With Murkowski voting 'no,' McConnell has the votes to block witnesses

With Murkowski sticking with her party, this will be the first Senate impeachment trial in which members deliberately chose not to hear from a single witness.
Image: Senators Debate Health Care Bill On Capitol Hill
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has long been one of Congress' most interesting Republican members. The Alaska senator, who won as a write-in candidate in 2010 after losing in a primary, has repeatedly been more willing than most GOP lawmakers to go her own way on key issues.

When her party tried to replace the Affordable Care Act with a far-right alternative, she balked. When her party rallied behind Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination, Murkowski was the only GOP senator to vote "no." When Senate Republicans pushed a resolution a few months ago denouncing the House's impeachment inquiry, the Alaskan didn't sign it. When Mitch McConnell vowed to remain in "total coordination" with Team Trump during the president's impeachment trial, she made her displeasure known.

So when counting heads for including witness testimony in the Senate proceedings, it stood to reason that Murkowski would be among the GOP senators most likely to demonstrate some independence. This afternoon, however, she stuck with her party.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski announced Friday she will vote no to hearing from witnesses in President Donald Trump's impeachment trial, likely dooming Democrats' hopes of hearing testimony from witnesses with firsthand knowledge of why Trump ordered almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine frozen. [...]

"The House chose to send articles of impeachment that are rushed and flawed. I carefully considered the need for additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings of its process, but ultimately decided that I will vote against considering motions to subpoena," Murkowski said in a statement.

"Given the partisan nature of this impeachment from the very beginning and throughout, I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate. I don't believe the continuation of this process will change anything. It is sad for me to admit that, as an institution, the Congress has failed."

I'll confess, I'm not altogether sure I understand Murkowski's explanation for her position. She's convinced that "there will be no fair trial" in the institution in which she serves, but given an opportunity to make the process better, the Alaskan chose not to?

There may be other considerations at play. Perhaps Murkowski wanted to help avoid the complications of a 50-50 tie on the issue of witnesses. Maybe she's hoping a "no" vote will truncate the process and help some of her vulnerable GOP allies in their respective re-election races.

Whatever her motivation, we've reached a new point in the process.

Barring any last-minute changes, there will be 49 votes in support of including new witness testimony in the impeachment trial, which means Senate Republican leaders have the votes to shield members from information that further demonstrate the president's guilt.

It also suggests the Senate is poised to make ignoble history. An analysis in the Washington Post recently noted, "Senate precedent, therefore, is astoundingly clear: In every single case in which the Senate has completed its constitutional obligation to conduct an impeachment trial, lawmakers have heard from fact witnesses before reaching a verdict. The only individuals who were impeached and did not face a full Senate trial with witnesses were individuals who resigned or were expelled from their position before trial."

It means Trump's proceedings will be unique: we'll soon have the first Senate impeachment trial in American history in which members chose willful ignorance, deliberately deciding not to hear from a single witness -- including the far-right former White House national security adviser who has directly relevant information, and who volunteered to answer senators' questions.

Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote the other day, “We’re not arguing over what Trump did. We’re arguing over whether Republicans want to know what Trump did. Sometimes this whole saga feels like a thought experiment where we keep layering on more and more extreme conditions to see how broken the Republican Party really is.”

The argument he referenced appears to be over: the president's party wants to know less about his misconduct.

Postscript: Looking ahead, there was some discussion overnight that the trial could end as early as this evening if Republicans block witness testimony, but as things stand, it appears the proceedings will continue into next week.

MORE: Today's Maddowblog