It’s been in the background as a sort of implicit threat all along. But the idea that Senate Republicans might respond to any vote to let Democrats call John Bolton or some other alleged witness to Trump’s impeachable conduct with a demand to hear someone who might buttress the president’s very thin case is gaining strength, according to Republican-whisperer Byron York. And in particular, the “prebuttal” House impeachment managers offered on Thursday the claim that Hunter or Joe Biden’s ties to Ukraine justified Trump’s conduct has gotten Republicans more interested in hearing from one or other of the famous family right there in the Senate chamber:
Most Senate Republicans do not want to call any witnesses to the Trump impeachment trial. Many think that position will prevail, and no witnesses will be called. Still, they realize there is the possibility they will have no choice. If four of their GOP colleagues join with the Senate’s 47 Democrats to demand witnesses, then there will be witnesses. At that point, the question will be not whether but who …
Republican thinking about Hunter Biden began to solidify after Democrats spent much of Thursday dismissing the allegation that Biden’s lucrative paycheck from Ukrainian energy company Burisma had anything to do with actions taken by his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to pressure Ukraine to fire a top prosecutor …
Listening, Republicans sensed that Democrats were opening the door to calling Hunter Biden to testify. “Lots of us were astonished at how central they made the Bidens today,” one Republican senator said Thursday evening.
Another GOP senator, Josh Hawley, told Fox News’s Special Report, “If we call witnesses, I think the House has made it very clear, we’re going to have to call Hunter Biden and probably Joe Biden.”
This could, of course, just be a brushback pitch, offered to warn Democrats that the demand for witnesses will open a can of worms that might displease them in the long run. And the likelihood of it actually happening may depend on how a successful Democratic motion to hear witnesses is framed. If it explicitly allows both sides to call one or more witnesses, then the door is wide open to a Republican counterstrategy that would land one or two Bidens in the dock. But if the motion is simply one to call a single witness like Bolton, Republicans will have to make sure they have 51 votes for whoever they want to haul into the trial. It’s possible some of the other senators wouldn’t want to force their former colleague Uncle Joe to testify alongside his son.
Meanwhile, York reports, a different Republican witness strategy is being urged by the kibitzers from the House, who remain obsessed with making the Senate trial an opportunity to air their various “witch hunt” theories.
On Thursday, I asked eight House Republicans who they believed the best witness would be. Their answers were quite different than their Senate colleagues.
Five chose the whistleblower. Three chose impeachment leader Rep. Adam Schiff. Even though I gave them the option of picking Hunter Biden as well, only one said he would also pick Biden along with his first pick, the whistleblower.
Part of the problem with calling Hunter Biden, as some of them see it, is the sheer unpredictability of what he would say and where his testimony would take the Senate trial. No lawmaker seeking a quick acquittal of the president would want the trial to veer off in an uncharted direction. But the GOP House members’ answers also reflected a different perspective on the case. Most are deeply suspicious about the origins of the House Democrats’ Trump-Ukraine investigation, and they want the Senate to know about those origins before voting on impeachment.
It would be amusing if Republicans wound up giving even more floor time to the budding progressive rock star Adam Schiff, who is unlikely to fall into the kind of clumsy traps House GOP oafs would design for him. But they do have a point that making the trial focus on Hunter Biden could take the proceedings in a weird and potentially unproductive direction, while perhaps casting even more doubt on the president’s alleged fear that this bumbling, troubled man represented a global corruption threat.
We can expect more maneuvering over witnesses in both parties between now and the point next week when motions to hear new evidence are likely to emerge. Democrats really can’t retreat from their demands since they have devoted one of their two articles of impeachment to the president’s obstruction of Congress in fighting to keep witnesses like Bolton and Mick Mulvaney from testifying. And it also remains likely that any Republican senators who decide to defy McConnell and Trump on a witness like Bolton will want to exhibit their fair-mindedness by giving the president’s team a witness of their own, however irrelevant to the case being tried. But you can expect Republicans to fight for a quick trial as long as it’s a possibility. After all, the man they are defending has a big speech to give in the House chamber on February 4, unless he decides to deliver the whole State of the Union Address on Twitter.