Democrats shift focus to second article of impeachment
Democratic impeachment prosecutors had one last chance to speak on the Senate stage, but with Donald Trump sure to be acquitted this week, their main task was to convince 2020 voters that he doesn’t deserve to be re-elected.
The seven House managers made their case on the same day Democratic voters caucus in Iowa to pick the candidate best suited to unseat Trump in November. Four of those candidates were stuck in the Senate chamber for much of the day, hampering their final pitches to voters.
The seven House prosecutors appealed to the Senate’s responsibility to ensure that the president isn’t above the law and to protect the integrity of the 2020 election.
Trump “remains unapologetic, unrestrained and intent on continuing his sham to defraud our elections,” Val Demings, one of the impeachment managers, said on the Senate floor.
Monday was also the last chance for Trump’s defense team to argue that Democrats’ impeachment inquiry was a partisan exercise and the president’s actions regarding Ukraine don’t merit removal from office. Almost all GOP senators have thoroughly embraced this message, echoing both points last week as the trial moved into the final stages, without calling any additional witnesses.
The closing argument from Trump’s lawyers came the day before the president will deliver the last State of the Union address of his first term. In his Tuesday speech, Trump will be addressing both the prosecutors and the jurors in the trial that won’t wrap up until the following day.
Ken Starr, the independent counsel during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and part of Trump’s defense team, suggested that the House’s case wasn’t conducted in a thorough, fair and straightforward way.
“Rules are rules, they are to be followed,” Starr said. “Were the rules here faithfully followed? If not, if that was your judgment, then with all due respect the prosecutors should not be rewarded.”
On Monday, House Democrats and Trump’s defense team each had two hours for their closing arguments. Then the impeachment court adjourned until 4 p.m. Wednesday for the final vote on the House’s two articles of impeachment -- alleging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In the meantime, the Senate floor will be open for senators to explain their votes on witnesses or the ultimate verdict.
All eyes will be on a few Democrats who have said they aren’t decided, including Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. A vote for acquittal from any of them hands Trump a chance to say his reprieve was bipartisan.
Sinema spent some of the breaks in the impeachment trial chatting with Republican leaders on the other side of the aisle. As the trial paused for lunch Monday, she spoke with moderate Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, as well as John Thune, a member of the GOP leadership team.
Jones said Monday that he’s still undecided. Manchin said the same Friday evening, telling reporters he will go to the floor Wednesday and vote without any advance announcement.
“I swear to God, I won’t know until I walk in,” Manchin said. “I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s a fact.”
Not a single Republican has said they would vote to remove Trump from office. Only two GOP senators -- Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah -- said the Senate trial should seek more evidence.
With 67 votes needed to convict, Trump is expected to be easily acquitted, even after some Republican senators allowed that he erred in his dealings with Ukraine.
Senator Lamar Alexander said Trump crossed a line by withholding nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid to the nation as a way to “encourage” an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, who is also seeking the 2020 nomination. But Alexander said voters, not senators, should decide what to do about it.
“I’m going to vote to acquit. I’m very concerned about any action that we could take that would establish a perpetual impeachment,” the Tennessee Republican who’s retiring this year said Sunday on NBC.
GOP Senator Joni Ernst, who never wavered in her opposition to impeachment despite facing a tough re-election campaign in Iowa this year, warned that Republicans could immediately push to impeach Biden if he wins the White House. She said Democrats impeaching Trump for Ukraine-related allegations have lowered the bar for what is considered a chargeable offense.
“I think this door of impeachable whatever has been opened,” Ernst said Sunday in an interview with Bloomberg News. “Joe Biden should be very careful what he’s asking for because, you know, we can have a situation where if it should ever be President Biden, that immediately, people, right the day after he would be elected would be saying, ‘Well, we’re going to impeach him.’”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said the House has proven its case, and noting that some Republicans acknowledged that Trump’s conduct was wrong.
Schiff said Trump has “betrayed his oath to protect and defend the Constitution, but is not too late for us to honor ours to wield our power to defend our democracy.”
“Today we urge you, in the face of overwhelming evidence of the president’s guilt, and knowing that if left in office he will continue to seek foreign interference in the next election, to vote to convict on both articles of impeachment, and to remove from office, Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States,” Schiff said.
There are four senators still vying to run in November’s election: Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, and Colorado’s Michael Bennet.
Klobuchar, who is trailing but still viable in the race for the Democratic nomination, tweeted Monday morning that she’ll be starting the day doing her “constitutional duty.”