The Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump will likely take place soon, considering the recent revelation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she’s prepared to send the chamber’s impeachment case to the Senate this coming week. (The resolution to do so will accompany the naming of managers for the House’s case, whose identities aren’t publicly known yet.) Ahead of any actual resolution formally outlining rules for the trial, the closely watched Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins has revealed to reporters that she’s working with a “fairly small” group of Republican Senators to allow for witnesses at Trump’s trial.
Witness testimony has been a main point of contention, with Democrats arguing that calling witnesses is necessary for fairness and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) countering that witnesses would supposedly turn the trial into a “fishing expedition,” despite the fact that every impeachment trial that the Senate has ever conducted has featured witness testimony. Democrats want to hear from figures with firsthand insight into the president’s scheme to get Ukraine to investigate his opponents, including Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton, the latter of whom said he’ll testify if subpoenaed.
This past Friday, Collins explained:
‘We should be completely open to calling witnesses. I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on how to proceed with the trial that will allow the opportunity for both the House and the president’s counsel if they choose to do so.’
She did not reveal the identities of those in the group, but McConnell likely has to have the support of Collins and her fellow “moderates” to move forward with any trial plan at all, so their voice could be decisive. Collins and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski (R) have already said that they’re prepared to postpone even considering the question of witnesses until after opening arguments and initial (written) questions from Senators — but they’ve each also countered McConnell’s plan for full cooperation with the White House to speed through an acquittal for Trump. Murkowski called that plan “disturbing.”
Collins is one of a few top targets for Trump opponents, both inside and outside of the impeachment proceedings. The group Republicans for the Rule of Law launched video ads targeting her constituents with demands that she support the presence of witnesses at the trial, and separately, her at times dramatically lowering popular support as measured in polls has driven the Cook Political Report to rate her 2020 re-election race a “toss-up.” Although in the past, she’s broken with the party on high-profile issues like health care and the impeachment of Bill Clinton — who she voted to acquit — recent developments like her support of Trump’s highly controversial U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have helped drive down her support.
Other incumbent Republican Senators facing toss-up elections in 2020 include Colorado’s Cory Gardner and Arizona’s Martha McSally, while two other seats — the one held in North Carolina by Thom Tillis and the open one in Kansas — are rated as “lean Republican,” which is the last stop before toss-up. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been rumored to be considering a run for that Kansas seat, but he quit that speculation.