their procedural options for forcing GOP senators to take a round of politically tough votes. Even after it became clear that Republicans had the votes to pass the rules resolution last week, Democrats forced an hours-long fight over amendments. 

“We’re looking at all of our parliamentary options to try to force as many votes as we can to put Republicans on the record,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act GOP senator questions constitutionality of an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office Overnight Health Care: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February MORE (D-Conn.). 

Murphy also appeared frustrated by talk among Republicans about wrapping the trial on Friday.

“What’s the point of any of this?” he said, questioning if GOP senators had already decided to skip witnesses and closed-door deliberations.

How long Democrats will be able to slow-walk the end of the trial is unclear. Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Legislatures boost security after insurrection, FBI warnings Former Missouri senator says backing Hawley was 'worst mistake of my life' MORE (R-Ky.) predicted that the Senate would be voting for 12 hours on Friday, indicating that senators are preparing for a long day. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerNew York court worker arrested, accused of threats related to inauguration Schumer: Trump should not be eligible to run for office again McConnnell, McCarthy accept Biden invitation to pre-inauguration church service MORE (D-N.Y.) declined to tip his hand but noted that “the minority has rights, and we will exercise those rights.” 


But Republicans say they are prepared to grind it out and stay in session until Trump is acquitted. 

A GOP aide joked that McConnell would face a “revolt” if the leader agreed to delay the final votes, underscoring how eager some Republicans are to get the trial, and the around-the-clock work schedule, behind them. 

“As we did with the organizing resolution, we’ll be prepared to stay through here completion,” Barrasso said. 

Scenario Two: The Senate deadlocks in a 50-50 tie

One option that has sparked days of speculation around the Capitol is that the Senate’s vote could result in a 50-50 tie on the issue of calling witnesses. 

Normally when the Senate deadlocks, Vice President Pence is taxied to the chamber so he can cast a deciding vote. But Pence does not have a role in the Senate’s trial, as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is the presiding officer. 

If Roberts casts a tie-breaking vote, he would put himself in the middle of a fierce political fight.

With Collins to vote to allow witnesses, Democrats would need to win over two more GOP "yes" votes to force the deadlock. 

Romney has not yet announced how he will vote but has indicated that he wants to hear from Bolton. Murkowski, the only GOP senator to oppose Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughHarris to resign from Senate seat on Monday Why we need Section 230 more than ever 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE's Supreme Court nomination, is also being closely watched by both parties. 

If three Republican senators vote to allow witnesses, that would result in a 50-50 tie, assuming every Democrat votes.

Republicans are predicting that Roberts will not break a tie, which would cause the motion to fail. But few are completely sure.

“If it’s a tie, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what happens with the presiding officer, especially being the chief justice,” said Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunTop Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win Congress affirms Biden win after rioters terrorize Capitol Congress rejects challenge to Arizona's presidential vote MORE (R-Ind.).
Scenario Three: The Senate votes to call witnesses
Democrats must win over four GOP senators to win the witness vote, or three senators with the backing of Roberts, which would lengthen the trial.

With Alexander and Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) Moran'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Electoral College fight splits GOP as opposition grows to election challenge Hillicon Valley: Texas, other states bring antitrust lawsuit against Google | Krebs emphasizes security of the election as senators butt heads | Twitter cracks down on coronavirus vaccine misinformation MORE (R-Kan.) both saying they will oppose witnesses, this option looks increasingly unlikely. 

To call numerous witnesses, Democrats would need to win over four Republicans on the initial vote to allow the requests for witnesses and documents and would also need to win over four Republicans on each subsequent request for specific individuals.

Trump’s legal team and Senate Republicans have warned that if Bolton is called, the president should be able to call his own witnesses to testify, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon Scalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration Sidney Powell withdraws 'kraken' lawsuit in Georgia MORE and his son Hunter Biden.

Under the rules for the trial passed last week, any witnesses that senators agree to subpoena would first be deposed behind closed doors. The Senate would then decide if the individual needed to testify. But the rules do not put a cap on how long that process can take.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffBiden urged to reverse Pompeo-Trump move on Houthis Angus King warns of 'grave danger' of Trump revealing classified information Schiff says 'massive intelligence and security failure' led to Capitol breach MORE (D-Calif.) pitched senators Thursday on the idea that if they agreed to call witnesses, depositions could be limited to one week.

“Can we take one week to hear from these witnesses?” Schiff asked. “I think we can. I think we should. I think we must.”