Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King joined Democrats Friday in a failed attempt to gather additional witnesses and documents in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Republicans blocked the effort, paving the way for the president’s likely acquittal next week. But the spotlight remains on Collins, whose vote could shadow her as she attempts to secure a fifth term in a state deeply divided over the president and his conduct.
“I believe hearing from certain witnesses would give each side the opportunity to more fully and fairly make their case, resolve any ambiguities, and provide additional clarity,” Collins said in a statement released before Friday’s 51-49 vote on witnesses.
Collins’ decision did not satisfy her critics. She and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney were the only two Republicans to vote for witnesses and documents, but Democrats said she could have done more to achieve that goal at the beginning of the trial.
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, one of four Democrats vying to unseat Collins in November, highlighted the Republican’s vote to block specific witnesses at the beginning of the trial.
“There were many points during this process when Senator Collins could have demanded witnesses and evidence, but instead, she voted twelve times to block them,” Gideon said in a statement. “It was only when Senate Republicans knew they had the votes to block witnesses that (Senate Leader) Mitch McConnell gave Senator Collins a hall pass to break with her party for political cover.”
Gideon was referring to votes Collins took at the beginning of the trial and on two amendment offered by Democrats on Friday. Collins, who helped secure Friday's vote on witnesses through a change in rules at outset of the trial, voted with King twice Friday to call former national security adviser John Bolton as a witness.
Betsy Sweet, another Democrat hoping to challenge Collins, called her “sidekicksue” in a tweet and insinuated that her votes for witnesses were engineered by McConnell to provide political cover for what’s expected to be a tough reelection and a key race for Republicans hoping to retain their majority in the Senate.
“Susan Collins announced she will support witnesses – but only AFTER McConnell made sure her vote wouldn't affect the outcome,” Sweet tweeted. “Now, #SidekickSue is waiting for a pat on the back from Mainers for this empty, meaningless gesture. Instead, we will defeat her.”
Collins’ spokesperson Annie Clark denied assertions that the senator’s votes Friday were orchestrated. When David Frum, a former speechwriter for Republican President George W. Bush, tweeted that it looked like Collins had asked McConnell for permission to vote for witnesses, Clark responded that it wasn’t true, citing the senator’s record of unmissed votes.
Collins announced her decision shortly before Tennessee U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, another potential swing vote, said that he would not vote for witnesses. His move effectively killed any prospect of Democrats overcoming Republican efforts to move toward a speedy acquittal.
Alexander said that the president was wrong to use his office and the withholding of military aid to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. However, he said Trump’s conduct was not enough to warrant removing him from office.
In a statement, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King called the failed effort an “abdication of our responsibilities, an asterisk on these proceedings, and a stain on our institution.” He added, “The truth will come out in the weeks or months ahead, and when the full scope of these events is uncovered, each of my colleagues who chose to ignore additional evidence will have to live with their vote.”
The vote to block witnesses and testimony came amid new reports that appeared to directly implicate the president in a Ukraine pressure scheme could have benefited his bid for a second term. The revelations included excerpts from an unpublished manuscript written by Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton. Bolton also signaled that he was willing to testify.
But Republicans, under pressure from the president, argued that Bolton’s testimony was unnecessary because Trump’s conduct did not warrant removal from office.
Collins has cruised to reelection three times since getting elected to the Senate more than 20 years ago. But this time she is attempting to navigate a perilous partisan divide that has intensified during the Trump presidency.
Collins did not vote for the president in 2016 and declared him unfit for office. She also angered Republicans for voting with Democrats in 2017 to block a GOP attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Since then, Democrats have homed in on what they see is a reluctance to call out Trump's conduct and her votes to confirm U.S. Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh and in favor of a controversial GOP tax law. Those votes have helped Collins hold back attacks from the right-flank of the Maine Republican Party that is fiercely loyal to the president. However, those votes have also taken a toll on Collins’ moderate brand, lowering her once sky-high favorability to become the most unpopular senator in the country, according to a recent survey by the Morning Consult.
Her vote Friday falls in line with several public opinion surveys suggesting that a large majority of Americans supported additional witnesses and testimony.
Collins has not said how she will vote when the Senate meets next week to decide whether Trump should be removed from office. King has signaled that he’s ready to convict the president.
Update 12:07 p.m: This post has been updated to clarify that Clark denied assertions that Collins' votes were orchestrated. The timing of the Collins and Alexander votes has also been corrected in this post.
Originally published 9:35 a.m. Feb. 1, 2020