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Democrats Struggle To Find Fourth GOP Vote To Call Impeachment Witnesses

Even if Democrats can find enough votes to call witnesses, the White House is planning further stonewalling under the premise of executive privilege.

It was always understood that there would be little chance of removing Donald Trump from office through impeachment due to the requirement for a mass defection of Republican senators to get to the 67 votes required by the Constitution. Any victory in the Senate would be a moral one in which a small number of Republicans might join with Democrats to at least call more witnesses and get the truth about Trump’s actions out to the American people. Such a political victory would rely upon at least four Senate Republicans crossing the aisle to form a temporary anti-Trump coalition of 51 votes. A week into the Senate trial of the president, we still don’t know what the outcome of this aspect of impeachment will be.

Earlier this week, the Senate voted to delay the decision on whether to call witnesses to testify during the trial. At this point, it looks as though Democrats may be able to get three Republicans to join them in their quest, but the fourth may be a bridge too far.

Three Republicans have indicated that they are open to calling witnesses. These senators include Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah.

Axios reports that several senators were targeted to be the fourth vote but that so far none has committed. The possibles include Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa. The Hill adds Martha McSally of Arizona, Jerry Moran of Kansas, and Rob Portman of Ohio to the list.

Already Tillis has planted a flag on Trump’s side, calling the impeachment a “sham” and telling Fox News, “I don’t want to spend a lot of time doing what I expected the House to do. You’d think if there was any truth to it, they would have spent the time in the House to actually bring it forward”

The North Carolina senator is facing a tough re-election fight and seems to be concentrating on firming up the Republican base in a state where Trump’s approval rating is at 48 percent, a net of zero. There has been no recent polling on the Senate race but a poll from last spring showed Tillis trailing likely Democratic nominee Erica Smith.

Sen. McSally’s recent attack on a CNN reporter likely indicates which side she is on as well. McSally is another very vulnerable Republican as she prepares to face Mark Kelly in this year’s senate race. The Arizona Republican is already trailing in a number of recent polls and she can ill afford to lose support from the Republican base by angering Trump.

Corey Gardner and Joni Ernst might be more likely targets. Trump’s approval is 18 points underwater in Colorado and nine points in the negative in Iowa. Both senators are up for re-election this year as well and Gardner is already trailing in preliminary polling by double-digit margins. There are no public polls of the Iowa senate race so far.

But vulnerable Republicans may be between a rock and a hard place. CBS News reports that Senate Republicans were warned, “Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.” Republican leadership seems to be gambling with their Senate majority that voters will not hold swing state incumbents accountable for conducting a show trial and speedy acquittal.

Portman in bellwether Ohio may be a good bet for the fourth vote. Portman told the Dayton Daily News recently that he thinks the trial “should be a fair process” and that “we should hear from both sides.”

Even if the Portman, Gardner, and Ernst can be kept on the reservation, there is another possibility. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is not running for re-election and might be more insulated from pressure. The 79-year-old is unlikely to have his eye on higher office. Still, Alexander is close to Senate leaders and called impeachment “a mistake” back in October. A lot of new evidence has come forth since then, however.

“He is very well-respected by the entire conference and is close to Mitch McConnell. I’ve found Lamar to be one of the most effective members of the entire Senate,” Sen. Collins said of Alexander in Politico. “I don’t know what his position will be. I suspect that he’s waiting until he’s heard the case presented and the questions answered for the senators. And that’s a very logical position to take.”

An added complication is the possibility that Democrats might lose votes from their own caucus. Red-state Democrats such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin or Alabama’s Doug Jones may well defect and make the math even more difficult.
 

If no fourth Republican comes forward, then votes on whether to call witnesses could end in a 50-50 tie. In that case, it would be up to Chief Justice John Roberts to decide the issue of witnesses. Roberts has given no indication of how he would vote, but NBC News speculates that judges often rule in favor of allowing relevant testimony. The fact that Roberts would be going against his party’s wishes and seems to place a high priority on not undermining the Supreme Court’s authority and image makes the situation more complicated, however.

Meanwhile, Republicans are still unable to explain why, if the president is not guilty of the impeachment allegations against him, they are so staunchly opposed to hearing witnesses who could offer exonerating evidence. On the contrary, Trump’s defenders are already making plans to stonewall testimony in the event that the Senate does vote to call witnesses such as former National Security Advisor John Bolton, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Republicans say that the White House would probably block the testimony on grounds of executive privilege and national security. The resulting court battle would lead to a long, drawn-out battle that might not be resolved before the election.

That’s a lot of trouble to go to stonewall testimony about a “perfect phone call” from witnesses that the president has said he would “love” to hear.

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