White House officials say they don’t expect to lose any Republican votes on witnesses, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is privately far less certain, people familiar with the talks said.
The Senate leader is concerned that Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine might choose to vote in favor of hearing from witnesses, but is less concerned about Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the people said.
Mr. Alexander is retiring and has said it was “inappropriate” for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political rival. He said Friday he will make his decision after the questioning portion of the impeachment trial, expected next week.
Mr. Romney reiterated Friday that he would like to hear testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton and possibly other officials.
The White House has largely delegated the task of rallying senators to vote against witness testimony to Mr. McConnell and a handful of other senators, though some White House officials including the president have been in contact with lawmakers as the trial has unfolded.
Mr. McConnell doesn’t discuss his vote-counting strategy as a rule, although he often has advocated for giving space to undecided senators facing high-profile, politically difficult votes.
During the trial, Mr. McConnell is using daily closed-door lunches as a venue for GOP senators to have frank exchanges with each other and relay feedback to party leadership.
Among the arguments some Republicans are making at lunch and in private conversations is that voting in favor of witness testimony would further prolong the trial with an extended court battle over executive privilege, people familiar with the talks said, as well as by making the case that witness testimony won’t change the case and that the trial should end by the Feb. 4 State of the Union address.
Mr. McConnell has made that case publicly, saying in remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday that pursuing new witnesses could indefinitely delay the Senate trial and draw the body into a protracted and complex legal fight. “Such litigation could potentially have permanent repercussions for the separation of powers and the institution of the presidency that senators would need to consider very carefully,” he warned.
Even if a lawsuit is introduced, a federal judge is unlikely to want to wade into such a dispute in the middle of an impeachment trial, so any dispute over executive privilege would likely need to be resolved in other ways.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday called on Republicans in the Senate to join Democrats voting to hear from witnesses.
“They don’t want to hear the true facts because it puts them in such difficult positions,” Mr. Schumer said. “It is on the shoulders of four Republican senators to join us,” he said. “Don’t say, ‘I really want witnesses but it will take too long.’ That’s not the case.”
Rebecca Ballhaus, Lindsay Wise