A morning shot of political caffeine for all of our populist readers. Nothing gets the day started with some pep quite like hatin’ on Mitt does.
He said the same thing a week ago but it got lost in the shuffle of the news about Soleimani’s killing and Iran’s retaliation. People are paying attention now, though. “I have no words for Mitt Romney,” said an exasperated Laura Ingraham last night on Fox. “I supported him in 2012. I like Mitt Romney. I have no words for him. Just none.” To which Gregg Jarrett replied, “Romney belongs to the Romney party.”
I suspect Romney sincerely does believe he has a duty to find facts as part of a fact-finding exercise like a trial but he’s also providing some cover to Susan Collins and Cory Gardner by taking this position. I won’t bore you again with the arguments for why centrist Republicans who are facing reelection next fall might (reluctantly) prefer to have a witness or two; you can read this post or this one from yesterday for that. The bottom line is that they want to put on a good show at the trial to make it less credible when Democrats inevitably attack them for participating in a “sham” or a “cover up.” If Bolton says he’s willing to testify and McConnell manages to block his testimony anyway, the “sham” attacks on Collins and Gardner get easier — even if they themselves vote with Democrats to call Bolton.
Romney, in other words, may be willingly providing them with cover by agreeing to call Bolton. His is an extra vote towards getting to 51. And his outspokenness about hearing from Bolton makes him a lightning rod for Trump fans, possibly shielding Collins and Gardner from some populist heat when they end up sharing his position. Plus, don’t forget the data in yesterday’s Quinnipiac poll on calling Bolton: Not only do two-thirds of Americans support it, so do a plurality of Republicans (39/35). Whether that’s because populists think Bolton will end up clearing Trump when he testifies or because Trump-skeptical GOPers think Bolton might incriminate him (or both) is unclear, but the polls thus far in favor of calling new witnesses are strongly in favor and he’s the most obvious new witness to call. Collins and Gardner need to reckon with that ahead of tough reelection bids.
The question isn’t whether they’re going to try to call Bolton, the question is what sort of concessions they might have to make to Trump to compensate for that. There’s no way MAGA Nation will stand for Bolton being the only witness called. If the Dems get new testimony, Trump gets some too. Hugh Hewitt interviewed Tom Cotton and Jim Inhofe this morning and proposed a one-for-one trade in which the defense gets to call a new witness for each new prosecution witness called. Neither senator would absolutely commit to that but both told Hewitt that they can’t imagine a scenario in which Bolton is the only new witness to testify. Rand Paul was even more explicit in a tweet last night about the potential cost to Democrats in calling Bolton:
My colleagues can’t have it both ways. Calling for some, while blocking others. If we are going to give a platform to witnesses the Dems demand, I look forward to forcing votes to call Hunter Biden and many more! https://t.co/hrOzVyiG9x
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 14, 2020
Ted Cruz went further in his own interview with Hewitt this morning, suggesting that Trump should have the right to call whichever witnesses he wants irrespective of what the prosecution ends up doing: “If the Senate wants to call Hunter Biden, if the Senate wants to call the whistleblower, due process dictates that he have the opportunity to present his defense.” Collins and Gardner aren’t going to let that happen — they want a semblance of a thorough process but not one so thorough that it ends up dragging the trial out and exposing them to further political risk — but fairness to Trump is a major consideration for them in approaching this subject. One new witness apiece for House Dems and for Trump feels like the most probable compromise. I hope Hunter Biden’s calendar is clear this month.
Here’s the White House via Hogan Gidley accommodating itself to the reality that Bolton’s going to be called.
WH now claims it's open to witnesses: If you'd been falsely accused of a crime, "you want ever witness to come forward too" pic.twitter.com/W7pDM7jZwE
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) January 14, 2020