House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s counsel took to the Senate floor on Jan. 31 to make their final pitches for and against hearing from additional witnesses, respectively, as the impeachment trial approaches a conclusion. After some four hours of argument by the two sides and additional off-camera discussions, the Senate voted 51-49 to reject the deposition of further testimony. As was expected, Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine voted with Democrats.
During the House managers’ presentation, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and his fellow Democrats failed to change any minds, despite their warning that a trial without witnesses “is no trial at all,” in Schiff’s words. The president’s attorneys, though, disabused weary senators of the notion that a deposition phase could be expedited – and that, as much as anything else, may have been the final nail in the coffin of the case for witnesses.
Dems Fall Short of Simple Majority
The president’s opponents had hoped to count on the votes of Romney and Collins but needed two more Republicans to cross the aisle in order to force the calling of witnesses. The previous evening, retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced that he was going to vote no on witnesses. This effectively killed Democrat hopes, though when Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also indicated her intention to vote no, the result was pre-determined.
Nevertheless, House managers focused their efforts on trying to convince the Senate that the testimony of John Bolton, Trump’s former National Security Adviser, was essential to discovering the president’s true intent with regard to Ukraine. Additionally, they argued for the appearance of White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and certain other individuals in the president’s circle. Citing the trial of President Bill Clinton, the managers suggested the Senate adjourn the trial for a week while witnesses were deposed.
Sekulow Kills Hopes of Quick Depositions
Jay Sekulow, leading the president’s defense, explained in no uncertain terms why witness depositions would stretch out the trial for far longer than one week: The attorney listed numerous individuals who had testified before House committees, reminding Senators that the president’s counsel had not been given the opportunity to cross-examine these current or former government officials.
Asserting his intention to request many of them if the Senate voted to call witnesses, Sekulow surely left no one in any doubt that a three- or four-week continuation of the trial would result. Apart from anything else, such a turn of events would have drastically affected the Democratic Party’s primary race.
Even after the vote, Democrats tried yet again to force the issue. Chuck Schumer of New York, who leads Democrats in the Senate, introduced motions to call Mulvaney, Bolton, and others. These motions were tabled, though, by party-line votes.
There had been much speculation that the trial would come to a close on the evening of Jan. 31, but Senate Leader Mitch McConnell set a timetable that would allow both sides to present closing arguments on Monday, Feb. 3. Senators will then have the opportunity to make their own speeches, over the next two days, though the president will on Feb. 4 deliver his State of the Union to Congress. The two articles of impeachment will finally be decided on the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 5.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.