The impeachment trial of former President Trump is back on track Saturday after Democratic lawmakers backed off an explosive effort to call witnesses, a process that might’ve extended the trial by hours or days.
An unexpected vote in favor of hearing witnesses, 55-45 with five Republicans joining the Democrats, threw the trial into chaos just as it was on the verge of concluding. Later in the afternoon, both sides reached a deal to instead enter into the record a statement from a Republican House lawmaker about a heated phone call on the day of the riot between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that Democrats say established Trump’s indifference to the mob-violence.
The core issue was whether to subpoena Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington state, one of 10 Republicans to vote for Trump’s impeachment in the House. First reported by CNN, she said late Friday that Trump rebuffed a plea from McCarthy to call off the rioters. Democrats consider it key corroborating evidence that confirms the president’s “willful dereliction of duty and desertion of duty as commander in chief.”
The situation was resolved when Herrera Beutler’s statement on the call was read aloud into the record for senators to consider as evidence. As part of the deal, Democrats dropped their planned deposition and Republicans abandoned their threat to subpoena hundreds of their witnesses. The case then proceeded to closing arguments.
The compromise allowed the Senate to move onto closing arguments as Republicans remain desperate to avoid extending the trial with witnesses that were likely to shed more light on Trump’s craven refusal to defend the Capitol as his supporters ran riot and hunted down Democrats and supposed turncoats like Pence.
But Democrats worried that extending the impeachment trial could delay or derail President Biden’s push to enact a coronavirus stimulus plan and jumpstart the economy.
Despite the ample evidence of Trump’s unfitness for office, Republican senators appeared poised to acquit Trump, at least before the decision on witnesses.
A two-thirds vote of the Senate, or at least 17 GOP lawmakers, would be needed to convict their party’s leading figure.
In an earlier e-mail, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told colleagues that he planned to vote to acquit the ex-president, a key blow to Democrats who insist that Trump must be held accountable and barred from running for office again.