How A Senate Impeachment Trial Could Impact The Democratic Nomination Fight

A Senate Impeachment trial in early January would have a serious impact on the race for the Democratic nomination.

Based on the current pace of hearings in the House of Representatives and the legislative calendar from now till the end of the year, it seems likely that the earliest that the House will be voting on Articles of Impeachment will be right before the Christmas holidays. This means that the earliest possible start date for a trial in the Senate will be January, something that could prove quite disruptive for Senators running for President:

If you think President Donald Trump’s impeachment is messy now, just wait until next year.

The Senate is increasingly likely to hold Trump’s trial in January, according to senators and aides, a reflection of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s uncertain timeline in the House and the dismal prospects for finishing an impeachment trial in December.

And pushing the trial into 2020 will bring uncertain fallout for both parties, heightening the intrigue of what will already be historic proceedings on the second floor of the Capitol.

A half-dozen Democratic senators running for president will be anchored in Washington at the climax of early state campaigning, further marrying Democratic primary politics to the effort to oust Trump. These senators will need to find ways to break through both nationally and in Iowa and New Hampshire, but rather than house parties and cattle calls, impeachment will now be the forum — not an easy task.

Republicans are rejoicing at the prospect of the trial disrupting Democrats’ presidential primary. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) literally danced a jig while singing: “Pete Buttigieg, is moving ahead!”

“It would be horrible,” Ernst deadpanned on Monday. Elizabeth “Warren and Bernie Sanders will be here right before the Iowa caucuses. [Iowans] expect to reach out and shake their hands. And they will be here sitting at their desks. I feel so badly for them.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who has endorsed Warren, retorted: “I don’t even think kryptonite can hurt Elizabeth Warren.”

(…)

[V]eteran legislators are beginning to suss out the timing of Senate trial, taking cues from President Bill Clinton’s impeachment 21 years ago. Back then, the House passed articles of impeachment on Dec. 19; the Senate agreed to postpone the trial until January. Such a replay is likely, senators say.

“It looks to me like the House is going to be on this until Christmas, then it comes over to the Senate. It displaces all other business,” McConnell told reporters in Louisville, Ky., according to audio from the event. “I don’t know how long senators will want to continue the trial, but I’m pretty confident that in the end impeachment will not lead to ouster.”

McConnell said he “can’t imagine a scenario under which President Trump would be removed from office,” though the Kentucky Republican emphasized he isuncertain about the length of the trial. The longer a trial goes, the more it could affect the Democratic presidential primary as votes are held in more early states like New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Whether Sens. Warren, Sanders, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey will all still be running in two months is uncertain. But at the moment, all of them are projected to be quietly sitting at their Washington desks when it’s crunch time in Iowa.

“It’s what they signed up for. They have certain advantages of being incumbent senators. There’s certain disadvantages,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said. “It’s a factor. But I think the fact that they’re a United States senator should help their campaign also.”

Still, the schedule and the near-certain intersection of the campaign and impeachment will force candidates to think outside the box.
Senate rules say the chamber must be in session six days a week during a trial unless the leaders write a resolution changing the schedule. Senators also aren’t allowed to speak in the chamber during the proceedings.

Given how the timing is going, it certainly is looking as if Senators will be faced with the prospect of a trial beginning in January and continuing until, well, until it’s concluded. In the past, it has been suggested that Republicans might seek to speed up the procedures of the trial to get things over and done with quickly. Given the prospect, though, that the entire process will interfere with the campaigns of the Senators running for President, most especially Senators Warren and Sanders, it may well be that instead the GOP will seek to stretch the process out as long as possible in order to play a little mischief with the Democratic candidates for President.

Obviously, a Senate trial won’t impact all the candidates for the nomination, Indeed it would leave the campaign trail open for former Vice-President Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and all the other non-Senators to make potential inroads on the ground in early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Moreover, the fact that current Senate rules on impeachment trials, which Majority Leader McConnell has said he is unlikely to seek to change, require the Senate to be in session for the trial for six days a week, that makes the ability of Senators to campaign even on the weekends will be significantly impacted. Whether that is going to have a serious impact on the course of the campaign in its closing weeks will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on.

FILED UNDER: Bernie Sanders, Campaign 2020, Congress, Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren, Impeachment, Kamala Harris, Politicians, Ukraine, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    There will be rules and procedures votes at the beginning, and a party line vote to not remove at the end. In between, they just sit there. What requirement is there that they all be present?

    Opponents can claim some dereliction, but that should be addressable. “I’m not allowed to ask questions or do anything else until we vote, at which time I’ll be there with bells on. In the meantime I can chew gum and read the transcript at the same time.”

  2. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Republicans appear to have laid the ground work, by way of a Rules Request, to have more open hearings at this stage. If that demand is upheld, then this stage, prior to arriving at Judiciary, may be extended beyond the Thanksgiving break.

  3. @Bob@Youngstown:

    Senate rules require all 100 Senators be present, absent a valid medical excuse that must be approved by the Chief Justice (who, of course, presides over the trial). “I’m campaigning for President” is, most likely, not an acceptable excuse

    These people are jurors in this context. Jurors can’t just decide not to show up for a few days of the trial.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: Really? Hadn’t seen that. They ought to regret the open hearings they already had. I suppose the Rs will want their own witnesses. That’s not been going well for them either.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: That was me, not Bob, and thank you. All the articles I’ve seen have said they have to be there, without really saying why.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: What are the consequences of violating that rule?

    I mean, administration officials are supposed to show up in congress when they are subpoenaed, but they don’t and they suffer no harm. Some rules are more like vague suggestions.

  7. Joe says:

    @gVOR08: I think scheduling the hearings one way or another with an eye to the primaries would be a tricky call for Senate Republicans, who need to be very careful about what they wish for. For example, they may view Warren as the most beatable Democrat in the general election. Why get in her way now?

  8. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @gVOR08: @gVOR08:
    I believe that that demand was made by Nunes immediately after Schiff’s opening statement this morning. Nunes was invoking Rule 11 and contending that that rule supersedes the rule adopted for this inquiry.

  9. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Gustopher:

    Even if there are not meaningful punishments for not showing up, “I didn’t show up to do my job because I was campaigning for a more important job,” is a bad message to send to voters.

  10. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I think you misunderstood my comment, I was referring to the proceedings that are going on today.

  11. JKB says:

    @Gustopher:

    At a minimum the consequences would be that the Senator that has played hooky on this most solemn of duties would not be allowed to vote or be involved in outcome of the trial. Then they have to explain why they abandoned what is proclaimed as the most important of all duties. And finally, it signals to all that the Democrat impeachment was nothing but partisan and not considered important when it interferes with Democrat 2020 hopes.

    Even back in June, the Senators running for the Dem nomination had missed 20-64 Senate votes. I doubt they’ve become more attentive to their day job. Bailing on the Senate trial of the President that could end in removal of said President, wouldn’t be a good look

  12. Gustopher says:

    @JKB:

    At a minimum the consequences would be that the Senator that has played hooky on this most solemn of duties would not be allowed to vote or be involved in outcome of the trial.

    I’m quite certain that you have no idea what you’re talking about here. You may or may not be right, but you have no idea.

    My cat has the same level of understanding of impeachment procedures as you do.

    As to the optics, that becomes the candidate’s problem/opportunity to work out.

  13. Gustopher says:

    @Neil Hudelson: “Since individual Senators are shut out of the process of asking questions, and our job is just to watch, I can take that work home with me.”

    Bonus points for turning it into a discussion of the need for flexibility in workplaces to accommodate child care, medical emergencies and running presidential campaigns.

  14. JKB says:

    @Gustopher: As to the optics, that becomes the candidate’s problem/opportunity to work out.

    Actually, no, the Senate has an interest in conducting a fair trial, unlike this show “trial” in the press that Pelosi and the Dems are conducting. You cannot conduct a trial with jurors who are not present for testimony. It seems plausible a Senate resolution could permit a reduction in the jury for those who find campaigning more important than a fair trial of the President.

  15. senyordave says:

    @JKB: Actually, no, the Senate has an interest in conducting a fair trial, unlike this show “trial” in the press that Pelosi and the Dems are conducting.
    Sure, and here is how serious McConnell is about conducting a fair trial. From an article in “The Hill”:
    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) reelection campaign is seizing on the fight over impeachment, pledging in Facebook ads that he will lead Republican efforts to stop President Trump from being removed from office.

  16. David S. says:

    Any chance this would finally disrupt the early states as the strongest indicators of victory?

  17. David M says:

    @JKB:

    Ah yes, if the Senate Republicans are known for one thing, it’s fairness

  18. An Interested Party says:

    Republicans are rejoicing at the prospect of the trial disrupting Democrats’ presidential primary. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) literally danced a jig while singing: “Pete Buttigieg, is moving ahead!”

    “It would be horrible,” Ernst deadpanned on Monday. Elizabeth “Warren and Bernie Sanders will be here right before the Iowa caucuses. [Iowans] expect to reach out and shake their hands. And they will be here sitting at their desks. I feel so badly for them.”

    Oh that’s funny coming from someone who may have her own reelection problems due to the subject of that trial…

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @JKB:

    Actually, no, the Senate has an interest in conducting a fair trial, unlike this show “trial” in the press that Pelosi and the Dems are conducting.

    Stop it, man, you’re killing me. I think I dislocated a rib laughing at that.

    Yes, the Republicans who explained how they would vote before they had actually seen any evidence are certainly interested in a “fair trial”… hee hee.

    (“Show trial” is particular rich, given the number of eyewitnesses who have confirmed the President’s self-incrimination — including witnesses called by the GOP.)

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Just blue skying here but is it possible that a longish Senate “trial” would create a situation where some Republican Senators might end up more free to vote whatever conscience they may still possess because the window for launching primary challenges would close during the “trial?” It looks to me as though there is some amount of soft shoeing on razor blades for both sides in this circus.

    In any event, at least for the caucus states, the organization on the ground may be more/at least as important as the ability of some particular candidate to appear “live and in person.” If not, then Democrats may want/need to go all in for Joe, Pete, or Tom and do it early.