WASHINGTON — Two Republican senators who had publicly toyed with whether to vote to call witnesses in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial have split on the issue, endangering Democratic hopes to get former national security adviser John Bolton and others to testify before the Senate.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said Thursday night she will vote in favor of additional witnesses in Trump’s trial, but her announcement was undercut almost immediately by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who said he will vote against it.
Both Collins and Alexander had been closely watched in the lead-up to the witness vote, which is expected to take place Friday. But Alexander's decision means it will be very tough for Democrats to get the 51 votes they need to bring in witnesses. In total, Democrats will need four Republicans to join them for the vote to succeed.
Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney have both said they would also be open to additional witnesses. Murkowski said she'll make her decision public on Friday. But even if both senators agree, it's unclear where the other Republican vote would come from.
Collins argued in a statement Thursday night that the Senate should hear from additional witnesses and be able to subpoena documents in the case. "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," she said.
But Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is retiring at the end of this year, tweeted, "there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the U.S. Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense."
Alexander acknowledged in a lengthy Twitter thread that Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine until the country agreed to help investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his family — and that what the president did was "inappropriate."
But Alexander argued it still wasn't impeachable, echoing an argument Trump's lawyers have made over the last two weeks of the trial. "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," he wrote.
If they are able to get the votes on Friday without Alexander, Collins said, she believes House Democrats and Trump’s lawyers should try to reach an agreement to get a list of “a limited and equal number of witnesses for each side. If they can’t agree, then the Senate could choose the number of witnesses.”
Collins and Romney have been the most vocal Republican senators suggesting they would vote in favor of calling witnesses; both have said, specifically, they want to hear from Bolton.
Democrats have long been pushing for Bolton to testify. But the calls for his appearance grew louder this week after the New York Times reported that, in his unreleased book, Bolton wrote that Trump told him directly that he was withholding the Ukrainian aid until the country agreed to investigate the Bidens.
Democrats have also floated the idea of subpoenaing acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Republicans have said they would like to see Hunter Biden testify, and some have said they would like to see Joe Biden as well.
Trump’s allies in the Senate have argued that bringing in witnesses could mean the trial stretches on for weeks or months. On Thursday, lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff said they could limit depositions to just one week, an idea many Democrats supported.
“I think that's very reasonable because they are the ones that say we want the fact witnesses who were there, and that's what our witnesses are,” Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono told reporters.
Still, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz argued, legal hang-ups could delay the trial’s conclusion.
“Presumably, if there are 51 votes to call additional witnesses, there would be 51 votes to subpoena John Bolton. I would expect immediately as a response a motion to subpoena Hunter Biden,” he told reporters Thursday. “There’s a real possibility that you will see privileged questions litigated in the courts that could delay the matters weeks or months, and could very well entail a pause at least in the trial while that litigation is ongoing.”