Republicans try to avoid an impeachment trial civil war

Source: Politico | December 12, 2019 | Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine

GOP senators are reluctant to call controversial witnesses sought by Trump and House Republicans — but they’re not ruling it out.

Senate Republicans are keeping their impeachment trial options open — officially, at least.

The party is uniting around a strategy that could quickly acquit President Donald Trump of articles of impeachment while also giving them the opportunity to call witnesses later in the trial if Republicans and the president are not satisfied with how things are going, according to interviews with nearly a dozen Republican senators on Thursday.

Heading into the trial, Republicans’ plan would be to call no witnesses and simply allow House Democrats and then the president’s attorneys to make their case before the public. After that, the Senate would consider calling people either for live testimony or closed-door depositions.

It’s a plan they believe will insulate the Senate GOP from pressure to call a host of controversial witnesses — which the caucus would struggle to do for political and procedural reasons alike — while putting Trump on track to be cleared before the end of January.

“The direction we appear to be headed is to let the House managers present their prima facie case which would mean no witnesses, to let the president’s counsel do the same thing,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of leadership. “And then to decide if there’s a reason to go forward from there.”

House Republicans and Trump have repeatedly urged the Senate GOP and its slim majority to summon the likes of Hunter and Joe Biden before the chamber in a spectacle they believe would bolster the president’s case. Senate Republicans have resisted the idea, warning they couldn’t cobble together the 51 votes needed to do so under Senate rules. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also repeatedly cautioned his members against votes that divide the party ahead of a tough election year.

Already Senate Republicans have received a taste of what could come if they preemptively dismiss the idea of calling witnesses: conservative Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) complained to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday to “fight fire with fire” and “rethink” his strategy. GOP senators are also loath to risk the president and his allies’ ire over the holiday break as both sides prepare for the trial.

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