Feinstein and Three Democratic Moderates Leaning Toward Acquittal?

Surprising news from an unsurprising process.

Over the weekend, Steven Taylor and I were lamenting how little of the impeachment proceedings either of us had watched owing to work and family obligations. Certainly, this is in stark contrast to the Bill Clinton trial, when both of us were glued to our televisions.

Aside from us being in very different places personally and professionally almost a quarter-century later, this “trial” has seemed less serious than that one. While both of us thought at the time that Clinton’s transgressions warranted removal, we understood that most Democrats disagreed and that there were unlikely to be enough votes. Still, all indications were that Senators from both parties were taking their obligations seriously—and some ultimately crossed the aisle both ways. This go-round, all seemed scripted along party lines—and Senate Republicans, especially, have made little pretense of objectivity.

So the overnight news genuinely surprised me.

First off, it appears that Mitch McConnell’s caucus isn’t going to allow him to railroad this thing through without calling witnesses after all. Fox News:

The White House’s plans for a speedy impeachment trial were thrown into doubt Tuesday with Senate Republicans floating competing proposals on how to deal with new explosive revelations from ex-national security adviser John Bolton — and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling Republicans he doesn’t yet have enough votes to block the calling of impeachment witnesses.

GOP senators were all over the map on Tuesday as President Trump’s defense team called Bolton’s manuscript “inadmissible” and warned against opening the door to new wild-card information in the ongoing trial. Democrats have repeatedly called for Bolton to testify.

A source with knowledge of McConnell’s comments confirmed to Fox Business that the Kentucky Republican told people in a private meeting Tuesday that the GOP did not have the votes to block impeachment witnesses. A second source stressed that McConnell said he didn’t yet have the votes, with other sources saying Senate GOP leadership didn’t think the fight was over, and conversations were ongoing. The Wall Street Journal first reported McConnell’s comments.

Later Tuesday night, a Senate leadership source told Fox News that Republicans were assessing the viability of two alternative options, in the event there is majority support for additional witnesses. “Plan B,” the source said, is to amend any resolution calling for a particular witness to also include a package of witnesses that wouldn’t win enough support of the Senate. For example, if the Democrats seek to call Bolton, Republicans might seek to question Hunter Biden or Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., over his panel’s contacts with the whistleblower.

That proposal could afford moderate Republicans the political cover of voting in favor of witnesses, while ultimately rejecting a witness package.

Still cynical, of course, but it’s more movement than I would have expected. And other Senators are asking for advanced copies of Bolton’s book—an indication that there is at least some interest in the truth.

Maybe more shocking is the news that Senator Dianne Feinstein is intimating that she may vote to acquit. The LA Times:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein seemed to signal fissures in the unity of Senate Democrats. Feinstein suggested that while she had serious concerns about Trump’s character, she is still weighing her ultimate vote on whether to acquit him.


Feinstein’s comments came initially in remarks to reporters outside the Senate chamber in which she said she had leaned against impeachment at the outset.

“Nine months left to go [before the election], the people should judge. We are a republic, we are based on the will of the people — the people should judge,” she said.

She then added: “That was my view and it still is my view.”

Still, she indicated that arguments in the trial about Trump’s character and fitness for office had shifted her thinking. “What changed my opinion as this went on,” she said, is a realization that “impeachment isn’t about one offense. It’s really about the character and ability and physical and mental fitness of the individual to serve the people, not themselves.”

In a later written statement, in which she said she had initially been “misunderstood,” Feinstein said “it’s clear the president’s actions were wrong.”

Feinstein told reporters that her office had received roughly 125,000 letters in support of the impeachment last week, and about 30,000 against it.

“There is substantial weight to this,” she said, “and the question is: Is it enough to cast this vote?”

This could all be a feint to garner attention and bolster an image that she’s taking her oath to be impartial seriously. But I take her at her word that she’s genuinely unsure as to whether Trump’s actions—wrong though they be—rise to the level of premature removal from office.

Three other Democrats are also on the fence. POLITICO:

A trio of moderate Senate Democrats is wrestling with whether to vote to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial — or give the president the bipartisan acquittal he’s eagerly seeking.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Doug Jones of Alabama are undecided on whether to vote to remove the president from office and agonizing over where to land. It’s a decision that could have major ramifications for each senator’s legacy and political prospects — as well shape the broader political dynamic surrounding impeachment heading into the 2020 election.

All three senators remain undecided after hearing arguments from the impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team. But they could end up with a creative solution.

One or more senators may end up splitting their votes, borrowing a move from Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), who voted for the abuse of power charge but against the one on obstruction of Congress.

Manchin said he will do that only if he “can explain one and not the other.” Jones has been mildly critical of the obstruction impeachment article and says he’s “troubled” the House didn’t fight harder to hear from critical administration witnesses.

Manchin insisted Tuesday he hasn’t figured out where he will come down. And won’t until the trial ends.

“I know it’s hard to believe that. But I really am [undecided]. But I have not made a final decision. Every day, I hear something, I think ‘this is compelling, that’s compelling,'” Manchin said in an interview. “Everyone’s struggling a little bit.”

Many in the Capitol believed Manchin had run his last campaign in 2018, freeing him to vote however he wants. He insisted he still will, but also didn’t rule out running for the Senate again in 2024: “I have no idea. I swear to God. buddy. I don’t.”

This sounds more like political calculation than impartiality. But, frankly, it’s almost heartening by itself that there are Democratic Senators still worried about appealing to Trump supporters.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. drj says:

    The LA Times’ reporting on Feinstein is (unintentionally, I guess) misleading. She clearly says that she changed her mind and even followed up with this:

    The LA Times misunderstood what I said today. Before the trial I said I’d keep an open mind. Now that both sides made their cases, it’s clear the president’s actions were wrong. He withheld vital foreign assistance for personal political gain. That can’t be allowed to stand.

    Regarding McConnell:

    the Kentucky Republican told people in a private meeting Tuesday that the GOP did not have the votes to block impeachment witnesses.

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

  2. SKI says:

    @drj: More than misunderstood is my understanding. They apparently excised a preceding clause that said that “others are asking why” we need to remove with with the election upcoming.

    In other words, that wasn’t her view (past or present) but her setting up the other sides argument before disagreeing with it. Stupid technique rhetorically IMO but pretty common.

    But hey, they got their clicks and follow-on articles like this one.

  3. Gustopher says:

    This sounds more like political calculation than impartiality. But, frankly, it’s almost heartening by itself that there are Democratic Senators still worried about appealing to Trump supporters.

    I don’t expect anyone to fall on their sword for the sanctity of a show trial. If there were almost enough votes to convict, and they were going to be the difference, then maybe, but as it is… they should pick their stands carefully.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    DiFi isn’t going to vote to acquit. Her entire political legacy would be wiped away in an instant.

  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s not political calculation, it turns out to be a misquote. And seriously, DiFi’s looking to appeal to Trump voters in California? Both of them?

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    …an indication that there is at least some interest in the truth.

    Or that some Senators are seeking the answer to the question “what did Bolton say about me.”

  7. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I was thinking about folks like Sinema, Jones and Manchin, who have pretty Trumpy states — I could see any range of votes and statements from them as they thread the needle.

    I don’t think that Diane Feinstein has to worry about her home state politics.