Sen. Lamar Alexander said Thursday he doesn’t see the need for more witnesses in the impeachment of President Trump, saying the president’s fate should be decided by voters, not Congress.
Mr. Alexander’s announcement puts Republicans in a strong position to end the Senate trial this week and vote to acquit the president in what could well be a bipartisan vote.
Mr. Alexander did scold the president, saying it was “inappropriate” for him to try to rope Ukraine into assisting him in investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden. But he said the matter is beyond the Senate at this point.
“The question then is not whether the president did it, but whether the United States Senate or the American people should decide what to do about what he did. I believe that the Constitution provides that the people should make that decision in the presidential election that begins in Iowa on Monday,” he said.
The Tennessee Republican, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, blasted the “partisan impeachment” that Democrats have run, pointing out that not a single Republican voted for the two articles crafted by the House. He also called the Democratic case “shallow” and “hurried,” and said caving to that kind of effort would “rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist.”
His decision is critical.
Democrats hope all 47 members of their caucus back the call for witnesses. They would then need to win over four Republicans to guarantee witnesses, and Sen. Susan Collins puts them on that path.
The Maine Republican announced Thursday she will vote to call witnesses, and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah is also expected to back witnesses.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is pondering the question overnight.
But with Mr. Alexander opposing witnesses, GOP leaders believe they have 50 votes.
That means at best the motion to call witnesses would end up a 50-50 tie. A tie vote would mean the motion fails, because it didn’t achieve a majority.
If Ms. Murkowski joins Mr. Alexander, it would be a clear majority against witnesses.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
On the other side of the aisle, Democrats hoped they could still pick up more GOP votes for witnesses.
“I’m hopeful. I feel that we made a case for witnesses that was very strong,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat.
However, Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, said he hadn’t made up his mind yet.
“When I walk in to vote is when I make my mind up,” he said.
Ms. Gillibrand said in the event of a tie vote, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. should cast the tie-breaking vote.
“I think that is an appropriate way to go,” she said. “And history is on our side.”
Under normal rules, the vice president could break the tie, should he wish. But in an impeachment trial of the president, the chief justice presides.
GOP senators said they are in “uncharted” territory over whether Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. can cast a tie-breaking vote — though several made clear they expect him to stay out of it.
Otherwise, he would be inserting himself into political proceedings, said Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican.
“Not casting a tie-breaking vote is him just staying out of it,” the senator told reporters at the Capitol.