Romney Collins Murkowski Alexander SPLIT
GOP senators ask questions as they weigh witness decision
03:20 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Sarah Isgur is a CNN political analyst. She is a staff writer at The Dispatch and an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. She previously worked on three Republican presidential campaigns and graduated from Harvard Law School. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

As the senators wrap up their questions in the impeachment trial, the only question left is whether the Senate will vote to call witnesses.

At this point, 75% of registered voters say witnesses should be allowed to testify in President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, including 49% of Republicans and 95% of Democrats. But 89% say they have already made up their minds as to whether the President should be removed from office.

Sarah Isgur

At the heart of the question regarding the call for witnesses is this: What is the purpose of an impeachment trial?

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution states that “When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.”

When it comes to the nitty-gritty details of impeachment, there’s not a lot in the Constitution to tell us exactly what the founders had in mind.

But it seems fair to say that the primary purpose of a Senate impeachment trial is to determine whether there are enough votes to remove the President from office. And maybe a secondary reason is to allow voters to hold their senators politically accountable for their votes in the impeachment trial.

Nobody seems to believe that there will be 67 senators willing to vote to remove Trump from office. Given what many senators have said publicly, it’s hard to imagine that testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton or Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, would change a single vote. So the purpose of hearing from witnesses cannot be to change the outcome of the impeachment trial itself.

But part of a functioning representative democracy is to ensure that voters have the information they need to hold their elected representatives accountable for their votes while in office. Even if we accept that the senators are going to refuse to allow new information to influence their votes, it is still the case that voters might benefit from hearing from witnesses.

However, if voters have made up their minds as to how their senators should vote – and nearly 9 out of 10 of them have – then calling witnesses can’t serve the purpose of swaying the electorate either.

It’s fair to ask what the purpose of hearing from witnesses would be if we are just delaying the inevitable.

I am one such voter who would like to hear from Bolton, for example. I think it is laughable that this impeachment trial may end without hearing Bolton’s first-hand account of what happened.

Even worse, the Senate may refuse to hear from him even though his book – which, according to The New York Times, claims that Trump explicitly tied US military aid to Ukraine to announcements of investigations into his political rivals – is set to publish in just over six weeks (The White House has issued a formal threat to keep him from doing so on the grounds that it “appears to contain significant amounts of classified information.”)

But regardless of what Bolton has to say or whether he will be called to testify, it appears exceedingly unlikely to change the outcome of the trial or many votes come November.

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    Constitutionally speaking, presidential impeachments were intended to act as a check on the presidency by the legislative branch. But an impeachment trial is not the same as a judicial trial. It does not require a crime to have been committed, and senators are not acting as jurors.

    If this trial is simply a partisan exercise in which both sides are trying to score political points with their voters before November, perhaps it’s time to end the debate on witnesses and move on to more important issues – such as creating a better system of paid family leave or why black women are three times as likely to die in childbirth as their Hispanic and non-Hispanic white counterparts.