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2 key GOP swing votes will vote against witnesses in the impeachment trial

Sens. Lamar Alexander and Lisa Murkowski have effectively decided the outcome of a vote on witnesses.

Sen. Lamar Alexander...
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., arrives in the Capitol for a vote on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.
Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have made up their minds.

Both moderates, who have long been closely watched swing votes in the Senate impeachment trial, will not be voting in favor of calling witnesses. Their announcements effectively decide the outcome of a witness vote expected late Friday, and deal a major blow to Democrats who have pushed for additional testimony from individuals with direct knowledge about the White House’s handling of aid to Ukraine. They also signal that the Senate will swiftly move toward acquittal, after checking off some procedural boxes.

The two Senate Republicans offered slightly different reasons for their final decision.

Alexander concluded that the Democrats did prove their case against Trump, and were able to demonstrate that he conditioned military aid on the announcement of political investigations. Even so, he said, these actions do not meet the threshold of an impeachable offense.

“There is no need for more evidence to prove something that has already been proven and that does not meet the US Constitution’s high bar for an impeachable offense,” he wrote.

Murkowski, meanwhile, did not indicate whether she believed that the Democrats had made their case — but called out Congress writ large for failing as an institution.

In her statement, Murkowski slammed the House’s “flawed” and “rushed” articles of impeachment, while signaling that she wasn’t interested in drawing Chief Justice John Roberts into a fight over a potential tie vote. Although Roberts wasn’t expected to break a tie over witnesses, the scenario would have shifted the focus onto his role in the trial.

Murkowski, too, noted that she did not see the addition of witness testimony changing the outcome of the trial. “I don’t believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed,” she said.

Murkowski and Alexander, along with Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) were among a handful of lawmakers considered potential swing votes on the witness question. As of Friday afternoon, Romney and Collins were the only Republicans to indicate that they were in favor of calling witnesses.

Without Murkowski and Alexander, Democrats don’t have the pivotal four votes they need to reach a 51-vote simple majority that’s required to approve motions for witnesses. As a result, Trump’s impeachment trial is poised to be the first one in US history that does not include witness testimony.

What comes next

The official vote on whether to allow witnesses is still slated to take place on Friday afternoon, after additional arguments from the House impeachment managers and Trump’s legal defense team.

With the Senate on track to reject the consideration of more witnesses, the trial is set to move quickly toward an acquittal vote later this weekend, or even next week. Democrats intend to force a number of votes to delay the process, but the proceedings aren’t expected to stretch beyond the coming week.

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