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Senate Trial Enters Its Next Phase: The Vote To Allow Witnesses


It looks like Senate Republicans have the votes to avoid calling witnesses in the president's impeachment trial. This morning, an aide to Utah Senator Mitt Romney said Romney will vote with the Democrats on the question of witnesses. But Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander came down on the other side. Alexander said last night the president did what he's accused of, but it doesn't rise to the level of impeachable conduct. So for him, for Alexander, there is no point in getting more testimony. If the Senate says no to witnesses, then lawmakers could move quickly to vote on the president's guilt or innocence.

NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales is on the line. Hey, Claudia.


KING: So what are some of the other potential swing Republican senators saying?

GRISALES: So one other Republican revealed their plans last night, and that's Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who says she will support these witnesses and join Democrats. That leaves one final Republican we'll be watching today, and that is Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Let's take a listen to Murkowski as she was leaving the chamber last night.


LISA MURKOWSKI: So I'm going to go back to my office, going to put some eyedrops in so that I can keep reading. And I've been forming a lot of thoughts. And so that's going to be my job now at - what is it? - 11 - almost 11 o'clock.

GRISALES: She told us she's planning to announce her decision sometime before the trial returns to session this afternoon. There were a dozen journalists in front of her office camping out. I joined them this morning anxiously awaiting word. We're still waiting. So these three swing Republicans are facing this enormous pressure from within their own party to fall in line and block these witnesses. So we remain in suspense if Murkowski will push for witnesses or bend to the will of the GOP.

KING: Well, Claudia, what happens if 50 senators say yes, we vote for witnesses, and the other 50 senators say no, we don't want witnesses?

GRISALES: And that's possible. It could happen. If Murkowski joins Collins and Romney to call for witnesses, that would result in this 50/50 tie, which is an awkward conclusion to all of this debate. And technically, Chief Justice John Roberts could intervene to break the tie, but we're really not expecting that. So what could more likely happen is we're expecting Murkowski could possibly join the Republicans and say no, but she's definitely keeping us in suspense. And if she says yes, it will fail, and they will move on to this bigger question of acquit or remove the president.

KING: On the question of witnesses, though, Democrats have been saying the public is on our side. What do they mean by that?

GRISALES: So they're pointing to polls. For example, Quinnipiac University had a poll released earlier this week. It said 75% of those they surveyed said witnesses should be in this trial. So they have a pretty large backing when they say that. House impeachment manager Adam Schiff also said that it would set a dangerous precedent to have a trial with no witnesses. Let's take a listen.


ADAM SCHIFF: I agree with counsel about one thing they said. If we have a trial with no witnesses, that will be a new precedent. We should be very concerned about the precedent we set here because it will mean heretofore that when a president is impeached, that one party can deny the other witnesses. And that will be the new normal - trials without witnesses.

GRISALES: Schiff went as far to propose they could limit the window when they bring in witnesses to maybe a week, trying to an address a key talking point by Republicans who said this will drag out the trial for many more weeks to come. But for now, it appears that argument has fallen on deaf ears.

KING: And based on what you're saying, it seems that it is possible that this impeachment trial could finish tonight.

GRISALES: It's very possible. They'll start with several hours of debate on this witness question. If the motion fails, there could be other motions or could be many amendments. So there's expectations it could really run late into the night. But Republicans are really hoping to end it with this final question to end the trial and move on to the Senate's other legislative work.

KING: OK. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thanks, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.