Report: White House, Senate GOP increasingly confident that no witnesses will be called

Romney has said he wants to hear from Bolton and is a bit more immune to Trumpist criticism in a safe seat in Utah than most members of the caucus are. That’s one vote to call witnesses. Collins has said said she’s “likely” to support calling witnesses and really has no choice but to feel that way, as she can’t afford to make things too easy on Democrats in mounting their “COVER-UP” attack on her this fall in Maine. That’s two votes.

But two Republican votes isn’t enough for Schumer. If that’s all he gets, he loses 51/49. Who’s the third — and fourth — vote to get him to 51? Lamar Alexander is too much of a McConnell buddy, I think. Cory Gardner is terrified of his own base. And Murkowski sounds increasingly grim about what she’s seen the past few days.

For McConnell, a 51/49 (or 52/48) vote against calling witnesses would be ideal. Collins gets to vote in favor in order to protect herself in Maine and the rest of the caucus lines up to slam-dunk the verdict ASAP, possibly by next weekend in time for the State of the Union on the 4th.

CNN says that’s how things are shaping up:

Democrats will scream about the trial being a sham if that’s the way it goes down, but really it’d be the optimal outcome for both sides. There’s no guarantee that John Bolton would say anything particularly damaging about Trump under oath, and if he didn’t, it would be a devastating blow to the Democrats’ PR effort. The media would hype Bolton’s testimony relentlessly; if it ended up as a bust, casual impeachment-watchers would treat it as evidence that the entire Democratic case is weak.

And the odds of it being a bust are certainly higher than the odds of Bolton producing a smoking gun that suddenly makes acquittal a tough vote for Republicans.

So Democrats are better off with Bolton silenced and heralded by the press as the man who wanted to talk but was prevented from doing so by the evil GOP in order to cover up Trump’s corrupt scheme. Especially since Bolton — and others — are destined to talk anyway, on their own terms:

Even with the president’s impeachment trial racing toward a swift acquittal for Trump, Republicans have seen a drip, drip, drip of information in recent days about Trump’s role in pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival. They liken it to the repeated allegations of misconduct lodged against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his 2018 confirmation fight, and fear they’re witnessing an election-year repeat…

On Jan. 2, the national security website Just Security published internal emails that indicated Trump personally directed staff to withhold U.S. aid to Ukraine. On Jan. 14, House Democrats released documents that included photos of an indicted associate of Trump’s attorney with Trump’s family and top aides. Two days later, the Government Accountability Office concluded the White House budget office violated the law when it froze U.S. military aid to Ukraine. And the next day, House Democrats released newly obtained texts capturing a discussion about the surveillance of the ousted U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch…

“Democrats are going to keep releasing to their media friends supposedly ‘new’ info to demand more investigation and witnesses anytime the trial is nearly over,” said a Senate GOP aide, who described it as a “rolling production.”

I think it’ll go on long after the trial ends. Bolton’s book will come out later this year and he’ll talk about Ukraine. If he says *anything* critical about Trump, Dems will pounce and claim that it just goes to show how egregious the GOP’s refusal to call him was. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman may have more information too. Who knows what Mick Mulvaney might say once he’s finally been terminated as chief of staff. The Democrats’ goal isn’t to win the Senate trial, which is politically impossible, but to make the GOP pay the steepest political price they can for voting “not guilty.” The “trial” on the Ukraine matter that’s being held before the electorate will go on for nine more months.

By the way, I think the harrumphing by Senate Republicans over Schiff’s reference last night to their heads being put on metaphorical pikes is one of the most laughably obvious cases of fake outrage I’ve ever seen. *Maybe* the outrage is genuine in Murkowski’s case; she got elected as an independent write-in candidate in 2010 and might treat it as a point of pride that she can’t be bullied by Trump and McConnell the way other senators can. (She declined to vote for Kavanaugh, remember.) The reason the rest of them are mad at Schiff for acknowledging the intense partisan pressure they’re under isn’t because what he said is false but because it’s true, and so obviously true that we all routinely acknowledge it when chatting about the trial. Susan Collins is an ironclad vote to acquit Trump and has been since the moment Democrats impeached him, irrespective of how she might view the evidence, because she understands that furious Trump fans in Maine would boycott her Senate race if she voted to remove him. She’d be dead on arrival, her head on a metaphorical pike, and it’s entirely likely that Trump would encourage it by complaining long and loudly about her betrayal publicly.

We all understand this, as did whichever Trump confidant gave that now famous quote to CBS. (I still think it’s Bannon.) But Collins and the rest don’t like the public being reminded of it because their goal here, contra the Democrats, is to make the verdict look as legitimate as possible. They’re not voting to acquit because they’ll be unemployed if they don’t, they insist. They’re voting to acquit because the Democratic case is just that weak, and how dare Adam Schiff suggest otherwise. Senate Dems were scoffing at their manufactured outrage last night:

“The most dangerous place in America, maybe in Washington, is to stand by the exit door at the White House because when you fall out of favor with this president, he lops off your head, throws your body in the snow and buries you in vicious tweets,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat, when asked about the GOP reaction to the line…

Asked about the outrage from Republicans, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who won reelection in 2018 in a red state, said Schiff’s comment wasn’t a mistake and that “in some cases people are just looking for excuses.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added in a tweet that Republicans were jumping on the line as a distraction to avoid the substance of the allegations against President Trump.

“Let’s be clear – Come hell or high water Republicans were going to find something the House managers said that outraged them,” Murphy said.

Thought experiment: Imagine that Trump himself made the “heads on pikes” point in a tweet. Make the tweet as colorful or non-colorful as you like in your imagination, as long as it preserves the central threat. E.g., “Any Republican senator who votes to remove based on this partisan witch hunt will quickly find themselves looking for work!” How would all the Republican voters who are pretend-outraged today at Schiff citing the “heads on pikes” comment react?

They’d high-five. “G-DDAMNED RIGHT. These RINOs need to remember who’s boss.” So what’s the complaint with Schiff? That he had the nerve to frankly acknowledge that Republicans will need to vote a certain way in the end whether or not they’re truly skeptical of the case?

The proper response to that isn’t to huff and puff about his audacity. It’s to point out that most of the Democrats in the chamber are under the same partisan pressure to vote the other way. You think if Kamala Harris were to vote to acquit that progressives in California wouldn’t break out the pikes for her when she runs again? It can’t be said enough: Impeachment is a political process. If Schiff devoting one sentence in a 24-hour presentation to acknowledge the partisan elephant in the room is some sort of dealbreaker then his Senate critics are actually proving his point. They were never really persuadable. They were looking for reasons to disregard the evidence and they found one. He insulted me.

In fact, here’s something Trump actually tweeted this morning. As of 12:30 ET, I have yet to hear any indignant clucking from Senate Republicans about the lack of decorum or whatever:

He should just tweet “Vote ‘not guilty’ or your head’s going on a pike” and watch everyone scramble. That’s one of his best qualities, frankly, his ability to expose other people’s BS, however inadvertently.

Exit question: If the GOP votes not to call any witnesses, are they guaranteeing that the verdict will be purely party-line? I think Joe Manchin wants to vote for acquittal but he’s already on record as saying that any trial without John Bolton’s testimony would be a sham. Doug Jones and Kyrsten Sinema will also have a hell of a time politically voting to acquit with their party full-throatedly screaming about a cover-up because witnesses weren’t called. On the other hand, if they think the record is incomplete because Bolton wasn’t heard from, how do they turn around and vote to remove based on an incomplete record? I think they’ll all end up voting “present” or something like that. Whereas if Republicans called Bolton and he didn’t have anything terribly incriminating to say, they’d get Manchin and maybe even Sinema to join them on the big vote.