Impeachment Briefing: Senate Votes to Block Witnesses

This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every weeknight.

  • The Senate voted Friday evening to block consideration of new witnesses and evidence in the impeachment trial, all but securing President Trump’s acquittal. The motion failed 49 to 51, with Senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney joining all 47 Democrats. (See how each senator voted.)

  • Leaders from both parties settled on a schedule for the remainder of the trial, with a plan to bring it to a close on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the House managers and Mr. Trump’s lawyers made their final pleas, debating for several hours whether to consider hearing from witnesses.

  • Hours before the vote, we got more John Bolton news: In his unpublished manuscript, Mr. Bolton wrote that Mr. Trump asked him to get involved in the Ukraine pressure campaign last May, well before Mr. Trump asked Ukraine’s president for help investigating his political rivals.

  • In an Oval Office meeting surrounded by top advisers, Mr. Trump told Mr. Bolton to call Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, to ensure that Mr. Zelensky would meet with Rudy Giuliani, who was planning a trip to Ukraine to discuss the investigations that the president sought.

Read our full story on the day, some key takeaways, and an analysis of how Mr. Trump’s control of Senate Republicans is nearly complete.

The Senate will return at 11 a.m. Eastern on Monday for a few hours of closing arguments, and senators will have a chance to give floor speeches on Tuesday. The final vote, on whether to remove Mr. Trump from office, will take place at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

Senate Republicans had previously homed in on concluding the trial Saturday, and many of them wanted to take acquittal votes Friday night. Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, said Republicans “wanted to rush through an acquittal vote tonight,” but Democrats wanted “ample time for every member to speak.”

People close to Mr. Trump, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the president was unhappy about the prospect of giving Tuesday’s State of the Union address before he was acquitted, and that he was mystified as to why Senator Mitch McConnell could not force an end to the trial before then.

Several Republican senators released statements defending their decisions to vote against considering new witnesses. The comments were striking for their willingness to admit Mr. Trump’s wrongdoing, while still dismissing the case Democrats had built against him. A number of them alluded to a vote the Senate would have taken to ban Mr. Trump from future office.

The statements also revealed how intertwined the vote on witnesses and the ultimate acquittal were. The senators referred to Mr. Trump’s exoneration as an inevitable conclusion, arguing that even accepting the facts of the Democratic case could not sway them to change their final votes. Therefore, they said, there was no reason to take the intermediary step of hearing from people like Mr. Bolton.

Here’s a look at what they said.

Marco Rubio of Florida released a 1,000-word account of his rationale. He wrote that “just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interest of the country to remove a president from office.” And he framed Mr. Trump’s potential removal with the language of insurgency: “Can anyone doubt that at least half of the country would view his removal as illegitimate — as nothing short of a coup d’état?”

Rob Portman of Ohio said in a statement Friday that “some of the president’s actions in this case — including asking a foreign country to investigate a potential political opponent and the delay of aid to Ukraine — were wrong and inappropriate.” But, Mr. Portman said, Democrats built a “flawed” and rushed case that witnesses would have prolonged by weeks.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the final holdout among the moderates, released a brief statement that avoided addressing Mr. Trump’s behavior. Instead, she criticized the style of the proceedings. “Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout,” she wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed.”

Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said in a statement last night that Mr. Trump did what Democrats accused him of, and that those actions were “inappropriate.” He said that “there is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the United States Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense.” (Ben Sasse of Nebraska said that “Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us.”)

My colleague Carl Hulse interviewed Mr. Alexander in a small private office on the third floor of the Capitol this afternoon. There, the outgoing senator offered more detail on how he thought about his “no” vote on witnesses. Why call them, Mr. Alexander asked, “if you are persuaded that he did it.”

I called Carl to ask about what Mr. Alexander’s decision can tell us about how Republicans came together to effectively end the trial.

Carl, I was struck by the political-cultural argument behind his vote. He said removing Mr. Trump from office would “pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.” Why did he frame his decision that way?

He thought it would just be too disruptive, that even if you add up all this conduct, it just isn’t of the level for which you’d remove a president at such a volatile moment.

He thought that this close to the election, doing something so drastic as pushing the president out of office would have sparked what would basically be a rebellion. People wouldn’t have accepted the election, he thought. He talked to me about what would happen to the primary ballots Mr. Trump’s name is on already.

What does he think the “cultural fires” are?

He thinks of it as the divide between urban and coastal America and the rest of the country, and that people outside of the coasts would go crazy if Mr. Trump was thrown out. The president is the embodiment of the Republican Party and its position now. Conservatives identify their conservatism with Mr. Trump. Senate Republicans challenge him at their own risk.

In your interview with Mr. Alexander, he said:

“Whatever you think of his behavior, with the terrific economy, with conservative judges, with fewer regulations, you add in there an inappropriate call with the president of Ukraine, and you decide if your prefer him or Elizabeth Warren.”

He’s presenting the impeachment case as a kind of one-off incident, the July 25 call between Mr. Trump and Ukraine’s president, amid the glory of a conservative political agenda.

Ukraine was just one part of Mr. Trump’s record, he’s thinking. They have to weigh it against what Mr. Trump would say are his biggest accomplishments. Mr. Alexander thinks if you do that and you’re a Republican, you’ll still vote for Mr. Trump. To him, Ukraine is part of an overall record that people can consider in ten short months.

  • Chief Justice John Roberts dodged a scenario that could have called (at least in the minds of Democrats) for some kind of intervention: a 50-50 tie on the witness vote. He said at the trial Friday that “it would be inappropriate for me, an unelected official from a different branch of government, to assert the power to change that result so that the motion would succeed.”

  • Politico has an account of how the four deciding votes in the Senate — Ms. Murkowski, Mr. Romney, Ms. Collins and Mr. Alexander — ended up splitting on the issue of hearing from witnesses. They were in constant contact during the trial, texting and calling one another regularly.

  • My colleague Eric Lipton spent the day at the Trump International Hotel in Washington and wrote a memorable account of its anti-impeachment mood. Robert Hyde, a long-shot Republican congressional candidate who was suspected of having put the former American ambassador to Ukraine under surveillance, was sitting at the bar eating a chopped wedge salad. “There is no treason, no bribery,” he said. “No abuse of power.”

  • That former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, who was the target of a conspiracy-riddled smear campaign led by Rudy Giuliani and whose abrupt recall led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment, has retired from the State Department.

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