The Downside for a Senate Impeachment trial for Democrats
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a central player in the likely impeachment trial headed for the Senate, hit on the tension surrounding timing as he laid out a tentative game plan.I think the impeachment hearing hurt the Democrats more than they hurt President Trump who is eager to have a fair hearing which he is likely to get from Republicans in the Senate. Such a trial is also likely to hurt Democrat candidates for the House and Senate. The hearings gave voters an extended look at Schiff and Democrats' bad faith in pushing for impeachment. They are also hurt by their embrace of the discredited Russian collusion hoax.
“I just think the best thing for the country is to get this done quickly, but it’s got to be done in a way that’s acceptable to the body,” he told RealClearPolitics in an interview late last week.
Therein lies the rub.
Graham, who as Judiciary Committee chairman will negotiate with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on the parameters of the impeachment trial process, has repeatedly pointed to the Clinton impeachment model of a five-week trial as a guide.
Such a trial, even with that limited duration for the monumental prospect of ousting a president, would likely begin in January and extend to mid-February, serving as both a blessing and a curse for Senate Democrats in the presidential primary race.
It would put Trump’s impeachment process squarely in the media spotlight in the run-up to the early voting states but also would ground several key 2020 contenders in Washington even though their presence as jurors will have little to no impact on the outcome. All signs right now point to the GOP-dominant Senate acquitting President Trump.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who faces his own reelection fight this year, is practically licking his chops at the thought of Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, along with independent Bernie Sanders, sidelined from the campaign trail in the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3 and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11.
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg is already leading the pack in Iowa, and he and Joe Biden and are nipping at Warren’s heels in New Hampshire.
Democrats, Cornyn told reporters late last week, are already “squandering” their opportunity to focus on the issues voters care about most with their march toward impeachment.
“I like the thought of several of [the Democratic candidates for president] grounding themselves in Washington” early next year, he told reporters last week, with a smile.
The Senate trial also will inevitably bloody up Biden just as the Democratic nominating process begins. For Republicans, the trial will not be just of President Trump’s actions in holding up U.S. aid for Ukraine, but also focus on Joe and Hunter Biden and what the latter did on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma to deserve his lucrative payouts.
The former vice president is already feeling the heat and has blasted Graham over his decision to launch a probe into the Bidens’ Ukrainian connections. (The two were good friends from their decades serving together in the Senate.)
Graham and other Republicans have said they won’t accept hearsay witnesses, eliminating several State Department and White House aides who testified before the House committee.
“I would argue that the House has run into a problem — most people aren’t tried based on hearsay,” Graham told reporters last week. “What I think we have going on in the House is deficient due process.”
“It is hard to read this as anything but a warning. New polling suggests Democrats’ impeachment push could alienate key voters,” its headline blared.
The opinion survey was conducted after the first week of televised impeachment hearings, so it’s hardly the final word on voter reaction to the impeachment push. Still, it and other polls with similar results weren’t great news for Democrats as independents opposed Trump’s impeachment and removal by 46% to 39%, figures close to the averages that predated the hearings, despite the mainstream media characterizing the supposed hearing bombshells as a bonanza for Democrats.
The same Politico/Morning Consult data found that the electorate believes the impeachment inquiry focuses on the priorities of politicians and the media – not of ordinary voters, who are “confused and dispirited by the nonstop parade of Washington scandals,” as Vanity Fair put it.
If sustained by new surveys with similar results this week, Democrats will be in a bind: It’s the Republican majority in the Senate that controls the impeachment trial process and length. If Democrats extend it too long in order to hear from additional witnesses, they risk undermining some of their most competitive presidential contenders and alienating swing voters in the process.