Ever since details from John Bolton’s manuscript leaked to The New York Times, it seemed like it would be the smoking gun that would push Republicans to at least entertain the idea of hearing from witnesses like Bolton at President Donald Trump’s Senate trial, if not ultimately support removing Trump from office.
But, despite a new Quinnipiac poll showing 75% of Americans would like to see witnesses, I have yet to see four Republicans suggest they want to hear from them.
Who would be the fourth GOP vote for witnesses?
There are two — Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine — who have said they would support calling witnesses.
A third, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, has said she is “curious.” When pressed by CNN whether she’d actually vote to subpoena Bolton’s testimony, she said, “We’re going to have an opportunity for that on probably Friday.”
“Mr. Bolton probably has some things that would be helpful for us and we’ll figure out how we might be able to learn that,” Murkowksi added.
But even if she joins the others, Democrats are still one short. Until you see a fourth Republican senator open to witnesses, there will be no witnesses. This thing — despite Bolton’s written confirmation of much of the case against Trump — could be wrapped up this week.
At a meeting with Republican senators after the arguments wrapped, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans don’t currently have the votes to block witnesses. But they are working hard on it.
The reality: Voting to weaken Trump is against Republicans’ interests
Republicans are in the Senate majority. They can end this. Trump’s political strategy is one that relies almost exclusively on his conservative base to turn out. He’s not trying to appeal to moderates or independents. He’s trying to convince Republicans he’s being persecuted — and, moreover, that sticking with him is the only way for them to stay in power.
Politicians rarely vote against their own political interests
From that perspective, Republican senators would be voting against their own political interests to continue this trial any longer than they have to. Politicians of any stripe very rarely vote publicly against their own political interests.
The two senators on the record supporting witnesses — Collins and Romney — arguably have their own political interests that are distinct from the rest of the party.
Of course, from Democrats’ perspective, the impeachment vote will bind the party to the President like concrete.
Where we are now
Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer to make odds on whether witnesses would be called, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said “8 times out of 10 we’ll have 51 votes.”
Ultimately, nearly all Republicans will oppose calling witnesses, Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana told CNN’s Dana Bash, who asked him repeatedly why not just listen to what Bolton has to say.
Nothing Bolton has said would have him convict “on such a shaky case to begin with,” Braun told her, also noting impeachment is a divisive process that’s best ended as quickly as possible.
Here are two very important stories that really tell the story of how Republican inertia won’t be affected by Bolton:
Republicans take a deep breath after initial scare from John Bolton (from CNN’s Michael Warren)
GOP concedes Trump may have withheld aid for probes, but says it’s not impeachable (from CNN’s Manu Raju)
Why not just listen to Bolton?
There could yet be a plot twist. Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma, has pushed the idea of Republicans reading Bolton’s book, which is still being run through a declassification process, in a secure facility.
Set aside the irony of Republicans who complained about House Democrats conducting earlier impeachment interviews in a secure facility now proposing to read in secret a book which the American public will likely not see before Election Day.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it an “absurd proposal.”
“This is a book, there’s no need for it to be read in the SCIF unless you want to hide something,” he said.
The election is the reason to not remove Trump
Trump’s defense team ended three days of arguments against his impeachment on Tuesday with the words of Democrats arguing against the impeachment of Bill Clinton 21 years ago.
Schumer’s words come back to haunt him
“We have broken the seal on this extreme penalty so cavalierly that it will be used as a routine tool to fight political battles,” Schumer said back then. “My fear is that when a Republican wins the White House, Democrats will demand payback.”
White House counsel Pat Cipollone looked in Schumer’s direction and said those comments were right and prescient. The public should pick the President, he added, with a warning about the effect of impeachment on the Electoral College system that selects the US President.
Who holds the people’s trust?
“Why not trust the American people with this decision?” Cipollone said. “Why tear up their ballots, why tear up every ballot across this country?”
Note: The President was impeached by the House, which is filled with members elected by voters. Trump’s removal is under consideration by the Senate, a much less representative body. The Electoral College, which actually picks the President, is the least representative piece of the whole puzzle. Read more about it here.
David Chalian talked on the Impeachment Watch podcast to CNN’s Clare Foran and Democratic strategist Karen Finney about Trump attorney Jay Sekulow’s warning that impeachment will impair the constitutional republic for generations.
The election is also the reason to remove Trump
The coming election is also the reason Democrats argue they had no choice but to impeach Trump in the first place. He was trying to get a foreign power to investigate a top Democratic rival, inviting foreign influence to turn American voters against former Vice President Joe Biden.
Again: Trump has repeatedly made unfounded and false claims to allege that Biden or his son, Hunter, acted improperly in Ukraine. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.
Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst all but admitted that Trump’s efforts hurt Joe Biden when, on Capitol Hill, she said she hopes voters in her state consider the conspiracy theories Trump has pushed when they caucus next week.
It’s impossible to assess what, if any, impact the impeachment has had on Biden, but his son was a focus of the Republicans’ impeachment rebuttal Monday.
“Iowa caucuses are this next Monday evening. And I’m really interested to see how this discussion today informs and influences the Iowa caucus voters, those Democratic caucus goers. Will they be supporting VP Biden at this point?” Ernst asked reporters on Capitol Hill Monday, saying more than she probably should have.
Again, the Iowa caucus is next week
How many Americans are waking up from an impeachment myopia this week to the realization that Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist from Vermont, is in the driver’s seat in the Democratic primary? We’ll see.
Odds and ends
John Kelly, the former White House chief of staff, told a Florida paper that he believes Bolton, the former national security adviser.
The Washington Post reports the RNC is paying some of Trump’s impeachment legal bills, according to campaign finance reports.
There are still court cases related to the Mueller investigation that could affect impeachment, writes CNN’s Katelyn Polantz.
A lawyer for Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, has asked the judge overseeing the criminal trial for permission to have Parnas attend the Senate impeachment trial Wednesday. He got tickets from Schumer, reports CNN’s Kara Scannell.
Coming next: Question time
The trial resumes Wednesday at 1 pm ET with an opportunity for senators to ask questions of impeachment managers and Trump’s defenders over two days.
Senators, who aren’t allowed to speak during the trial, will submit queries in writing on cards submitted to Chief Justice John Roberts.