WASHINGTON — House Democrats spent Wednesday laying out the evidence, point by point, that President Donald Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to launch an investigation into his political rival. But several Republican senators dismissed the narrative as old news.
For months, Republican senators have declined to answer reporters' questions about details of the impeachment inquiry — including multiple witnesses testifying that Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid unless the country publicly announced an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter — by saying they were waiting for the issue to come before the Senate.
Now it is before the Senate, and some Republicans are saying there’s nothing new to discuss.
“So far what Schiff has said we’ve heard before,” said Indiana Sen. Mike Braun.
Braun said Trump should not have held up Ukrainian aid, but he is “absolutely convinced it’s not impeachable.” Democratic House members will spend a total of 24 hours split between Wednesday and Friday to make the case against Trump. But Braun said what he’s heard so far is “not any more troubling or less troubling than before” and “you’re not going to win the game by time of possession.”
But Democrats had pushed to include new information — they spent Tuesday repeatedly asking the Senate to subpoena new witnesses and documents. Republicans voted down each request in a party line vote.
During an afternoon break Wednesday, Texas Sen. John Cornyn emerged to speak with reporters, declaring he had heard “nothing new” as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hovered behind him waiting to address the group. Cornyn complained that the House's case largely relied on secondhand witnesses, something many of Trump’s allies have argued throughout the process. But witnesses with firsthand knowledge have been hard to come by, as the Trump administration has refused to turn over documents and allow some officials to testify.
“What we ought to be presented is evidence by witnesses that have personal knowledge,” he said.
“Hear, hear!” Schumer said with a smile.
Soon after Schumer departed, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso stood in front of the crowd of reporters. “I stayed awake, but I didn’t hear anything new,” he declared. “Two and a half hours and nothing new.”
But Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said he and many of colleagues were learning from the trial. "I think most if not all senators are hearing the case by the prosecution and the case by the defense for the first time. They're hearing the case by the defense for the first time because the President was not allowed to present a defense in the House, but they're also hearing the prosecution's case for the first time," Kennedy said. "If you polled in the United States Senate, nine out of 10 senators will tell you if they have not read the transcript of the proceedings in the House and the tenth senator who says he has or she has is lying."
"I’m telling you, if you read the briefs, you will learn a lot and you will be very impressed," he added.
But asked whether the Democratic case was swaying him, Kennedy declined to answer while the trial is ongoing.
Democratic senators responded that if Republicans want to learn something new, they should vote to bring in witnesses.
“I think the people who are voting against witnesses and documents that are relevant are going to find that this is really a disservice to the Senate going forward,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said Wednesday afternoon.
California Sen. Kamala Harris had a similar message for her Republican colleagues.
“We should be concerned with having all available evidence that is relevant to the issue before us, and there are two,” she said. “There are two articles of impeachment, and any witness that is relevant to determining what happened as it relates to those two articles should be brought before us. Period.”
A small group of Republicans — including Sens. Susan Collins and Mitt Romney — have said they are open to hearing from witnesses but not until later in the trial. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that some Democrats were considering a witness swap: Republicans would get Hunter Biden, Democrats would get John Bolton.
But Democrats and Republicans are at odds over the idea. Republicans are saying that any witnesses called by Democrats would have to be paired with a witness for the other side. Braun said he thinks Joe Biden, who is currently running for the Democratic nomination for president, should be subpoenaed.
But Schumer has ruled out witness swapping and said trading Hunter Biden for someone like Bolton is “not on the table.”
“Republicans have the right to bring any witness they want,” he said. “They haven’t wanted to.”
This story was updated with comment from Sen. John Kennedy.