Senate

Three ways the end of the impeachment trial could play out

Friday will be a make-or-break moment in President Trump’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 Bolton, GOP senators are voicing renewed confidence that they will be able to defeat the request for witnesses. 
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (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 Barrasso (R-Wyo.) added that he expects a vote on “final judgment” to happen by Friday night.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can afford to only lose two Republican senators to defeat the push for witnesses outright. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is viewed as likely to vote to allow witnesses, while Susan Collins (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 Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced that he would oppose calling new witnesses. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (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 Thune (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 Murphy (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 Paul (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 Schumer (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 Kavanaugh’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 Braun (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 Moran (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 Biden 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 Schiff (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.”

Tags Adam Schiff Brett Kavanaugh Charles Schumer Chris Murphy Donald Trump Impeachment Jerry Moran Joe Biden John Barrasso John Bolton John Thune Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Mike Braun Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Rand Paul Senate trial Susan Collins

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