Impeachment news roundup: Jan. 31

Senate votes against motion to call witnesses

Laurie Arbeiter protests on Pennsylvania Avenue before the continuation of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Laurie Arbeiter protests on Pennsylvania Avenue before the continuation of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 31, 2020 at 10:16am

Updated 8 p.m.

A motion to call witnesses at the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump was unsuccessful Friday evening, on a 49-51 vote. A later 53-47 vote Friday evening defined the next steps in the trial.

The framework calls for the Senate to reconvene as the court of impeachment at 11 a.m. Monday for four hours of closing arguments, equally divided between the House managers and the president’s counsel. After the conclusion of those arguments, the court of impeachment will adjourn until 4 p.m. Wednesday, when it votes on the two articles of impeachment without any intervening action or debate.

After the vote against hearing from witnesses, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer called the outcome “a grand tragedy.”

“The Senate turned away from truth and went along with a sham trial,” he said. Schumer went on to say he would be meeting with the Democratic Caucus to discuss next steps for the impeachment trial, but he did not signal to reporters what Democrats’ next move could be.

The Senate will continue the trial Monday at 11 a.m., and a final vote “looks like” it will be Wednesday, Sen. Mike Braun said Friday.

The Senate reconvened Friday evening to vote on more amendments from Democrats on the resolution to end the trial, to subpoena testimony from four current or former Trump administration officials and administration documents.

[Senate rejects motion for witnesses at Trump impeachment trial]

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, who voted with Democrats on the resolution to call John Bolton, later voted with the GOP on other motions put forth by Schumer’s amendment to the final organizing resolution. All were unsuccessful. 

While the court of impeachment is adjourned Monday afternoon through Wednesday afternoon, the Senate will be in regular session. Senators will have the opportunity during that time to deliver floor statements explaining their positions on the two charges against Trump.

Sen. Roy Blunt said he was told McConnell and Schumer have an agreement on an organizing resolution to be adopted Friday. The resolution will provide for four hours of closing arguments Monday, equally divided, he said.

[Impeachment trial endgame: Republicans hope for Friday vote to acquit Trump]

Before the vote, the Senate broke for a quorum call after arguments from each side for and against hearing from witnesses. During the active break, McConnell and Schumer huddled in the Senate chamber, along with GOP Sens. John Cornyn and John Thune, seeming to negotiate in plain sight next steps for the impeachment trial.

The Democrats will be limited in the scope of amendments they can offer. Any proposals seeking to subpoena witnesses and documents would be out of order after the vote on considering new evidence is unsuccessful.

Here is the latest on impeachment:

8:45 p.m. | Reaction potpourri: “It was fun,” Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe said of the Republican meeting that followed a vote to not hear witnesses.

“I think everyone’s pleased with the way things are going now,” he said of Senate Republicans. “And we’re also beyond all that time we have to sit in agony and listen to that stuff. It’s a lot more painful than you guys think.”

“It’s a fair trial, sure,” Inhofe added.

The American Conservative Union already announced it would disinvite Mitt Romney from its 2020 CPAC event. The Utah Republican was one of two GOP senators to vote in favor of allowing witnesses.

Blunt, asked if he’s satisfied with voting Wednesday, said, “I’d rather conclude it right away.”

“The president is gratified that finally, at long last, after multiple Senate sessions [that] his acquittal is possible,” White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland said. “We do not believe that that schedule interferes with the ability to deliver a strong and confident State of the Union next week.”

Reaction from Democrats was muted.

“I don’t have much to say,” California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said. “My comment is we are where we are.”

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters he thinks the unknown delays of potential witness litigation carried the day in Friday’s votes.
“Well, I think, what was I think the most persuasive was just the open ended consequences of starting down that path and the litigation that would ensue,” Cornyn said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she’s decided how she plans to vote on the articles but she doesn’t want to share it with reporters tonight. “I’ve had so much drama today, I’m just going to chill,” the Alaska Republican said.

West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin told reporters he has not made his decision yet but he does plan to speak on the Senate floor either Monday or Tuesday. 

2:25 p.m. | Half a trial: Trump’s former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly believes a Senate trial without new witnesses has the appearance of “half a trial.”

“In my view, they kind of leave themselves open to a lot of criticism,” Kelly said of Senate Republicans in an interview with NJ Advance Media.

Kelly also said he believes former national security adviser John Bolton’s assertion in his forthcoming book that Trump directed his deputies to withhold congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine until the new government in Kyiv agreed to announce investigations into his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Bolton was “a copious note taker” and “an honest guy and an honorable guy,” Kelly said in the interview.

Kelly left the administration at the end of 2018 after his relationship with Trump had reportedly deteriorated to the point where the two did not speak.

1:52 p.m. | Explaining himself: Alexander responded “yes” when asked Friday if he was supporting Trump’s reelection.

“I don’t need to hear any more evidence to decide that the president did what he’s charged with doing. So, if you’ve got eight witnesses saying that you left the scene of an accident, you don’t need nine,” Alexander said in a Friday interview with NPR.

“You don’t apply capital punishment to every offense,” he said. “There’s a reason why in 230 years we’ve never removed a president through the impeachment clause, because the founders envisioned that the people would make the decision about who the president is and, in this case, the election to determine the president begins on Monday in Iowa.”

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Alexander said there were several reasons why the president should be dissuaded from committing similar acts in the future.

“I would think that the fact that he’s had to endure an impeachment process would be something for him to think about.” Alexander said, “I think the fact that he’s about to run for reelection and present himself to all the American people and try to get a majority of votes would be something to think about. I think the fact that he has appropriations bills, which we have to vote on War Powers Acts, which we have to vote on, his decision to take money and use it to build a wall in a way that’s not authorized, which we have to vote on.”

1:32 p.m. | Unpopular opinion: Republican Sens. Tim Scott, Kevin Cramer and Rob Portman disagreed with Alexander’s calling the president’s actions with Ukraine inappropriate.

Scott told reporters such an interpretation required too much parsing of Trump’s motives. “So, you know, I hear what [Alexander’s] saying but I don’t know how you draw that conclusion,” Scott said.

Cramer also disagreed with Alexander’s conclusion that Trump’s actions were inappropriate.

“I don’t think he acted improperly in terms of what he was accused of doing and certainly in terms of what the record shows,” Cramer said, pointing to years of partisan opposition from Democrats in Congress.

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He said he felt confident Republicans would hold together and vote along a party line to acquit Trump. 

Portman said his thinking on Trump’s actions were similar to Alexander’s.

“I have said consistently for the past four months, since the Zelenskiy transcript was first released, that I believe that some of the president’s actions in this case — including asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine — were wrong and inappropriate,” he said. “But I do not believe that the president’s actions rise to the level of removing a duly-elected president from office and taking him off the ballot in the middle of an election.”

Portman said that would set “a dangerous precedent — all but guaranteeing a proliferation of highly partisan, poorly investigated impeachments in the future — if we allow the House of Representatives to force the Senate to compel witness testimony that they never secured for themselves.”

12:55 p.m. | Nadler out: Rep. Jerrold Nadler, one of the House impeachment managers, will miss Friday’s vote, saying he would be with his wife, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“We have many decisions to make as a family,” Nadler tweeted. “I have every faith in my colleagues and hope the Senate will do what is right.”

12:41 p.m. | Advice: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he talked to Trump last night and passed along his take on the process.

“I said, listen, I think Lamar [Alexander] probably captured where most Americans are, that we don’t want to legitimize partisan impeachment with this process, weaponizing impeachment in terms of the political process, but to those who say it was perfect: No.”

Asked how Trump reacted, Graham said, “I didn’t talk to him about Lamar. I just said you’re probably going to hear that.”

“Impeachment really should be reserved for those situations where it shakes the constitutional foundation,” he added. “I think Nixon did that.”

12:27 p.m. | Another Bolton bombshell: Just before the Senate was to resume its trial, The New York Times published another excerpt from the manuscript of former national security adviser John Bolton’s book that revealed Trump was involved in the Ukraine pressure campaign earlier than witnesses had testified.

In the manuscript, Bolton writes that Trump told him in May to help his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani with his campaign to pressure Ukraine into investigating political rivals in return for a nearly $400 million military aid package.

Bolton said that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone were in the meeting with the president, the newspaper reported.

12:11 p.m. | Not going there: Republican Sen. Mike Rounds told reporters he doesn’t think Trump did anything to merit removal from office, but wouldn’t address whether the president acted properly.

“I just think that the actions did not rise to an impeachable offense. I’m not going to try to lay out different degrees,” he said.

Rounds later told reporters he would like the Senate to have public deliberations.

“I will make my statement public regardless,” he said.

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11:29 a.m. | Close to the vest: Schumer declined to say whether he would amend a motion to proceed to the question on the articles against Trump or answer questions about any procedural tactics he plans to deploy.

“I’m not going to get into any details,” he said. “I have to have a discussion with my caucus.”

Asked about a potential tie vote, Schumer simply said it’s up to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on whether he wants to break it. He said the chief justice knows every trial has witnesses and documents.

He reiterated his view that a vote to acquit Trump won’t carry weight without the Senate hearing additional evidence.

“Any acquittal of the president has no value,” he said.

11:25 a.m. | Post-mortem: Schumer answered a question about whether the House managers could have done anything differently to convince Republicans by saying, “The House managers have done a very, very good job.”

Like he has in past days, Schumer tried to downplay Democrats’ expected defeat on witnesses by noting they always knew it was an uphill fight with Trump, “a vindictive, nasty president,” going after anyone who sides against him.

“Americans know that Democrats are for a fair trial and that witnesses and documents are needed, and they know Republicans are opposing even that,” he said. “So we’re very gratified about how this has moved forward.”

11:19 a.m. | Blackout: Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said the single camera in the Senate chamber that doesn’t show senators during the trial proceedings and the media restrictions imposed in the Capitol are part of McConnell’s efforts to have a predetermined, speedy acquittal done when no one is watching.

The Ohio Democrat said after the witness debate Friday he plans to push for further deliberations, with the Senate lights on so all the American people can see.

“I filed a motion to make sure these are open to the public, not done behind closed doors,” Brown said.

Brown declined to answer questions about his motion, saying Democrats would be discussing that in the caucus.

Sen. Kamala Harris predicted the trial will end Friday or Saturday with Republicans voting to acquit Trump.

“The bottom line is at the end of this, they will probably get what they want,” she said. But without evidence introduced, the former federal prosecutor said, “they cannot walk out of this building and allege and assert that will be a true acquittal.”

11:19 a.m. | Cover-up: Schumer on Friday called it “deeply disturbing” that a few of his Republican colleagues announced Thursday night they would vote against hearing additional evidence.

He said Alexander came down on the wrong side on evidence even as he acknowledged the House proved the president did what he was accused of. Schumer said Alexander said aloud what most Republicans are saying in private.

If Republicans block consideration of witnesses, “this country is headed toward the greatest cover-up since Watergate,” Schumer said.

At the same news conference, Sen. Patty Murray acknowledged that Republicans appear headed toward a Friday vote to acquit Trump.

“Senate Republicans are about to make a terrible choice,” she said. “They’re about to dismiss this with a shrug and a ‘who cares.’”

Murray urged Republicans to change course and side with Democrats to hear additional evidence.

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9:30 a.m. | Fight! Fight!: Trump offered a critique of the House managers’ performance, saying they were fighting among themselves.

9:20 a.m. | Procedural moves: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer has said he could try to force procedural votes before the final vote.

“The minority has rights, and we will exercise those rights,” Schumer told reporters on Thursday.

 

8:30 a.m. | Alexander’s decision: The Tennessee Republican, who is retiring at the end of his current term, said that the House proved its case against Trump, but his conduct didn’t rise to the level that the Constitution called for to remove a president from office.

“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation,” Alexander said. “When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”

Alexander described the second article, relating to obstruction of Congress, as “frivolous,” saying that one, “would remove the president for asserting his constitutional prerogative to protect confidential conversations with his close advisers.”

8 a.m. | Collins statement: The Maine senator, who is facing a competitive reelection race brought on in part because of her vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, said she believed “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.”

“If this motion passes, I believe that the most sensible way to proceed would be for the House Managers and the President’s attorneys to attempt to agree on a limited and equal number of witnesses for each side.  If they can’t agree, then the Senate could choose the number of witnesses.”

7:30 a.m. | Trump speaks: Shortly after Alexander’s issued his statement, Trump tweeted what appeared to be a campaign pledge.

“THE BEST IS YET TO COME,” the president tweeted at 11:22 p.m. with a Fox News graphic of  Gallup poll results that showed satisfaction with issues like the economy, terrorism and race relations up significantly since his inauguration.

7 a.m. | Bolton speaks: Bolton, who is at the top of Democrats’ witnesses, commended Trump administration officials who testified in the House inquiry.

“All of them acted in the best interest of the country as they saw it and consistent to what they thought our policies were,” Bolton said during a private event in Austin, Texas, KXAN reported.

The House had requested that Bolton testify in its inquiry but the White House blocked him and other administration officials from appearing.

Revelations from a manuscript from his forthcoming book reported by The New York Times appeared to verify attempts by Trump to force Ukraine to investigate political opponents in return for freeing up military aid to the country, which had given Democrats hope that enough Republicans might cross party lines and vote for more witnesses.

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