On its current path, the impeachment case against President Donald Trump is on a collision course with perhaps the most pivotal period in the Democratic primary, threatening to unravel the campaign plans of some of the top 2020 contenders.
The House is unlikely to vote on impeachment until the end of the year, meaning the Senate trial against Trump figures to begin in January — just weeks before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. It’s an event that could require the six Democratic presidential prospects to remain in Washington every workday for at least a month.
Depending on when the trial begins, or if it drags on, the trial could affect the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11, a day shy of the 21st anniversary of President Clinton’s acquittal after a five-week Senate trial.
There’s no consensus over which Democratic contenders are advantaged by an impeachment trial. Candidates such as Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg won’t be chained to senatorial desks, leaving them to stump unfettered in the two early states. But the six senators — Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren — will occupy the national spotlight as jurors, located at the center of the political universe of impeachment.
“We’re in uncharted waters. There’s no model for this,” said Joel Benenson, an adviser to Buttigieg and alum of Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. “We’ve never seen an impeachment trial in a presidential election year ever, let alone multiple senators running for president.”
Aside from being away from the campaign trail during the trial, the senators would face an additional potential burden: They wouldn’t be allowed to speak publicly on the matter in chambers during the weeks-long trial because they’re supposed to sit as silent jurors — a rare restriction for politicians accustomed to using congressional hearings as opportunities to grandstand or create a viral moment. They could comment during breaks outside of the Senate chamber, however.
The complexities of a Senate trial and its effects on the Democratic primary are only now being discussed in earnest in top Democratic circles. The conversation came into sharp focus after Thursday’s House vote ratified the impeachment process that, if all goes the way House leadership hopes, would end by the holiday season, with Hanukkah starting Dec. 22. That would put a Senate trial as the first and only order of constitutional business to start the new year.
We'll see where things go, but if I'm Mitch McConnell, I want to drag my feet on this for months, causing chaos though at least Super Tuesday and possibly beyond by calling witness after witness in a Senate trial and keeping Democrats tied up and unable to do much of anything for January through March, especially if the plan is to set up Biden for a fall.
Or then again, the trial could be over a day. I don't know how Mitch is going to play it, and anyone who does is lying.