Democrats concede it’s unlikely 51 senators will vote to call Democrat-requested witnesses — a key unsettled issue in the trial. And Trump allies say the “insulting” argument from Schiff (D-Calif.) made it even less likely.
Schiff said Friday, “CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’ I don’t know if that’s true.” He then asked his Senate colleagues to vote with “moral courage” rather than in their political self-interest.
“That’s not true,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) shouted from her seat Friday night. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) told reporters minutes later that Schiff “was going fine with moral courage until he got to ‘head on a pike.’ That’s where he lost me.”
Collins and Murkowski, both open to witnesses, must be joined by at least two other Republicans, in order to call witnesses such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) also expressed potential interest, but a potential fourth GOP vote has been elusive.
On Saturday morning, Murkowski told reporters, “I didn’t like the pike comment,” but that it would not influence her decision on witnesses. But other Republicans said it may well have an impact.
“If these guys are trying to convince people, they aren’t doing a very good job,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) as he arrived to the Senate Saturday morning for the opening of Trump’s impeachment defense presentation.
“There’s a point when you’ve been lectured on the same one-hour set of facts for three days when anything can be a turning point,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.).
“I think it was the biggest blunder of the trial for Adam Schiff. His biggest problem is he doesn’t know when to stop talking,” added Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “He insulted the people who are living examples of the integrity he is talking about.”
Earlier in the week, Schiff had won praise from some Republican senators, including Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who said he felt the Democratic impeachment manager was “very effective.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Saturday that he didn’t want to be “too hard” on Schiff and, “I’m not going to make a big deal about the pikes.”
But Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a member of Trump’s ceremonial defense team of House lawmakers, said the remark will be used to tar Schiff as untruthful.
“Adam Schiff was able to offend 53 Republican senators by suggesting the president of the United States said something to them that all of them knew was not true,” Meadows said. “For the first time they got to experience what we’ve experienced for the last three months, that Adam Schiff is willing to make false statements when he thinks it’s to his political advantage. And that will be called out and will be called out in the days to come.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a Trump ally who clashed fiercely with the president in 2016, said he didn’t fear his own head placed on a pike, but quipped late Friday: “that’s the sort of comment that I’m sure goes over great at a partisan leftwing rally in his district, but that’s not the sort of comment calibrated to try to win the votes of any actual Republican senators.”
Some Democrats said that Schiff’s citation of a CBS News report, which featured the anonymous source saying that senators were warned of their heads on a pike, was reasonable. “I hope it’s not true,” Schiff said after quoting the report. With at least 20 GOP votes needed for conviction, Trump is all but certain to be acquitted, but any Republican defections would hurt him politically.
“You look upstairs and fear is doing the business. Republican senators are afraid of Trump coming into their states and calling them names and giving them nicknames and campaigning against them,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Brown said “clearly he is a vengeful human being.”
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Schiff told the truth, but “whether or not this helps in winning over a handful of marginal Republicans or hurts, I can’t say.”
Durbin said: “When someone falls out of favor with this president, he lops off their head, throws their body in the snow, and buries them in vicious tweets. So the notion that he may be following this trial and have strong feelings about those who do not support him is not out of the question.”
The gruesome description of what Trump may do to independent-minded Republicans was too much for one Democrat.
“It was more of a visual than was needed,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.).