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The Senate Seems Headed Towards A Quick Trump Acquittal

It’s looking increasingly likely that President Trump and Senate Republican leaders will get what they wanted from the start of this impeachment trial: a two-week trial that ends with every Republican — and a few Democrats — voting for the president’s acquittal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Trump administration seem to have successfully navigated what appeared earlier this week to be a big threat to their plans for a quick acquittal: the news that former national security adviser John Bolton reportedly wrote in his upcoming book that Trump told him that military aid to the Ukrainians would be held up unless they investigated the Bidens. The White House has signaled they will fight hard to prevent Bolton from testifying in the impeachment trial, arguing that his conversations with the president are covered by executive privilege and that his book manuscript contains classified information. These claims are highly contested. But Republican senators who probably didn’t want to hear from witnesses in the first place can argue that Bolton would never end up testifying anyway, because the dispute would be tied up in court.

In all, there is little indication, as of Thursday morning, that four Republican senators are willing to join the 47 Democrats to call for witnesses in the Senate trial. And Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer did not sound optimistic about winning a witness vote when asked about it by reporters on Wednesday.

So what happens now?

If Republicans are successful in defeating Democratic motions for additional witnesses and documents, the GOP will likely push for a final vote on Trump’s removal as soon as Friday. And it seems likely that even Republicans such as Mitt Romney of Utah, who are open to witnesses, will vote for Trump’s acquittal, resulting in a unanimous vote for acquittal from the GOP.

Up to three Democrats might join them. In public comments this week, Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia like they are not fully on board with their party’s impeachment case. And a third Democratic senator, centrist Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, is also considered a possible vote for Trump’s acquittal.

In fact, Trump might end up really loving the next several days. On Friday, a unified GOP could vote against his impeachment. Three days later, Bernie Sanders has a decent chance of winning the Iowa caucuses. So Trump, in his State of the Union address — which is scheduled for Tuesday night — could cast himself as both exonerated of the charges against him and prepared to defend America from socialism.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. On Thursday, senators will continue to ask questions of Trump’s legal team and the House Democratic impeachment managers. Little emerged that was particularly noteworthy or surprising from Wednesday’s round of questions.

At the moment, it really seems like the only unresolved issue is how much Bolton wants to force a confrontation with Trump. In 2017, James Comey, fired by Trump as FBI director, engaged in a public battle with the president. If Bolton wants to push this impeachment away from where it’s headed (a fairly-undramatic acquittal of Trump), Thursday is probably his last real chance to do so.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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