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Republicans Who Have A Say In Impeachment Trial Witnesses

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we'd like to turn our focus to key Republicans whose votes may impact how the trial moves forward. Four senators - Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Utah's Mitt Romney - have either stated or hinted a dissatisfaction with the Senate leadership's approach to the trial. But given the hyper-partisan, hyper-personal climate in which the trial is taking place, this has gotten us wondering if certain Republicans really might be movable on this issue and if so why.

We've called on Jennifer Rubin for this. She is a conservative opinion columnist for The Washington Post, and she's had her own moments of difference with the Republican Party and conservative movement in the current era. She's with us now by phone.

Jennifer Rubin, thanks so much for joining us once again.

JENNIFER RUBIN: My pleasure.

MARTIN: A few weeks ago, you wrote an open letter to Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, published in The Washington Post, in which you urged her to vote for new witnesses. Why her? And what was your argument to her?

RUBIN: Well, I could have actually addressed it to really any of the individuals you listed because you're right. There are a few on the fence. But I think because she had indicated publicly that she was amendable to this and because she has an independent streak. She hasn't toed the party line on, for example, Justice Kavanaugh's confirmation or on the repeal of Obamacare.

But essentially, the argument is that ultimately, if you want to vote to acquit the president, and you want to get the benefit, if you will, of an exoneration, you have to present at least the appearance of fairness, at least the appearance of a real trial.

And what we've seen over and over again in polls recently - in the Washington Post poll, 66% of the people want to have a real trial. Other polls show even higher numbers - that in order to accomplish that, even if you want to acquit the president, it really behooves you to go through the steps, have witnesses come up. Then you can vote however you please at the end of the process. But to cut it off now really doesn't even serve her own interests.

MARTIN: Republicans have proposed a witness trade. Democrats get witnesses they want, such as former national security adviser John Bolton, in exchange for witnesses that some of the Republicans say they want, such as the former vice president, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter. Now, I have to say that the Democrats have rejected this, and Joe Biden has said absolutely not. But what do you think of that proposal?

RUBIN: I think it's a bluff because the Republicans in the worst way do not want to hear from John Bolton. They don't want to hear from Mick Mulvaney. They don't want to hear from these people, nor do they want to have documents put forward. So I think jokingly some of the Democrats were saying, why don't we just call their bluff?

But I don't think they want to get into that sort of game. I think they want to make a clean argument that there are certain witnesses who have relevant evidence - they should come forward - and certain ones who do not. And if they're all that interested, and they think either Joe Biden or Hunter Biden has done something wrong, the Senate can have hearings till the cows come home to investigate those allegations if they have allegations.

So I think they're trying to take a somewhat principled line, which is they're not going on a fishing expedition. The Republicans shouldn't go on a fishing expedition. But if you're going to say the president's been exonerated, you have to have the best witnesses available. And there are some witnesses who could shed some light on this.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, as I mentioned, that you have been a conservative columnist for a number of years now, but you've had many disagreements with this president, and you've also been critical of those who have followed him without expressing differences of opinion when you think that they were warranted and when people sort of have indicated that they actually have those differences of opinion. I just want to ask, what is that like? I mean, what is it like to feel you have to set yourself apart at a time like this?

You know, people have made kind of arguments based on what they say their responsibility is to their constituents and their oath and the Constitution. But all these people are human. And, you know, it's uncomfortable. And I just wanted to ask what your experience has been when you've taken positions that have been at odds with people who had been your allies on so many issues.

RUBIN: Well, one thing that Adam Schiff said on Friday night really hit home in a very personal way, which is it's hard to break with people who have been your friends, have been your allies, have been your peers. But at some point, you have to be able to live with yourself. You have to be able to say, what am I doing, and why am I doing it? My purpose as a journalist is to inform and to, I think, persuade that certain values are important. So what's the point of doing it if you're simply going to be, in essence, a hack for the Republican Party?

So although it has been certainly a transformation, I have to say it has made me appreciate more than ever that principle and partisanship often divide, and that we all have to make a choice. In my case, perhaps I've had a luxury. I work for a wonderful journalistic outlet, The Washington Post, so it hasn't cost me my job. It hasn't cost me my livelihood. But it certainly has severed relationships and brought on quite a fit of hate mail.

But I think that's sort of the price of doing what's right, and there is a satisfaction. There is a joy. There is a sense of even reward in making the right enemies and doing what you think is right. So it's been a stressful time for many of us, but in many ways, the most rewarding part of my career.

MARTIN: That was Jennifer Rubin, opinion columnist for The Washington Post. She covers politics and policy. Jennifer Rubin, thanks so much for talking to us today.

RUBIN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.