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Transcript: No Witnesses, New Timeline

The full episode transcript for Article II: Inside Impeachment, No Witnesses, New Timeline.
Image: Mitt Romney Susan Collins
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Article II: Inside Impeachment

No Witnesses, New Timeline

Chief Justice John Roberts: The question is shall it be in order to consider and debate under the impeachment rules any motion to subpoena witnesses or documents. The yeas and nays are required under Senate Resolution 483. The clerk will call the roll.

Clerk: Mr. Alexander?

Lamar Alexander: No.

Clerk: No. Ms. Baldwin?

Tammy Baldwin: Aye.

Clerk: Aye. Mr. Barrasso?

John Barrasso: No.

Clerk: Mr. Bennet? Aye.

Steve Kornacki: From NBC News, this is Article II: Inside Impeachment. I'm Steve Kornacki. It is late on Friday night, January 31st. And we're back with an update on what has been a long day in the Senate trial. And once again, we have with us Frank Thorp, NBC News producer covering Congress. Frank, we said we'd see you on the other side, but we're still not at the other side, I guess.

Frank Thorp: Yeah, we're still kind of in the middle of it.

Kornacki: So let's talk about what happened today, because when I talked to you this morning, I think it seemed there was a pretty clear sense around the capitol what was gonna happen today and what happened today didn't exactly go that way. So let's start on the vote on witnesses.

This did go sort of as expected. We've been building this for weeks. Would they have witnesses in this trial? The vote was today. Democrats needed to get four Republicans to flip. They didn't get it. Take us through what happened on that vote.

Thorp: So yeah, when we spoke this morning, it was a situation where we knew we had Senator Lamar Alexander was a "no" on the witness question. And what happened since is Senator Lisa Murkowski, the Republican from Alaska also came out against the idea of calling additional witnesses and asking for additional documents.

Clerk: Ms. Murkowski.

Lisa Murkowski: No.

Clerk: No. Mr. Murphy.

Thorp: And her argument was basically that there was nothing that they could do to fix what she calls a "flawed process in the House." And she also kind of didn't really wanna put the chief justice in an awkward position of having to be questioned about whether or not he should break a tie. She would've been the 50th vote for witnesses. And that motion ended up going down 49-51.

Archival Recording: The motion is not agreed to.

Thorp: There were two Republicans that voted yes, Mitt Romney.

Clerk: Mr. Romney?

Mitt Romney: Aye.

Clerk: Aye.

Thorp: And Susan Collins.

Clerk: Ms. Collins?

Susan Collins: Aye.

Clerk: Aye.

Thorp: Both of those had announced the day before that they were going to be a yes on the question of whether or not additional witnesses and documents are brought. But once Lisa Murkowski came out and said she was a no, it became very clear what was going to happen four hours later when they actually voted.

Archival Recording: Under the previous order, the Senate stands in recess, subject to the call of the chair.

Kornacki: So no witnesses. That was the big wildcard here. If they had witnesses, this could extend for days, for weeks, I guess. The possibility that some of this would be taken to court. None of that is gonna happen now. What does happen next?

Thorp: Right, the other thing that we were thinking that could possibly happen today is the idea that they could just wrap up. There were a number of Republicans who were hoping that they could just, after that witness question went down, just go to a final vote on the articles of impeachment, wrap it up.

They felt like they had heard enough, they didn't need to hear any more arguments and they could just finish this tonight and then go home for the weekend and be done with it. Turns out that didn't happen. So after some conversations among senators with both Democrats and Republicans, also negotiations with the White House, they came to an agreement to lay out a plan that would end up having the final vote on the articles of impeachment next Wednesday.

That's the day after the State of the Union is supposed to happen on Tuesday. That's two days after Iowa is supposed to happen. But right now, what we have is a procedure in place that was approved by all Republicans, all 53 Republicans, that would give them the weekend off.

They have the weekend off, those 22 Democrats can go and campaign in Iowa for the weekend, but they need to be back on Monday at 11:00 for closing arguments. There's gonna be four hours of closing arguments. And then senators will be able to give speeches on the Senate floor, basically what they're gonna call "open deliberations."

This is the chance for senators to get on the record, considering the senators haven't been able to speak on the floor during this entire trial. They've had to just sit there and listen. So now, we have a situation where there's gonna be a period of time, starting on Monday and ending on Wednesday, where senators will be able to stand up on the Senate floor and explain why they plan on voting to either acquit or to convict. But that will culminate with what is a vote that's been locked in with this resolution at 4:00 on Wednesday on the two articles of impeachment.

Kornacki: So that is fascinating. You're saying these Democratic senators who are running for president, they'll get the weekend out in Iowa, but Monday, that could still be a campaigning day, these caucuses don't start till 7:00 local time out there, but they're gonna be back in the Senate Monday afternoon for business on the impeachment trial.

Talking about all of these discussions, all of these negotiations that resulted in this new timeframe, was that pressure mainly coming from Democrats to extend this? Were there Republicans who were uneasy with the idea of wrapping it up today?

Thorp: There were some Republicans that were actually uneasy about the idea of wrapping it up. There was the divide within the Republican party about whether or not they wanted to just wrap it up quickly, or whether or not they wanted these kind of closing arguments and these deliberations.

You have to remember that the idea of deliberations and the idea of closing arguments are kind of like something that's set in the Senate rules. It's like a precedent thing. It's like, you know, the completion of this process, the totality of the event requires them to include closing arguments and deliberations.

And there were some moderate senators that we were told that were pushing for that ability, that ability to give a speech, to ability to say why they want to vote the way they want to vote publicly. Of course, we had a number of Republicans, including, you know, Senator Lindsey Graham who said they just wanted to wrap it up quickly.

We know that the White House wanted to wrap it up quickly as well. If the president comes here on Tuesday and gives a State of the Union and they're still in the midst of an impeachment trial, it's an awkward situation for the president. But, you know, Democrats also, they see it as kind of a positive for them to be able to have the president come, give that speech on the House floor, and him still be in the middle of an impeachment trial over on the other side of the capitol.

Kornacki: Yeah, that was my final question, it sounds like Democrats see a benefit in extending this for a few days. Or was there some appetite, maybe among these senators running for president to just wrap it up, knowing that to outcome seems imminent now?

Thorp: You know, we talked to a lot of 2020 Democrats during this process. And, you know, the thing is is that Senator Amy Klobuchar, she's running for president, you know, and she's pushing hard in Iowa. But she's been in television more over the last week, arguably, than she has over the last month.

Now, she's not in Iowa doing campaign events. But this is not necessarily, you know, this doesn't make her invisible in the eyes of voters. I think that those Democrats would love to be there in Iowa on Monday. But at the same time, they have a weekend to go back there and campaign and then they can argue that, you know, "Well, I gotta go back and do my job," you know, sitting in an impeachment trial where, you know, a lot of the eyes of America are focused.

Kornacki: Amazing. So many major events gonna be converging in politics over the next few days and into next week. Frank--

Thorp: And the Super Bowl.

Kornacki: And the Super Bowl somewhere in there too. Yeah, I hope--

Thorp: I know, my god, I forgot.

Kornacki: Who's your pick, by the way?

Thorp: Oh my god, man, the Chiefs.

Kornacki: You like the Chiefs?

Thorp: Yeah, I think so. Let's go with that.

Kornacki: I think it's Andy Reid's year too. I'll go on the record with that one. Frank Thorp, you joined us 14 hours ago, you worked all day, and you recapped it all at night. Really appreciate the time and I hope you get a little bit of a breather here before pickin' us up against next week. Thanks so much.

Thorp: Thanks for havin' me. (MUSIC)

Kornacki: So the trial will go into next week, as we said, after the Super Bowl, after the Iowa caucuses on Monday, and after the State of the Union on Tuesday night. And we will be here for you through it all. Article II: Inside Impeachment is produced by Isabel Angel, Max Jacobs, Clair Tighe, Aaron Dalton, Preeti Varathan, Allison, Bailey, Adam Noboa, and Barbara Raab. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman, Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of audio, and I'm Steve Kornacki, we'll be back on Monday.