The Memo: Bolton furor raises stakes for GOP senators

The Memo: Bolton furor raises stakes for GOP senators
© UPI Photo

New revelations from former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Manchin, Sanders in budget feud; Biden still upbeat We've left Afghanistan — but its consequences are just starting to arrive It's time to pull the plug on our toxic relationship with Pakistan MORE hold the potential to upend President TrumpDonald TrumpSix big off-year elections you might be missing Twitter suspends GOP Rep. Banks for misgendering trans health official Meghan McCain to Trump: 'Thanks for the publicity' MORE’s Senate trial — but only if some vital GOP members yield to Democratic demands that Bolton testify.

That is far from certain, especially with Trump loyalists suggesting there will be a steep price to pay for any Republicans who stop toeing the president’s line.

The new twist in the trial was sparked by a New York Times report on Sunday evening that included details from Bolton’s forthcoming memoir about his time in the Trump administration.


The book is said to include an assertion that Trump had made congressionally mandated aid to Ukraine contingent upon the government in Kyiv helping with investigations into the former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenRand Paul calls for Fauci's firing over 'lack of judgment' Dems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Six big off-year elections you might be missing MORE and his son Hunter Biden.

This cuts directly against Trump’s often-repeated defense that there was no “quid pro quo” in his dealings with Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump has denied Bolton's account.

Given the apparent importance of the new information, the debate about whether to have Bolton testify is entering deeper waters.

Republicans have been resistant to the idea of calling new witnesses. They worry doing so will hold peril for Trump, they are loath to concede a key Democratic demand and they are reluctant to prolong the trial.

But there are tensions within the Republican conference, in part because the political calculus is different for senators in deep-red territory and those who are seeking reelection in competitive states.

To force the witness issue, four Republican senators would need to join a united block of all 47 Democratic senators. The most likely GOP aisle-crossers are widely seen as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden makes his pitch as tax questions mount Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHouse passes bill to expand workplace protections for nursing mothers Democrats look for plan B on filibuster Senate will vote on John Lewis voting bill as soon as next week MORE (Alaska) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyIn Montana, a knock-down redistricting fight over a single line Trump-backed bills on election audits, illegal voting penalties expected to die in Texas legislature The Memo: Conservatives change their tune on big government MORE (Utah), with Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerColorado remap plan creates new competitive district Protecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm MORE (Colo.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE (Tenn.) as additional possibilities.

The Bolton revelations ramp up the pressure on those senators. Two of them, Romney and Collins, suggested on Monday they may be more likely to support the calling of witnesses — though skeptics noted that the duo left themselves some wiggle room.

Romney has implied that he would support calling Bolton but has not unequivocally declared he will vote to do so. On Monday, he said the new details made it “increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton.”

Collins, who has not shown her hand about how she would vote, said that the report about Bolton’s book “strengthens the case for witnesses and [has] prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.”

Murkowski, for her part, tweeted somewhat opaquely.

The Alaska senator reiterated that she was “curious” about what Bolton would have to say, but went on: “There is an appropriate time for us to evaluate whether we need additional information —that time is almost here.”

Murkowski and Collins have demonstrated a willingness to break from the Trump administration on occasion in the past — both voted against the attempt to repeal the Obama-era Affordable Care Act in 2017 — while Romney has a complicated relationship with the president.

Collins, who is seeking reelection this year in a state where Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSuper PACs release ad campaign hitting Vance over past comments on Trump I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Neera Tanden tapped as White House staff secretary MORE won the plurality of voters in 2016, will be mindful that public opinion appears strongly supportive of the calling of public witnesses. This is also a germane concern for Gardner, who is in a similar position in Colorado.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted in recent days indicated that 65 percent of registered voters — including 45 percent of Republicans — were in favor of the Senate calling new witnesses.

There are complications aplenty, however.

Firstly, the polling numbers may be a byproduct of a desire on the part of some conservatives to hear testimony that they believe would help Trump — specifically from Joe or Hunter Biden.

This idea of a “witness swap” — where Democrats would get to hear sought-after testimony from Bolton or acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyJan. 6 committee issues latest round of subpoenas for rally organizers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - To vote or not? Pelosi faces infrastructure decision Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 11, including Pierson, other rally organizers MORE in exchange for Republicans being allowed to compel testimony from the Bidens — has surfaced periodically.

On Monday, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPennsylvania Republican becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress McCain: Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner had 'no goddamn business' attending father's funeral Mayorkas tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case MORE (R-S.C.) reinvigorated the idea, tweeting: “If there is a desire and decision by the Senate to call Democratic witnesses, then at a minimum the Senate should allow President @RealDonaldTrump to call all relevant witnesses he has requested.”


The divisions within the Republican conference that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Pelosi says GOP senators 'voted to aid and abet' voter suppression for blocking revised elections bill Manchin insists he hasn't threatened to leave Democrats MORE (R-Ky.) has sought to minimize are becoming increasingly evident.

On Monday, after Romney’s comments, Sen. Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerWill Trump choose megalomania over country? I voted for Trump in 2020 — he proved to be the ultimate RINO in 2021 Draft Georgia congressional lines target McBath, shore up Bourdeaux MORE (R-Ga.) tweeted that Romney was seeking to “appease the left” by bringing forth witnesses who would “slander” Trump.

Another Trump ally, Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsThree key behind-the-scenes figures in Jan. 6 probe Meadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - White House tackles how to vaccinate children ages 5+ MORE (R-N.C.), also issued a warning to potential Republican defectors, albeit in more tempered language.

Meadows told Norah O’Donnell of CBS News that he believed there would be consequences for those who bucked Trump’s line. “There are always political repercussions for every vote you take,” he said.

Meanwhile, the divisions and the rhetoric in Trump World beyond Capitol Hill are growing more emphatic by the day.

Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh accused Bolton of “disloyalty” on Monday. The president’s personal attorney, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiLev Parnas found guilty of breaking campaign finance laws Giuliani associate Lev Parnas won't testify at trial Four Seasons Total Landscaping comes full circle with MSNBC special MORE, referred to the former national security adviser as “Backstabber Bolton” in a text to a Daily Beast reporter.

With the air thick with accusations, the temperature is rising on the GOP senators who are potential swing votes.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.