Politics

For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief

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As the bipartisan House impeachment of Donald Trump moves to a Senate trial, CNN flashed this headline on the screens of millions: “Trump Impeachment On Collision Course With Biden’s First 100 Days.”

This reflects a Washington, D.C. conversation in which some Republican politicians urge President Biden to pour cold water on the process in the interest of national “healing” and “moving forward” — while some Democrats fear a Senate trial could distract from the important opening days of Biden’s agenda.

However, a Senate trial during the opening days of President Joe Biden’s administration could be the best thing possible for mobilizing his base, achieving bipartisan cooperation, and passing major COVID relief.

It’s important to start with the substance. Biden is proposing trillions of dollars in coronavirus relief — checks to those hardest hit, aid to states, small business relief, and millions of new jobs. This is part of his Build Back Better campaign agenda, which so far zero Republicans in Congress have endorsed.

Former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) recently said, “I am really tired of people who embraced the lie of election fraud lecturing people about unity. … They really do not come to this argument about unity with clean hands.” Clearly, senators such as Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) will continue to obstruct, demagogue, and call Biden a “socialist” regardless of whether a trial takes place.

Conversely, there is an increased likelihood of bipartisan support for core Biden policy goals if we go forward with a Senate trial immediately.

Joe Biden knows better than anyone that relationships matter. The exact same word-for-word policy conversation between two politicians could have dramatically different results based on whether there is trust, goodwill, and a spirit of togetherness going into the conversation.

The Republican senators Biden will consistently look to first for bipartisanship — Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine), and Mitt Romney (Utah) — have already passed the bipartisan tipping point on Trump’s insurrection and are predisposed to convict him.

Instead of President Biden’s first phone call to these senators being to ask their support for trillions of dollars in spending, Biden could call Murkowski to express how right she was to say, “I want him out. He has caused enough damage … I think he should leave … He needs to do the good thing, but I don’t think he’s capable of doing a good thing.” He could show empathy and connect on a visceral level.

As an aside, Biden could agree with Murkowski that Trump “hasn’t been focused on what is going on with COVID.” He could ask what Alaska’s Republican mayors, small business owners, and struggling families are saying about the need for federal support. He could suggest they talk again in a few days.

He could have similar conversations with other senators, expressing mutual praise for Republican stalwarts Liz Cheney (Wyoming), other House Republicans, and potentially even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for supporting impeachment. These first conversations would not have a big ask, hardball negotiations, or a wonky back-and-forth about numbers. They would be a gut-level connection about the need to defend American democracy.

A few days later after the trial, Biden could re-engage from a foundation of trust. Having heard their local needs back home, he could center his COVID relief proposals around those needs.

Given a choice between building trust or a cold call asking Republican senators to support trillions in new spending, which seems more natural for Joe Biden? Which seems more likely to get Republicans to break from their caucus without painful concessions? The answer is obvious.

Beyond these private conversations, Biden’s public embrace of a Senate trial would advance his policy agenda by pumping up his biggest supporters instead of deflating them. A CBS poll this week shows double-digit support for impeachment — including a majority of independents and 88 percent of Democrats.

Given the saturation coverage this past week, there is no scenario where an impeachment trial is not top of mind for the public. In a world where Biden embraces the trial while concurrently pushing bold COVID relief, his base will be energized on both fronts, his poll numbers will remain high, and the wind will fully be in his sails as he asks Congress to follow his lead. That enthusiasm would drop if Biden is seen as pouring cold water on a Senate trial.

Biden recently spoke publicly about a Senate schedule which would confirm his nominees in the morning and run a trial in the afternoon. This is precisely how the Senate ran during Trump’s first impeachment trial.

Finally, Biden’s administration will need to make many decisions down the road on whether to criminally prosecute Trump, his businesses, his political network, and his thousands of insurrectionist supporters. Compared to these accountability decisions to come, joining with Republicans to condemn a coup and deny Trump the ability to run for office is a lay up.

The Senate trial gives Biden a golden opportunity to both energize his base and build trust with congressional Republicans most likely to support his agenda. Democrats should let Biden be Biden and seize that opportunity.

Adam Green is co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee. 

Tags Claire McCaskill Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Impeachment Joe Biden Josh Hawley Lisa Murkowski Liz Cheney Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Susan Collins Ted Cruz

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