Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) may have cost Democrats the support of moderate Republican Senators with his closing arguments, held Friday night, that concluded with a reference to a supposed White House threat against those Senators who refused to back the president.
In the final moments of his presentation, Schiff referred to a CBS News report that said the White House had warned Republicans that “your head will be on a pike” if they went against the White House on either key issues, like witness testimony and additional evidence, or if they voted to remove the president from office.
“CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’ I don’t know if that’s true,” Schiff said, adding that Republicans should exhibit “moral courage” and vote to remove Trump from office.
Interrupting Schiff’s speech, moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) shouted, “That’s not true” from her seat and several other Republicans groaned audibly. Schiff seemed to be taken aback by their response, halting for a minute and shuffling his notes.
“Not only have I never heard the ‘head on the pike’ line but also I know of no Republican senator who has been threatened in any way by anyone in the administration,” Collins told reporters later, elaborating on her impromptu commentary.
Saturday morning, another moderate GOP Senator, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, told reporters that Schiff’s blunder might have cost him goodwill built up during his arguments.
“I thought he was doing fine with [talking about] moral courage until he got to the ‘head on a pike.’ That’s where he lost me,” Murkowski said, according to Fox News. “He’s a good orator. … It was just unnecessary.”
Murkowski says she remains supportive of calling further witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial, pending the conclusion of the Trump defense team’s own remarks, but that an open insult put Schiff on thin ice with other Senators who might have joined his cause — and Schiff needs all the votes he can get.
In order to call additional witnesses, Schiff needs the support of at least four members of the GOP. He currently has three: Collins, Murkowski, and, as of Sunday morning, Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who told reporters that he’d be supportive of examining additional evidence and testimony before voting on whether to remove President Trump from office.
The fourth vote is still elusive.
Republicans were clear, over the weekend, that Schiff harmed his own case.
“If these guys are trying to convince people, they aren’t doing a very good job,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told reporters Saturday as he arrived to session, per the New York Post.
“There’s a point when you’ve been lectured on the same one-hour set of facts for three days when anything can be a turning point,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) added.
Schiff, however, defended his “head on a pike” comments, dismissing GOP concerns, in his own interview Saturday.
“Look, that’s what you do … when your client is guilty,” Schiff said. “You don’t want to talk about your client’s guilt. You want to attack the prosecution. It is a fairly elemental strategy and I think that’s all you’re seeing here is that effort to distract.”
He also insisted that he did not mishandle the closing presentation, according to Fox News.
“Look, there are going to be efforts to distract from the facts, they’re going to be attacks on the managers,” Schiff added. “If the worst they can point to is that I referred to a published report by CBS, that’s pretty thin gruel.”