Senate

Both sides have reason to want speedy Trump impeachment trial

Senators in both parties say there is incentive across the political spectrum to keep President Trump’s expected impeachment trial as short as possible, especially since his acquittal appears to be a foregone conclusion.

GOP senators say they want to give Trump ample time to present his defense and call witnesses, if necessary, but they would prefer to avoid burning up too much floor time and risking the awkward possibility of an impeachment trial overlapping with next year’s State of the Union address.

Some Senate Democrats worry about voters suffering from impeachment fatigue and the trial butting up against the Iowa caucuses. Senators are expected to attend the trial, and that would keep the chamber’s presidential candidates off the campaign trail.

{mosads}At the same time, senators on both sides of the aisle recognize that an impeachment trial is one of the Senate’s most solemn duties and they need to show they are taking articles of impeachment seriously. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they want weeks to become months. 

“There may be a sense among Democrats as well as Republicans that it shouldn’t be extended,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to comment on the motivations of colleagues ahead of the trial. 

A Democratic senator warned that a lengthy impeachment trial effectively “freezes” the Democratic presidential primary by putting pressure on Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and other candidates to miss valuable campaign time.

“I think that people in New Hampshire and Iowa would say, ‘You should be doing your job.’ That’s what I think they would say and it’s a problem. It freezes the race,” said the Democratic senator. “I think both parties have incentive to try to get this wrapped up.”

“If you’re Trump, you want it over as fast as you can because he can say, ‘Look, I was acquitted, there was nothing,’” the Democratic lawmaker added.

A second Democratic senator said the impeachment trial should be wrapped up before the Iowa caucuses, scheduled for Feb. 3, because it would make the impeachment process look even more politicized if it overlapped with the primary season.

Some Democrats are worried about impeachment fatigue setting in among voters, noting that polling from last month showed independents and voters in swing states souring on the prospect of removing Trump from office.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a prominent centrist, said voters are already tiring of the partisan process. 

“People are fatigued now. Anything else that we do that drags this out further than need be, it just wears on people. Enough’s enough,” he said. 

Republican senators say they don’t want to cut short the trial prematurely, but they’re also cringing at the possibility of it running up against the State of the Union address.

“I think it would be awkward to have the State of the Union in the midst of such a trial,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who added that Trump’s address to Congress is likely to feel awkward anyway since the House is expected to impeach him later this month. 

Rubio said both sides could quickly reach agreement to hold a final up-or-down vote on impeachment, arguing that the underlying facts aren’t really in dispute.

“The president doesn’t deny, for example, talking to the president of Ukraine,” he said, noting the White House released a rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

{mossecondads}A second Republican senator who requested anonymity to talk about how colleagues feel about an extended trial agreed that holding the State of the Union during impeachment would be “awkward” but said it’s too early to know how much floor time is needed to weigh the charges against Trump.

The State of the Union address is typically held in January or early February. Former President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial stretched from early January to Feb. 12. 

A third Republican senator raised the prospect that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) might not invite Trump to deliver the State of the Union to a joint session of Congress if the trial is still taking place. 

The GOP senator noted the constitutional requirement for the address is loosely termed, stating only that the president “shall from time to time give Congress information of the State of the Union” and that Trump could submit a written report instead of delivering a speech in person.

Some House Republicans in 1999 considered withholding an invitation for Clinton during his impeachment trial.

In the end, Clinton was allowed to deliver his remarks on Jan. 19, about a week into his Senate trial, which he used to focus on the strength of the economy, the $70 billion budget surplus and shoring up Social Security. He did not mention his impeachment.

Some GOP lawmakers, however, aren’t so sure Trump would be able to keep the same message discipline and worry he might be tempted to lash out against Democrats.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), one of Trump’s staunch allies, said “it’s pretty much up to the president and his legal team to determine how long they want this thing to run” but predicted senators will be ready to wrap up the trial quickly.

“At this point I think it’s pretty obvious, you could probably call the motion to call the vote very early in the process,” he said.

While Johnson wants to give Trump a full opportunity to defend himself, he doesn’t see much point in spending a lot of time on the trial when it’s clear Democrats will fall well-short of the 67 votes they need to convict the president on any charges.

“There’s a lot of work to be done. I want to get this over as quickly as possible,” Johnson said, predicting Democrats will not want the proceedings to extend beyond a couple of weeks.

“It may be pretty easy to get the 51 votes to move to a final vote,” he said.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone held a lunch meeting with Senate Republicans on Wednesday, but he didn’t give lawmakers any indication of whether the president’s defense team favors a short or long trial or which witnesses it plans to call.

Some Democrats outside of Congress have suggested Trump might use the spotlight of a Senate trial for his own political benefit. 

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang told former Obama strategist David Axelrod in an interview Thursday that “the biggest drawback of impeachment is that Donald Trump is a creature who thrives on attention, and impeachment is attention.”

“Even if it seems like it’s bad for him, he’s winning,” Yang added.

Publicly, Democratic senators say they will spend as much time as it takes to give House-passed articles of impeachment a thorough review. 

“I don’t care about timetables,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who said the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team “need to do what they need to do.”

“Trump’s people say they want their day in court, they say [the evidence] is hearsay. Well, the House needs to start hearing from people that are accused of wrongdoing or those that observed things so I don’t think setting any deadline or timetable makes sense,” he said.

Asked about interfering with the Democratic presidential primary, Brown said, “I don’t care about that.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said, “There’s no preconceived timeline.”

“It’s whatever it takes to be fair,” she said.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) added, “We have a constitutional duty, and the timing is what the timing is.”

Tags Amy Klobuchar Andrew Yang Bernie Sanders Chris Murphy David Axelrod Debbie Stabenow Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Impeachment Joe Manchin Marco Rubio Nancy Pelosi Ron Johnson Senate trial Sherrod Brown
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