WASHINGTON – Confusion overtook the Senate floor throughout Saturday afternoon as the chamber voted to allow the consideration of witnesses, a decision that was ultimately reversed hours later when a deal ensured no witnesses would be called.
The moment marked one of the most divisive and chaotic in the chamber throughout former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, but it wasn’t alone.
There were angry senators, and there were multiple disruptions.
As House manager Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said on the Senate floor that he’d like Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., to testify as a witness in the trial, Sen. Lindsey Graham shook his head before putting his hand on his forehead.
As senators started voting on whether witnesses would be allowed to be called, many broke out into small huddles.
Sens. Pat Toomey and Ben Sasse, two Republicans who are thought to be potential votes to convict Trump, consulted for several minutes. Sasse voted yes to witnesses, while Toomey voted no.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a staunch Trump ally who has opposed holding the trial on constitutional grounds, appeared upset with fellow Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who sits nearby in the chamber and voted to allow witnesses. As they voted, Johnson turned to Romney, visibly upset, and pointed at him. The two went back and forth for several moments, each with raised voices.
After the chamber voted to consider witnesses, confusion took over.
Senators huddled in small groups.
Graham, who had changed his vote to approve witnesses, appeared frustrated and gathered with several other Republicans, explaining next steps. The South Carolina Republican had threatened to call a number of controversial witnesses if Democrats opened the door to subpoenas.
After a break, a deal was announced that no witnesses would be called. But disruptions continued on the floor.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, objected to the House managers’ description of his phone call with Trump on Jan. 6. The president had called Lee, intending to reach Sen. Tommy Tuberville, and Lee had passed the phone to the Alabama Republican.
Impeachment managers had described the call to Lee as part of pressure on lawmakers to object to more electoral votes and had initially said the call came before Trump’s posting of a tweet attacking Vice President Mike Pence. But Tuberville told reporters he had to hang up on Trump because Pence was being evacuated from the chamber, which would have meant Trump was aware of the danger to Pence as he tweeted attacks on him.
Lee’s office clarified that the call to the senator came after the Trump tweet, saying Lee received a four-minute-long call from the White House at 2:26 p.m. Jan. 6. Trump’s tweet came at 2:24 p.m.
Lee, who had been scribbling notes during the House managers’ presentation, perked up at the mention of his name. When Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., mentioned why Trump had been calling senators, Lee lifted his right hand up in what appeared to be an expression of disbelief.
Later, as House managers continued their closing arguments, several objections paused their presentations. Republican senators started to reach the end of their patience with the trial when controversy flared over evidence presented by impeachment manager Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa. Some Republican senators were on their phones, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said at a volume audible to reporters he “couldn’t believe what she just said.”