Republicans are closer to the 51 votes they need to head off witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial than it seemed earlier this week, with senators saying there are perhaps four who are still in play.
Two of the 53 Republicans — Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine — are seen as almost certain to back witnesses.
The other two who are considered to be on the fence are Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
“It comes down to those senators, and they’re making a decision which direction they want to go,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, on the latest episode of his new “The Verdict” podcast.
He said: “I can tell you, there were several of us trying to say, ‘Is there a way we can reach an agreement to get this over and done with?’ I don’t know that it will work, but I can tell you it was several of trying to see, all right, where is common ground.”
All 47 members of the Democratic caucus are likely to back witnesses. If three Republicans join them, it’s not clear what happens in a 50-50 vote. Senators say the role of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is presiding, is not certain.
When the presiding officer is the vice president, he could cast a tie-breaking vote. But Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, said for the chief justice to do that would mean inserting himself into the trial.
“Not casting a tie-breaking vote is him just staying out of it,” the senator told reporters at the Capitol.
If the motion to hear witnesses ends on a 50-50 vote, it would die because it did not achieve a majority.
The GOP has made some ground this week on witnesses after two Republicans up for election this year in tough states, Sens. Cory Gardner in Colorado and Martha McSally in Arizona, signaled to reporters they do not see the need for the Senate to call its own witnesses beyond the 17 whose testimony was taken and released from the House proceedings.
At this point, the trajectory of the trial comes down to the witness question. If senators decide not to call any, the trial could end with a bipartisan acquittal by the end of this week. It would also break ground as the first impeachment trial in history where no witnesses were called.
If the chamber does vote for witnesses, the Senate heads into unknown territory, with the process of compelling witnesses and the potential for more leaks extending the proceedings for months.
Democrats are demanding the Senate at least hear from former National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, who has reportedly written a book saying President Trump did inform him that aid to Ukraine was being withheld until that country provided information it had on political opponent former Vice President Joseph R. Biden or efforts by Ukrainian persons to back Hillary Clinton in 2016.
That assertion is at the crux of the main article of impeachment approved by the House accusing the president of abuse of power. A second article, charging him with obstruction of Congress, stems from the White House’s refusal to provide witnesses or documents to the House impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers told the Senate during Wednesday’s question-and-answer session that calling witnesses could make the trial drag on for “months,” crowding out the rest of the Senate’s schedule during that time.
They also said if witnesses are allowed, then Mr. Trump’s team will get to call his own slate.
“Here’s what I want. I want Adam Schiff. I want Hunter Biden. I want Joe Biden. I want the whistleblower,” said Jay Sekulow, the president’s personal lawyer.
Democrats said they would be willing to work overtime on Senate business in order to keep the impeachment trial from stalling other legislation.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said he’s “hopeful” Democrats will win the vote on witnesses, which under the current schedule would likely happen Friday.
“I feel pretty good. I never underestimate President Trump as a nasty, vindictive president who will go after anyone who goes against him. But we have two things on our side,” he said.
He continued: “First, the public is overwhelmingly on our side for witnesses and documents. And second, sometimes doing the right thing. I think there are probably 15 Republican senators who know the right thing is witnesses and documents.”
Mr. Schumer also suggested Republicans wouldn’t be able to muster support to call Hunter Biden as a witness.
Not true, said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, who said that’s one thing that unites Republicans.
“There’s 53 Republican votes to call Hunter Biden,” he said.