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5 Republican senators to watch as the impeachment trial gets underway

The group could shape key terms of the trial.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) boards an elevator after speaking about Turkey and Syria on the Senate floor on October 17, 2019.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/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.

At least one Republican senator doesn’t think any of his colleagues will ultimately break with President Trump and vote in favor of convicting the president in the impeachment trial.

“I really think the verdict has already been decided as well. I don’t think any Republicans are going to vote for impeachment,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told the Hill last week. Ultimately, Paul may be right. The likelihood of Trump being convicted at this point is very low: Twenty Republicans would have to join with Democrats to vote to do so. And several, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have already indicated that they favor the president’s position — despite taking an oath to be impartial jurors.

Before lawmakers get to a vote on conviction and acquittal, however, there is expected to be a rather intense fight over whether to call witnesses to testify in the trial.

And currently, the expectation is that some Republicans, namely Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Mitt Romney (UT), and Lisa Murkowski (AK), might wind up bucking their party on that. Others who are facing highly competitive reelection races, like Sen. Cory Gardner (CO), could also feel pressure from constituents to back the call for additional witnesses and evidence.

Given the role they could play in these pivotal votes, this group of Republican senators will be the ones to watch, at least during the early phases of the impeachment trial.

Their pushback, while limited, could give Democrats the four votes they need to advance subpoenas for witnesses like former National Security Adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. However, it’s worth noting their support could also bolster Republican efforts to call for Hunter Biden’s testimony. (A New York Times report indicated that Republicans could press for “witness reciprocity,” including the testimony of both former Vice President Joe Biden and Hunter, his son, if Democrats sought to call their top witnesses.)

Depending on how damning any additional testimony is, it could well provide Democrats further ammunition to use against Trump in the 2020 election. Trump is counting on Republican senators’ support, reportedly calling McConnell frequently to stress the need for GOP unity.

Now that the trial is underway, here are the five lawmakers we’re watching and what they’ve said on the subject of witnesses so far:

Susan Collins

Collins is among the most vulnerable Republicans this cycle, and she’ll need to win over a hefty number of independents to hang on to her seat in Maine.

She’s said she is working with a small group of Republicans to back witnesses, and would likely support an effort to call witnesses later in the trial — a move she also endorsed during Bill Clinton’s trial in 1999. She hasn’t pushed back on potential plans to call Hunter Biden, either:

While I need to hear the case argued and the questions answered, I tend to believe having additional information would be helpful. It is likely that I would support a motion to call witnesses at that point in the trial, just as I did in 1999.

I have not made a decision on any particular witnesses. When we reach the appropriate point in the trial, I would like to hear from both sides about which witnesses, if any, they would like to call. (Collins statement)

Mitt Romney

Romney, the on-again, off-again Trump critic, has said he’d be interested in hearing from Bolton and signaled that he’d probably vote in favor of more witness testimony:

I support the Clinton impeachment model, which is a vote on witnesses later. But as to which witnesses I’d want to hear from and so forth, that’s something which I’m open to until after the opening arguments.

Including John Bolton, yes. He’s someone who I would like to hear from, and presumably I get the chance to vote for that. (MSNBC)

Lisa Murkowski

Murkowski, a Republican who previously broke with Trump on now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the Affordable Care Act, has said she’d be “curious” to hear what Bolton has to say but wouldn’t make that decision until later on in the process:

I won’t know until we get there. I need to hear first from both sides. I’ll only be able to formulate my questions [while listening] to the questions and responses from members. We’ll all have the opportunity to weigh in. That’s what we’re trying to do is make sure that we all have a guaranteed opportunity [to weigh in]. (Washington Post)

Cory Gardner

Gardner is also a vulnerable Republican this cycle, and constituent pressure in the increasingly purple Colorado could push him to buck the party on witnesses. He hasn’t commented directly on whether he’d support the effort, though:

We have a trial. That’s where we’re at right now. I take my impartiality duty seriously. (

Lamar Alexander

The Tennessee senator, who’s retiring this cycle, has been floated by Democrats in the past as someone who could wind up voting alongside them on the issue of witnesses. He’s spoken more broadly about the need to do a thorough job on the trial:

We should hear the case, not dismiss it. We should hear the arguments, we should ask our questions, and then we should vote on whether we need additional evidence. And I think that’s a fair and impartial way to go about it. (Washington Post)

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