Two GOP sources confirm: Yes, McConnell now thinks he has the votes to defeat calling witnesses

The possibility of a 50/50 deadlock on witnesses was fun but unlikely, since it probably would have achieved nothing and only annoyed Republicans. Roberts likely would have declined to cast a tiebreaking vote, throwing the trial into momentary chaos and handing Democrats a new way to add an asterisk to Trump’s eventual acquittal.

Murkowski opted to vote no to spare everyone that chaos, I bet. Collins needs to vote for witnesses because it’ll help her in Maine to do so and Romney needs to vote for witnesses because Romney is Romney, but Murkowski doesn’t need to vote for them. She’s not up until 2022 and her state is redder than Collins’s is. She might have voted for them if there were a 51st vote in the bank to actually make it happen. But if there isn’t, what’s to be gained by doing so? Better to spare everyone from a “What the hell happens now?” headache and earn some easy brownie points with Trump fans.

ABC reports that McConnell thinks it’s a done deal:

After more than 90 questions and 8 hours of debate on Wednesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated to Republican senators he believes he now has the votes to defeat any Democratic motion that the Senate consider new witnesses when the Senate decides that question on Friday, according to two GOP sources. That would allow him to skip to the final stages of the trial, the sources said…

Asked if he has the votes [McConnell] needs to win the day Friday on witnesses, he responded, “We’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Then, when asked if he felt confident about the vote, he turned his head and with a sly grin and said, “I always do.”

An inconvenient but amusing fact: There’s no reason why Republicans can’t vote to call witnesses and then choose to call *only* defense witnesses. Lindsey Graham’s spent a lot of energy lately huffing and puffing over how important it is that someone investigate the Bidens and Burisma. Well, they have 51 votes (presumably) to do so right now. They could have Collins vote against them in order to protect her left flank and then force Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, and whoever else to take the stand. Democrats would screech that it’s unfair to call only defense witnesses but McConnell could counter that it’s perfectly fair considering that only prosecution witnesses were called during the House process. All Republicans are doing now is restoring a little balance.

Why don’t they do that? If it’s so important to hear from Hunter Biden, let’s hear from him.

An op-ed today in the Times argues that, in fact, calling Hunter Biden might be a bad idea for Trump and the GOP:

Having him appear as a witness could expose the fatuity of the Republicans’ efforts to smear him and his father. In fact, a number of Republicans actually don’t want to call the younger Biden. They’re worried about the circus atmosphere that might present — and they’d rather have the issue linger as a useful weapon. Acceding to Hunter as a witness would call the Republicans’ bluff.

Having Joe Biden’s son testify would illuminate the Bidens’ irrelevance to the issue of whether the president held up congressionally appropriated military assistance for Ukraine until the Ukrainian president announced — not necessarily conducted, just announced — a government investigation into the Bidens’ role. An appearance by Hunter before Senate questioners now could also go some distance toward removing him as an issue in the general election, should his father be the Democratic nominee. In fact, Hunter could be the star witness as to why a president’s (or vice president’s) offspring should stay out of any business that might have something to do with their parents’ job.

That’s awfully optimistic about how Biden’s testimony would play. Trump’s apparent goal in pressuring Zelensky to announce an investigation into Burisma was to insinuate wrongdoing by one or more Bidens; the investigation itself appears to have been a secondary concern for the cynical but understandable reason that it might theoretically have cleared them. All POTUS wants and needs from this is suspicion, not resolution. Cross-examining Hunter Biden could be used to insinuate all sorts of things about his personal corruption or Joe Biden’s personal corruption without actually getting to the truth of it, which is why it’s so potentially valuable to Republicans to do it.

So why don’t they do it? The president’s been hyping Hunter Biden’s testimony to Trump fans for months. Now they can make it happen without a single Democratic vote — and they’re uninterested.

It sure is going to be interesting to see how keen Graham and other Republicans are to pursue the Burisma investigation if Bernie ends up blowing Joe Biden out of the water next month. If it’s true that Trump and the GOP took up this matter because they’re concerned about corruption, not about the election, then Biden’s fate in Iowa and New Hampshire should be immaterial to their pursuit of Joe and Hunter. We’ll see if it is. In the meantime, I wonder if Joe Biden is tempted to pull a “turnabout is fair play” move and announce that if he’s elected one of his first acts as president will be to contact foreign leaders and ask if they know anything about corruption by potential 2024 Republican candidates. Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer won’t like that since the party line on the Ukraine matter at the moment is that it’s an impeachable offense, something no decent person would dare to emulate. Can’t have their own presidential frontrunner turn around and say, “I’ll emulate it.”

But it’s inevitable that someone will down the road, whether Biden, Bernie, Warren, whoever, will say: “If this is how Republicans want politics to work, we’ll accommodate them.” Maybe it won’t happen this cycle, since Democrats are probably going to run as the “party of norms” or whatever. But if Trump wins, it’ll be an absolute race to the bottom in the 2024 campaign.

Here’s something that’s happening on the Hill today because impeachment wasn’t already enough of a circus. Exit question: Is there going to be a new Bolton bombshell this afternoon or this evening? Last weekend’s leak about his book was obviously timed to try to influence tomorrow’s vote. It appears not to have worked. If the leaker has anything more incriminating in his pocket, it’s now or never.

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