POLITICS

Senate Sets The Stage For Trump's Acquittal Next Week

Republicans successfully blocked witnesses and other evidence from the president's impeachment trial.

WASHINGTON ― The Senate will continue the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump into next week even though the final result is all but certain. The president, in spite of members of both parties saying he improperly pressured a foreign government to investigate a political rival, is set to be acquitted Wednesday.

Republicans hoped to move to a quick acquittal after successfully blocking witnesses and other evidence from his trial on Friday. In that vote, nearly every Republican opposed allowing witness testimony, making it the first U.S. presidential impeachment trial to include no witnesses.

But Democrats pushed to prolong the trial in order to allow time for both the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team to give closing arguments, as was the case in Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, and to allow all senators an opportunity to speak on the floor. That phase of the trial will begin Monday morning and end by 4 p.m. EST Wednesday, when the Senate will vote on whether to remove Trump from office and adjourn as a court of impeachment.

The terms of the deal mean that Trump will deliver his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, before he is likely acquitted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly called Trump before he signed off on the agreement, according to CNN

White House official Eric Ueland told reporters Friday that the combination of the State of the Union and his acquittal in the Senate will be a one-two punch and a “happy coincidence” that will “launch the president into 2020.”

“You could argue that the State of the Union — that successful vision the president will lay out — actually, occludes focus on impeachment,” Ueland said.

Meanwhile, the senators running for the Democratic presidential nomination ― Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michael Bennet of Colorado ― will get a reprieve and be able to return to the campaign trail in Iowa ahead of the state’s crucial caucuses that begin on Monday.

Before the Senate adjourned on Friday, however, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) succeeded in forcing Republicans to vote on amendments to include witnesses and documents one last time, including the testimony of former national security adviser John Bolton. Bolton essentially confirmed the House case against Trump ― that the president withheld aid to Ukraine in order to pressure its government to open investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. 

Only two Republicans defected on the vote to subpoena Bolton: Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah. 

Schumer also got a final answer on a matter that observers have been wondering about for months: Should there be a 50-50 vote on witnesses, would Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the Senate trial, break it? The answer was no.

“I think 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,” Roberts said in response to a question from Schumer. 

A vote by Roberts would not have been unprecedented: The chief justice in the 1868 trial of President Andrew Johnson was allowed to cast a tie-breaking vote on two procedural motions. But Roberts said he disagreed that he was bound by that precedent.

“I do not regard those isolated episodes 150 years ago as sufficient to support a general authority to break ties,” Roberts said. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who was spotted chatting with Roberts at one point, said he approved of the chief justice not weighing in on the matter.

“Basically he said I’m here to preside, but the judicial branch should not be doing your job. And he’s right,” Blumenthal said Friday. “He wanted to resolve an open issue for future Supreme Court justices in a way that didn’t need to be done now and therefore didn’t cost him anything but would be helpful to others possibly in the future.”

The biggest remaining question in Trump’s impeachment trial remains the matter of how each senator intends to vote on the two impeachment articles against him: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The potential swing votes on the Republican side include Collins, Romney and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. 

Among Democrats, red-state Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Doug Jones of Alabama and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are seen as possible votes to acquit.

“I take my oath seriously about impartiality. I have not made a decision yet,” Manchin said earlier this week when asked if he had decided to acquit or convict the president on either charge against him.

Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.

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