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This Senate Witness Game Is Lose-Lose For Republicans, But One Path Leads To Ruin

Mitt Romney in Gilbert, Arizona in 2018. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Don’t be fooled by high-minded pontificating about this duty or that — muddied paralysis at the hands of a media-cheered sham is not the noble business of statesmen.


The first month of 2020 is coming to a close, the days are growing longer and impeachment longer still.

It’s been more than three years since elected Democrats first floated impeaching then-President-Elect Donald Trump, and four months since Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially launched her impeachment inquiry. In Republican corners, whispers about summoning witnesses quickly followed because that’s how it goes.

As in the tragic and sordid case of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, inconsequential media stories billed as “bombshells” are lobbed against weak-kneed Republican senators side by side with reporters’ demands they drag the process out further. Even right-leaning commentators obsess over the Senate’s role as deliberative body of statesmen carefully considering all facts, forgetting the farcical journey this has been from the very beginning.

In impeachment much more than with Kavanaugh, the stakes appear high for Democrats as well. Despite Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s insistence that only witnesses who assists his case can be responsibly called forth, the reality is the GOP controls the upper chamber and if they call witnesses, their majority can call anyone they please. An appearance by John Bolton, a funny Democratic darling, is sure to be followed by Hunter Biden and a slew of other fact-witnesses central to the case. So why would the Democrats risk winning this high-stakes game of chicken?

The answer depends on the path Republicans choose to take, but it appears Democrats see this national disaster as a win-win.

If McConnell is able to hold Republican members to the line and there is no vote to allow further witnesses, Democrats will cry foul. The trial, they’ll say, is illegitimate and cannot count as a true vindication of the president. Of course, they said this when the president won the election and when their long-awaited Robert Mueller report was released, but that won’t stop them from saying it again.

The only result they’ll call legitimate is the result that destroys Donald Trump, and while previous Democratic disappointments showed the American people are deplorable or that Mueller wasn’t up to the job, they will say this result proves the Senate is a corrupted body. There truly is no limit to the American systems they are willing to tear down to stop this president, and they will take it all back to the voters in November.

If McConnell is unable to hold Republicans and the witness line is crossed, Democrats might take a beating but the impeachment trial will be dragged still further on, hobbling McConnell’s agenda on major issues. Judicial nominations? Maybe even a nomination to the Supreme Court? All will fall by wayside next to the Senate’s constitutional duty. And don’t be fooled by high-minded pontificating about this duty or that — muddied paralysis at the hands of a media-cheered sham is not the noble business of statesmen.

Republicans are bound to take hits in this process, no matter the path they take. But make no mistake: One path leads to partisan attacks; the other could lead to the end of a conservative judicial agenda. So stiff upper lip, senators, and think the pain your finest hour.