Opinion The Senate’s Potemkin Trial

20:30  21 january  2020
20:30  21 january  2020 Source:   theatlantic.com

Schumer on Senate impeachment trial: 'We will force votes' on witnesses and documents

  Schumer on Senate impeachment trial: 'We will force votes' on witnesses and documents Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday night he is prepared to "force votes for witnesses and documents" in the Senate impeachment trial if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not call for it in his proposal. "We have the right to do it, We are going to do it and we are going to do it at the beginning on Tuesday if leader McConnell doesn't call for these witnesses in his proposal," Schumer said at a press conference in New York. "We're allowed to amend it, and ask for them.

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Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi sitting in a suit and tie© Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Everyone’s going to hate the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

The president, who would prefer that there is no trial at all, will hate that it’s happening in the first place. Senators as a whole, who may have to sit—sans chatter or phones—into the wee hours of the morning hearing the case, are going to be miserable. Most of the Democrats among those senators think the rules are a sham, designed to move through the trial quickly, without any serious consideration. Most of the Republicans, well, want to get the trial over as quickly as possible, without any serious consideration. Chief Justice John Roberts has to hold down two jobs, juggling his Supreme Court responsibilities while also presiding over the impeachment trial. And don’t get us started on the journalists who have to cover it, especially under outrageous limitations.

Trump arrives in Davos hours before impeachment trial reopens

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It’s a good thing that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell relishes being a “spear-catcher” who takes blame for unpopular ideas.

The rules that McConnell has laid out, on which the Senate will vote Tuesday afternoon, provide for a Potemkin trial, not a real one. McConnell has been open that his goal is to dispose of the trial before the State of the Union, on February 4, and the rules show far more interest in speed than accuracy or deliberation.

[David A. Graham: Impeachment is incredibly popular]

There’s a good chance the Senate won’t hear from any new witnesses or documents at all; in any case, a vote on that will be held later. Any witness would be deposed before testifying. The Senate will still be able to vote to dismiss the charges outright, though Republicans have suggested there’s not majority support for that step. The House impeachment managers, a team of Democrats appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will have 24 hours to present their case—but only over the course of two calendar days. Since the days start at 1 p.m., that means that managers will be running late into the night, if they take all their time.

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McConnell had indicated the rules would mirror those adopted for the Clinton impeachment, but they diverge in crucial respects. These include the two-day limit, which is clearly designed to minimize public attention, and the method by which the rules were adopted: The Clinton rules came out of a bipartisan agreement, while the Trump rules are expected to pass on something like a party-line vote.

Trump’s acquittal is effectively a foreordained outcome—especially if senators don’t hear any more evidence or witnesses, though it’s not clear any evidence of misconduct by the president could really sway Republican senators at this point. So why bother having a trial at all?

The catch is voters, and in particular, the multiple electorates that McConnell has to consider: the nation as a whole, but also the voters in those states where vulnerable Republicans are up for reelection.

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The Senate can scarcely afford to hold a trial. The Senate majority leader has forged a surprisingly effective working relationship with Trump, who detests the idea of a trial. And if McConnell held a real trial, he would risk uncovering new information that is damaging to the president. The House impeachment hearings, rushed as they were, provided a parade of scathing revelations about Trump’s lawlessness and abuse. Even without a real threat of conviction, that’s not in Trump’s interest, and it’s not in McConnell’s interest to come up with even more evidence against Trump and then still acquit.

[Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes: Trump’s impeachment brief is a howl of rage]

Yet McConnell can’t very well not hold a trial, either. He’s said that the Senate rules require one, although he has hedged a bit by allowing the possibility of a motion to dismiss. The public wants a trial, too. There’s been durable, widespread public support for impeachment since September. FiveThirtyEight’s average of polling finds a slim plurality supports removing Trump from office. A new CNN poll even finds a majority for removal (51 percent).

The Senate has to at least have the appearance of a trial to provide cover to vulnerable Republicans like Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine. But it can’t be too fair, because that could expose Republicans to primary challenges from the right, which would only make McConnell’s delicate act of keeping his caucus together more challenging. His best prospect is to run the gauntlet and hope that in the process he makes life difficult for endangered Democratic senators, like Doug Jones of Alabama.

That’s the paradox of the Senate’s handling of impeachment. The proceedings there look like a flimsy excuse for a trial, and they are. But under the surface, there are a series of real trials going on. Vulnerable senators sit in the dock, the jurors are voters, and the verdicts won’t come back until November.

Protester interrupts Senate impeachment trial, yelling 'Schumer is the devil' .
The man was arrested and charged with unlawful conduct.The protester was tackled and escorted out of the gallery within seconds. Jeffries, one of the seven House impeachment managers tasked with presenting the case against Trump, resumed his remarks, but the protester continued to scream loudly just outside the chamber, on the third floor near the press gallery.

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