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Impeachment, Day 5: How Much Did The President Know About Danger To Pence?

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

PATRICK LEAHY: The question of whether it shall be an order to consider and debate under the rules of impeachment any motion to subpoena witnesses or document - the motion is agreed to by a vote of 55-45. Majority leader.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

That's the Senate announcing in a surprise that the Senate would subpoena witnesses in the second trial of former President Donald Trump. There were five Republicans who voted with Democrats. We're going to bring in NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell now. Kelsey, because I understand it, now there's going to be no witnesses.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Yes. It has been a crazy ride of a day over in the Senate. You know, the day started out looking like they were headed for witnesses in this trial. They voted 55-45, as we heard right there, with five Republicans voting with Democrats on a bipartisan vote to allow witnesses in this trial. But then they reached an agreement that they would simply include a public statement from a congresswoman who kind of started this all to kind of resolve their - resolve the problem so that they could move forward and close up the trial today without having to take on any witnesses at all.

So it's a bit of a confusing story, but it all starts with Washington Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler and her statement that she was privy to a conversation between Senate - between House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and former President Trump on the day of the insurrection where McCarthy was demanding assistance from Trump to basically call off his supporters, and Trump responded, quote, "well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." So that one tweet of her reaffirming that she had made the statement she had overheard this kind of started what was several hours of chaos in the Senate.

SIMON: Boy, and a call for witnesses - I - all right, my head is spinning.

SNELL: (Laughter).

SIMON: And it was before...

SNELL: You cannot be blamed for - because this is confusing. Essentially, what happened here is we've reset ourselves back to where things were this morning. It looked like there was bipartisan support for witnesses. And, you know, there is bipartisan support for additional information. And Democrats chose to work with Republicans to step away from that and just to submit this one statement into the record, which really gives them - you know, it gives up the opportunity for them to have called any number of other people.

SIMON: Look; I'm flying blind on this. Why would Democrats agree to that?

SNELL: This is - that is going to be a question that will be asked for some time. Now, part of the calculus here is that there's a lot of political pressure for them to, you know, to move forward, for this impeachment trial not to drag out any further. For Democrats, they want to move ahead with the current president, Joe Biden's agenda. He wants to pass coronavirus relief to the tune of $1.9 trillion. And that bill has been written in the House during the duration of this trial, and the Senate needs to move forward with that. They also need to clear nominees. Like, his attorney general nominee has not been approved yet. So there are reasons why Democrats want to move on. And for Republicans, they simply would like to stop talking about President Trump.

SIMON: And we should explain, of course, President Biden's attorney general nominee is Merrick Garland. And it would be fill-in-the-blank if Merrick Garland should once again (laughter) run into a delay in the confirmation process that would prevent him from being confirmed. So as we stand now, Kelsey, with the rest of the afternoon, there is the prospect this trial will be over today.

SNELL: That is - as I understand it, that is the goal, is for them to finish up arguments. They're doing closing arguments. And then they would move on to a vote on whether or not to convict former President Trump of impeachment.

SIMON: And let me understand this again. Senator McConnell - it seems like days ago but was just about hours ago - has indicated that he will vote to acquit.

SNELL: He has. He told his colleagues in a letter that he was moving toward acquittal, that he would be voting for acquittal and that it was a vote of conscience and that they should choose their conscience as they vote.

SIMON: All right. NPR's Kelsey Snell, thanks so much for being with us and for all of your good work in covering unfolding events, particularly on this very confusing morning and afternoon. We're very grateful.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.