Saturday, February 13, 2021

Trial of the Century 2.0, Con't

It's easy to get angry at Democrats today for their roller-coaster 180 on witnesses in Trump's impeachment trial, and lord knows they make it easy to do so, but the problem remains that the GOP refuses to convict.

When Senate Democrats stepped onto the floor on Saturday morning, they had no idea the House impeachment managers were about to drop a political grenade in their laps.

But after a brief schism that threatened to throw Donald Trump's trial into chaos, House and Senate Democrats quickly agreed to put the pin back in. House Democratic managers and the former president's lawyers ducked the issue of witnesses nearly as soon as it was raised, and Senate Democrats approved the turnaround.

Instead of a weeks-long drama over trial witnesses that risked upending the Senate schedule, a widely known statement from one House Republican was entered into the record. Trump’s team declined to dispute it. And amazingly, both sides decided to move on.

But that speedy resolution came after several hours of utter uncertainty.

While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his members had prepared for the possibility of voting on witnesses, they got no warning that the lead House prosecutor was about to force a vote that could have prolonged the trial for days or weeks. The impeachment managers spent Friday night and Saturday morning wrestling with the question themselves, according to Democratic sources.

Then Senate Democrats held a 9 a.m. Saturday conference call where members still indicated they were in the dark about House Democratic managers’ plans. The managers didn’t make the final call to force a Senate vote until minutes before the Senate gaveled in at 10 a.m., Democrats said.

“We don’t coordinate with the managers,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), adding that Democratic senators "have social conversations" with their House counterparts but "don’t talk strategy. So we did not know that they were going to request witnesses or not. And that’s how it should have been.”

Summing up the position Democratic senators decided on, Cardin said: “If the managers believe it would help their presentation, we should let them have witnesses.”

As Senate Democrats huddled on their call, their party's impeachment managers initiated outreach to at least some of the ten House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, according to multiple sources. The exact nature of those conversations remains unclear -- but what happened next shocked everyone.

The Senate quickly moved to a bipartisan 55-45 vote to consider possible witnesses. Schumer had long deferred to the managers: If they wanted to call witnesses, he said Democrats would support it. Still, the vote on witnesses personally surprised the Senate majority leader, Democrats said.

The Senate ultimately devised a fast solution to help the chamber avoid trekking down a long path of depositions that could drag the trial into March. Instead of calling witnesses, a statement from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) that reiterated her month-old account of a call between the former president and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy on Jan. 6 was entered into the record. And the trial headed toward a close.

Now everyone's mad at the Democrats over witnesses, instead of being mad at the Republicans for making this a foregone conclusion weeks ago.

But that's the way the political universe works in America.

Trump acquitted 57-43, short of the 67 needed. Republican Senators Burr, Cassidy, Collins, Toomey, Murkowski, Toomey and Romney all voted guilty, along with all 50 Democrats and Independents.

It's more guilty votes than I thought he'd get, but it was still preordained.

On to the courts now for justice.

A Little Sinema Verite

Why should Sen. Joe Manchin get all the attention when Arizona Blue Dog Dem Sen. Kyrsten Sinema can equally extort anything she wants from the 50+1 caucus?

Kyrsten Sinema doesn’t often make big policy pronouncements. But when she does, Democrats had better listen.

Take the $15 hourly minimum wage that Democratic leaders want to add to a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Sinema, who became the first Democrat to win a Senate race in once deep-red Arizona in 30 years, is crystal clear: She’s against including it.

“What’s important is whether or not it’s directly related to short-term Covid relief. And if it’s not, then I am not going to support it in this legislation,” Sinema said in a telephone interview this week. “The minimum wage provision is not appropriate for the reconciliation process. It is not a budget item. And it shouldn’t be in there.”

Sinema’s opposition is a blow to Democrats’ hopes of bumping up the federal minimum wage through budget reconciliation to avoid a GOP filibuster, complicating follow-through on a campaign promise from Democrats and President Joe Biden. And her defense of the Senate’s age-old rules is likely to frustrate progressives eager to use every tool at their disposal to advance their priorities in a Senate where one wayward Democrat can mean the difference between a policy breakthrough and utter failure.

Her breaks with her liberal colleagues are both a reflection of her state, which she won by a narrow margin in 2018, and her temperament. But the former state legislator, House member and now first-term senator has literally never served in the majority before — so she feels the minority’s pain.

It’s just one of the things that makes the 44-year-old Democrat one of the most quirky and interesting members of the stodgy Senate. She often wears a bright-colored wig to vote, drawing wide eyes from her colleagues. She waits for a single elevator most of the time, once peeking into a jam-packed vessel and declaring it a “Covid elevator.” The walls of her office are a loud purple, accented by leopard patterns.

And though she’s more attentive to Democratic Caucus meetings than she was in the minority, she still keeps Republicans at least as close as members of her own party. She was a pretty lonely Democrat during former President Donald Trump’s last State of the Union speech, standing and applauding at times. Now she talks to President Joe Biden’s team just about every day.

“She’s not someone who cares about convention and the way things were,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a friend and ally. “She recognizes the real tradition of a Republic, which is that we are elected not to put our finger in the air to determine the direction of the wind.”
In other words, if Joe Manchin won't block it, Sinema will. 

Get used to it.

Her career Trump score: 50.4%, matching Manchin's career total.
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