Clearly, presidential impeachments create strange bedfellows. At the moment, Senate Republicans appear inclined to hold a short — maybe two weeks — impeachment trial at some point in January. Under this scenario, the House impeachment managers and the president’s counsel will each make presentations to a silent Senate, but won’t call witnesses. The Senate will vote on the articles of impeachment as soon as the formal arguments are made. But there are two different sources of dissension from this plan.
The first is in the White House, where President Trump has publicly expressed a desire to have an extended trial where Hunter and maybe Joe Biden, Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, and other participants in the conspiracy to rob the American people of Their Beloved POTUS would be hauled in for questioning.
But the second faction favoring an extended trial with lots of witnesses is among Senate Democrats, as The Hill reports:
Democratic senators are concerned by talk among Senate Republicans of holding a speedy trial without witnesses, which would set up a shorter time frame than when the Senate considered President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment …
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is the witness that Democrats most want to hear from, along with former national security adviser John Bolton. They would also like to call in acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought, who could testify as to why assistance to Ukraine was held up.
They also want to be able to utilize posters and videos to present the case against the president “as vividly as possible,” and fear that McConnell will try to make the trial as un-vivid as possible — a cut-and-dried event that begins and ends with a great national yawn and some resentment at wasted time.
So strongly, we are told, do Senate Democrats feel about this that they are considering a request to Nancy Pelosi, who has been lashing the House to complete impeachment before tiny hooves are heard on rooftops, to sit on articles of impeachment for a while until McConnell cuts a bipartisan deal with them on trial procedures:
Senate Democrats are quietly talking about asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to hold articles of impeachment in the House until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agrees to a fair rules package for a Senate trial …
“If we don’t agree on a set of rules before the articles arrive over here, I think we’re cooked. I think McConnell has his people totally in line. It will be a procedural thing,” said one concerned Democratic senator.
They’re probably right that McConnell can pretty easily get 51 Republican votes for a set of rules that minimizes drama, and hence reduces stress on vulnerable Republican senators facing voters in 2020, like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner. But do they seriously expect Pelosi to change all of her plans on the outside chance that McConnell bends to Democratic wishes?
Now it’s possible this is all just a misdirection play, with Senate Democrats agitating for their witnesses strictly to counter Trump’s agitation (with the outspoken support of his House allies) for a show trial featuring his witnesses. And despite his customary waffling on the subject, there are indications Trump wants to reinforce House GOP conspiracy theories during his trial, notes NBC:
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who speaks with Trump regularly, said he believes the president will want to call witnesses “to have his name cleared.”
“There is a general belief among some members of Congress that additional witnesses, including the whistleblower, will highlight the coordinated and partisan nature of this impeachment process,” Meadows said in an interview.
But if the Senate gets into a back-and-forth on the allowability of specific witnesses and has to take votes on each, the possibility of intra-Republican conflict could significantly grow, and that’s what McConnell most wants to avoid. So the talks will continue.
Meanwhile, all the uncertainty over the start time and duration of the impeachment trial continues to create problems in the Democratic competition to choose a challenger to Trump after his certain acquittal, as The Wall Street Journal reports:
Plans for a Democratic presidential debate in January have been complicated by the expected Senate impeachment trial of President Trump, which could tie up several 2020 hopefuls during the final stretch before the Iowa caucuses.
The Democratic National Committee has struggled to settle on a date for next month’s debate, according to people familiar with the planning. It isn’t clear when a potential trial would start or how long it would last; the Senate trial of former President Bill Clinton was conducted over five weeks. The Senate could convene six days a week to hold proceedings beginning in January, limiting the number of days in which Senate candidates such as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont could appear in a televised debate.
Complicating matters, the DNC doesn’t want to schedule a debate at the same time as the National Football League playoffs, which will occupy the first three weekends of the month, or the Iowa Brown & Black presidential forum in Des Moines, which will be held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 20.
Presumably deciding it can’t just wait for the impeachment-trial schedule to be settled once and for all, the DNC has now announced an Iowa debate for the evening of January 14, a Tuesday night that could well arrive right smack in the middle of the trial. And if the trial does begin late or go long, the three February debates newly announced could be affected, too:
February 7: ABC, in partnership with WMUR-TV and Apple News, will host the eighth Democratic debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.
February 19: NBC News & MSNBC will host the ninth Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Nevada — in partnership with The Nevada Independent.
February 25: CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute will co-host the tenth Democratic debate at The Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina. Twitter will be a debate partner.
Debates aside, individual senators still in the presidential field (there remain five right now, though Michael Bennet and Cory Booker are in some danger of getting squeezed out of the race) are having to make contingency plans for a Senate trial that occurs right before (and possibly during and after) the Iowa caucuses, mostly by deploying surrogates and communicating to the troops regularly if remotely. One senator, though, might be most significantly affected:
The impeachment process would likely complicate matters most for senators who are in single digits in polls, including Ms. Klobuchar, who has aggressively campaigned in Iowa in hopes of making a late surge helped by her status as a neighbor to the north.
Meanwhile, candidates like Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg (who sheds his day job as mayor of South Bend on January 1), Andrew Yang, and Tom Steyer will be free to romp and play in the snow to their heart’s content. Another key player in the nomination fight (albeit not in the early states), Michael Bloomberg’s wallet, won’t be affected by the trial, either.
Assuming she doesn’t listen to Senate Democratic blandishments to abandon her strategy and try to stare down Mitch McConnell, the person happiest to contemplate all these imponderables will be Nancy Pelosi, whose impeachment duties will be part of the old year we kiss good-bye on December 31.