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The Case Against the Slippery Slope Case Against Impeachment for “Abuse of Power” –

The first of the two articles of impeachment on which Donald Trump is about to be tried by the Senate focuses on “abuse of power.” In my view, Trump’s scheme to withhold aid from Ukraine in order to pressure that country’s government into investigating a political adversary is also a violation of the Constitution and criminal law. An abuse of power can also be an illegal and criminal act. But the article does not require proof of illegality for conviction.

Despite claims to the contrary by newly appointed Trump defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz, there is overwhelming evidence that the original meaning of the Impeachment Clause permits impeachment and removal for abuses of power that are not criminal or otherwise illegal. That is actually one of those points on which there is a fairly broad consensus among constitutional law scholars across the political spectrum. For good summaries of the relevant evidence, see recent analyses by Gene Healy of the Cato Institute, and prominent conservative legal scholar Michael Stokes Paulsen (here, here, and here).

But critics of the abuse of power standard nonetheless contend it should be rejected. They fear it would create a slippery slope under which presidents can be impeached and removed for frivolous or vague reasons. Dershowitz, for example, worries that abuse of power is a “vague, open-ended” criterion that could lead to a “slippery slope.”

Unlike Dershowitz, my co-blogger Josh Blackman admits that “Congress can convict a president for conduct that is not criminal.” But he too fears that impeachment for abuse of power depends on “subjective judgment” and therefore “the predicates of the Trump articles will set a dangerous precedent, as impeachment might become—regrettably—a common, quadrennial feature of our polity.”

On this view, almost any president can potentially be accused of “abuse of power” by political adversaries in Congress. And then he might be impeached and removed for relatively trivial misconduct, or even just because of partisan animosity or policy differences with Congress.

I. Why the Slippery Slope Argument Against Impeachment is Overblown.

Such concerns are to some degree understandable. Every president has partisan adversaries who who would be happy to “get him” if they can. Nonetheless, slippery slope fears about impeachment are misplaced. If anything, there is much more reason to fear that presidents who richly deserve to be removed will get away with serious abuses of power.

The biggest reason why we need not worry much about frivolous impeachment and removal is that removal requires a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate, as well as a majority in the House of Representatives to impeach. The former is almost always impossible to achieve unless many senators from the president’s own party vote to convict him. They are highly unlikely to do so for frivolous reasons. Michael Paulsen expounds on this and some other constraints on abusive impeachment in greater detail here.

We might still worry that members of a House controlled by the party opposed to the President will impeach for frivolous reasons in order to do him political damage, even if he is ultimately acquitted. But this overlooks the reality that a frivolous impeachment can backfire on the party that does it. The impeachment of Bill Clinton notoriously backfired on the Republicans because most of the public decided that the charges against Clinton weren’t serious enough to justify removing a president.

Of course, it’s possible that skilled partisans will find an impeachment charge that is simultaneously frivolous yet also appealing to swing voters. But that risk is endemic to political life, and is not unique to impeachment. In a world where voters are often ignorant and biased, there is no way to prevent politicians from sometimes successfully damaging opponents’ reputations with dubious charges.

Some might fear that a hostile House can tie up the president with impeachment investigations even if there is no chance of conviction (and perhaps even if the House never actually votes to impeach). But a hostile Congress can already harass administrations with questionable investigations, even if impeachment is not the purpose of the inquiry in question. Congressional Republicans effectively proved that with their two-year long Benghazi investigation, which was far longer and more costly than the Mueller and Ukraine investigations of Trump, despite the fact that impeachment was never a serious possibility in the Benghazi case.

Moreover, to the extent that frivolous impeachment is a genuine concern, the problem cannot be “solved” by limiting impeachment to criminal offenses. The scope of federal and state criminal law has grown so great that almost anyone can be charged with some crime if investigators work hard enough to find one. If a president cannot be charged with frivolous supposed abuses of power, he can still be accused of committing some petty crime. And most adult Americans probably have in fact committed one at some point or other in their lives.

Perhaps this possibility is precluded by the fact that the text of the Impeachment Clause is limited to “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (emphasis added). But the difference between a “high” crime and a minor one is at least as subjective as that between an abuse of power and ordinary, supposedly non-abusive, policymaking. Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment remember how Republicans claimed that Clinton’s offenses were grave affronts to the republic, while Democrats argued that they were minor, or at least nowhere near serious enough to justify impeachment. Whether a crime is “high” enough to justify impeachment is at least as subjective as the abuse of power standard is. If the word “high” does serve as an effective safeguard, it can do so with abuses of power no less than crimes, by limiting impeachment to serious abuses, as opposed to petty, insignificant ones.

Ultimately, the main safeguard against slippery slopes here is the combination of the need for a two-thirds majority in the Senate for removal and the danger of political backlash. It may not be a perfect safeguard, but it is very formidable nonetheless.

II. Barring Impeachment for Abuse of Power Creates Slippery Slope Risks of its Own.

Limiting impeachment to specific criminal or otherwise illegal conduct creates a slippery slope risk of its own. It creates a risk that the president can avoid impeachment even for grave abuses. Trump defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz gave a great example of such when he admitted that, under his approach, a president could not be impeached for the following conduct:

“Assume Putin decides to ‘retake’ Alaska, the way he ‘retook’ Crimea. Assume further that a president allows him to do it, because he believed that Russia has a legitimate claim to ‘its’ original territory… That would be terrible, but would it be impeachable? Not under the text of the Constitution.”

If impeachment is strictly limited to statutory crimes and misdemeanors, a president could also avoid impeachment for gross violations of the Constitution that do not amount to crimes. For example, he could order his subordinates to discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion, to violate freedom of speech, and so on. Such presidential misconduct is illegal, but generally not a crime.

Over the last several decades, presidents have all too often engaged in serious violations of the Constitution and grave abuses of power and gotten away with it. President Obama launched two wars without constitutionally congressional authorization—as serious a breach of the constitutional separation of powers as any. He got away with it. Donald Trump has gotten away with his brutal—and illegal—family separation policy, and with massive  cruelty of his travel ban motivated by religious bigotry. Even if you agree with the Supreme Court’s dubious ruling that the judiciary was required to defer to the president on the latter policy, it was still a gross abuse of power. Each of these examples was actually a far more severe abuse of power than the Ukraine case,  especially if judged by the scale of the harm caused to innocent people.

Presidents have strong incentives to abuse their power and violate laws any time it seems likely to promote their partisan and electoral interests, or advance their policy agendas. Impeachment for abuse of power can provide a counterweight, albeit perhaps a fairly modest one.

III. Which Danger is Greater?

Let us assume the worst: if impeachment for abuse of power is allowed, occasionally a “good” president will get the axe even if he or she didn’t really deserve it. That strikes me as a price well-worth paying for putting a tighter leash on presidents who genuinely abuse their power.

In criminal cases, there is good reason to avoid conviction unless the charge against the accused is an offense clearly delineated by law, and guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The reason why is that the defendant stands to lose her liberty or property—or even her life. By contrast, the risk facing an impeached president is removal from a position of enormous power.

Unlike unjust deprivation of life, liberty, or property, removal from power doesn’t violate anyone’s human rights. When real human rights are at stake, it may make sense to allow ten guilty people to go free, in order to save even one innocent from conviction. When it comes to positions of power, almost the opposite is true: Removing ten “normal” politicians is more than justified if that is the only way to get rid of one who engages in grave abuses of power. It’s not as if we suffer from a shortage of ambitious politicians who would be happy to take the places of those who get removed.

Imprecise delineation of  standards is also  far less problematic when it comes to removal from power than criminal punishment. If criminal laws are vague, people will fear to use their liberty, lest they accidentally run afoul of  the law. Such a “chilling effect” on liberty can be deeply problematic. If standards for impeachment are vague, the president might shy away from exercises of power that might be abuses, even if it is not entirely clear whether they really are. Such a chilling effect on power is more a feature than a bug, especially in a context where numerous other incentives incline presidents towards overreaching.

But perhaps the above underrates the harm caused by removing a “good” president. Such removal, it is said, is tantamount to “reversing” the outcome of an election. Not so.  A true reversal of an election would bring to power the president’s opponents. Thus, Trump’s election would be reversed by impeachment if his removal would bring Hillary Clinton to power. In reality, of course, impeachment elevates the president’s own vice president, who comes from the same party, and usually has a similar policy agenda. Elevating Mike Pence to the presidency may or may not be a good idea. But no one is likely to confuse him with Hillary Clinton—and not just because of the difference in gender. It is possible to imagine scenarios where the president and VP both get impeached and removed, thereby elevating the Speaker of the House of Representatives (who will often belong to the opposing party).

Such scenarios are great fodder for political thriller novels. But if it is extremely difficult to get a two-thirds majority in the Senate to remove a president in favor of a successor of the same party, it is virtually impossible to do so in order to elevate a political opponent such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Michael Stokes Paulsen offers some additional responses to the “overturning elections” argument here.

Ultimately, the real danger we face is not that too many good presidents will be removed from power unfairly, but that too many grave abuses of power will go unpunished and undeterred. I am not optimistic that impeachment alone can solve this problem. The supermajority requirement that prevents frivolous impeachment also prevents it in all too many cases where it is amply justified. But the threat of impeachment for abuse of power can at least help at the margin.

Let presidents—even “good” ones—lose more sleep over the possibility of impeachment. The rest of us will then be able to sleep a little easier, knowing we are that much more secure against abuses of government power.


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Donald Trump’s Senate trial likely to further tear at national divides

Democrats are furious at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan for the trial, which will force House impeachment managers to deliver their case in two marathon 12-hour sessions that could stretch into the middle of the night. Trump’s legal team will then have equal time to respond. The opening arguments are expected to begin Wednesday afternoon.

The blueprint could lead to the President being acquitted within a matter of days, which may also satisfy his demands for the trial to be over before he heads to Capitol Hill for his State of the Union address on February 4.

“It’s clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said on Monday evening.

“On something as important as impeachment, Senator McConnell’s resolution is nothing short of a national disgrace. … Senator McConnell’s resolution stipulates that key facts be delivered in the wee hours of the night simply because he doesn’t want the American people to hear them.”

Schumer vowed to challenge the Kentucky Republican’s plan with amendments on Tuesday at the start of the trial. Democrats are expected to try to force an early vote on the issue of calling new witnesses, a step that is provided for in McConnell’s resolution at the end of the grueling process of prosecution and defense presentations.

The fact that McConnell’s resolution includes language on potential votes over witnesses appears to be an attempt to navigate between Trump’s demands for a swift acquittal and the desire of vulnerable swing-state Republican senators to avoid offering the impression that the trial is not fair.

Trump is facing two articles of impeachment, alleging abuse of power in Ukraine and obstruction of Congress, after he intervened to stop key officials from testifying to the House investigation before he was formally impeached in December.

The trial is an emblem of wider political divides

The disputes over process at the start of only the third impeachment trial of a president reflect America’s internal political estrangement, which has been exacerbated by a presidency built on exploiting societal fault lines.

Because everybody accepts that the President is almost certain to be acquitted, each smaller battle in the trial takes on extra political importance.

Democrats want to call new witnesses including former national security adviser John Bolton, who branded Trump’s unofficial envoy to Ukraine, Rudy Giuliani, as a “hand grenade,” and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who essentially confirmed a quid pro quo in Ukraine in public.

Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland called for a process that allows testimony from key witnesses under oath.

“How can you have a fair trial if you don’t hear from witnesses who have direct knowledge to the key facts?” Cardin said on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”

But Republicans are threatening to match such demands with subpoenas for former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter — despite the lack of any evidence that either was involved in corruption in Ukraine.

A new CNN/SSRS poll published Monday highlights the pressure on Republican senators — such as Colorado’s Cory Gardner, Maine’s Susan Collins and Arizona’s Martha McSally — who face tough reelection races.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said the trial should feature testimony from new witnesses who did not appear in the House impeachment hearings. The poll also explains the wider political dynamics around the trial.

About half of Americans — 51% — say Trump should be removed from office. But his approval rating remains at a steady 43%. The fact that only 8% of Republicans think Trump should be kicked out of the Oval Office helps explain why there is no two-thirds Senate majority to eject him.

There are already suspicions that McConnell’s conditions for the prosecution and defense cases each to be presented in two 12-hour blocks are an attempt to hide the most damning allegations against Trump in late-night sittings.

Cardin suggested the plan may be designed to “saturate the hours so people don’t pay attention and try to get this over quickly rather than allowing a fair trial to take place.”

The dispute over witnesses who Democrats say are needed to ensure the trial offers a “fair” examination of Trump’s alleged offenses is merely a symptom of the unbridgeable chasms between Republicans and Democrats.

In a sign that McConnell’s rules will likely prevail, one moderate Republican, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said he would support them and pointed out that they did guarantee a vote on witnesses.

“Just because the House proceedings were a circus that doesn’t mean the Senate’s trial needs to be,” Alexander said in a statement.

“We have a constitutional duty to hear the case. That means to me, No. 1, hear the arguments on both sides, and not dismiss the case out of hand. No. 2, ask our questions, consider the answers and study the record. No. 3, be guaranteed a right to vote on whether we need additional evidence. Evidence could be documents; it could be witnesses; or there could be no need for additional evidence,” he said.

But there’s no agreement even on basic facts: The rough transcript of a call that appears to show Trump leaning on Ukraine’s President for dirt on Biden, Trump’s potential 2020 rival, is touted by the President and his supporters as “perfect.”

There’s not even a common understanding of the meaning of impeachment itself. Trump’s defense will be anchored on an argument that Congress’ ultimate sanction against a president requires the commission of a crime.

But many scholars believe historical evidence shows the founders meant for the “high crimes and Misdemeanors” phrase in the Constitution to encompass abuses of the public trust by presidents using their power for personal gain.

In keeping with the tone of the Trump presidency, the White House defense brief released on Monday does not fully engage with the mountains of evidence suggesting troubling presidential conduct unearthed by the House impeachment inquiry.

It instead uses sloganeering and insults to blast the impeachment as a “charade” and claims that it is a “dangerous perversion” of the Constitution.

The clashes at the start of the trial also exemplify another dominant political theme of the era, of how a Senate Republican caucus that is ruthlessly competent in wielding power is in lockstep with a President who harbors an expansive vision of his own largely unrestrained authority.

At its root, the trial will raise a profound question about a core principle of American democracy — whether the checks and balances that prevent one branch of government becoming too powerful are now unfit for that purpose.

Democrats reject Trump’s defense

Trump's legal team argues impeachment process a 'charade'

In a new pretrial brief filed on Monday, House Democratic impeachment managers pushed back on Trump’s response to the Senate summons, in which his lawyers argued that he had acted within his rights in Ukraine.

“President Trump maintains that the Senate cannot remove him even if the House proves every claim in the Articles of impeachment. That is a chilling assertion,” the nine-page brief said.

“The Framers deliberately drafted a Constitution that allows the Senate to remove Presidents who, like President Trump, abuse their power to cheat in elections, betray our national security, and ignore checks and balances,” the House managers wrote. “That President Trump believes otherwise, and insists he is free to engage in such conduct again, only highlights the continuing threat he poses to the Nation if allowed to remain in office.”

“The Senate should speedily reject these deficient articles of impeachment and acquit the president,” the brief said.

“The Articles themselves — and the rigged process that brought them here — are a brazenly political act by House Democrats that must be rejected,” the 110-page brief argues.

The President’s lawyers also construct a new argument that he was well within his powers to ask Ukraine to investigate Biden.

“House Democrats’ accusations rest on the false and dangerous premise that Vice President Biden somehow immunized his conduct (and his son’s) from any scrutiny by declaring his run for the presidency,” the lawyers write. “There is no such rule of law. It certainly was not a rule applied when President Trump was a candidate. His political opponents called for investigations against him and his children almost daily.”

Such arguments are why many Democrats are wary of any step that could lead Hunter Biden to testify, as it could satisfy Trump’s hope of dirtying the former vice president’s image ahead of a possible November election duel.

Trump’s claim that the impeachment is invalid because it does not charge a criminal offense is also a controversial position. It is expected to be laid out by veteran Harvard Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz.

Impeachment attorney and CNN legal analyst Ross Garber faulted the constitutional grounds for Dershowitz’s argument.

“I’m not sure of anybody who defended more impeachments than I have. And even I think Dershowitz is wrong on this. I don’t think you need a technical criminal violation for there to be an impeachable offense,” Garber said.

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Trump Announces 8 House Republicans For Impeachment Defense Team

President Donald Trump announced eight House Republicans set to be a part of his legal defense team ahead of a Senate impeachment trial.

“Throughout this process, these Members of Congress have provided guidance to the White House team, which was prohibited from participating in the proceedings concocted by Democrats in the House of Representatives,” read an announcement from the White House on Monday.

“The President looks forward to their continued participation and is confident that the Members will help expeditiously end this brazen political vendetta on behalf of the American people,” it adds.

The eight members are Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Mike Johnson (R-La.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.).

Trump was formally charged on Dec. 18 by the Democrat-majority House on two articles of impeachment (pdf)—abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

No House Republicans voted in favor of the articles, and a small number of Democrats broke with their party to vote against one or both articles. Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard voted present in protest of the House-led effort, which she called a “partisan endeavor.”

A brief that was submitted to the Senate before the trial shows that Trump’s lawyers are set to make the argument that both articles of impeachment against the president were constitutionally deficient, while potentially endangering the future office of the presidency and upsetting the government’s balance of power.

“House Democrats were determined from the outset to find some way—any way—to corrupt the extraordinary power of impeachment for use as a political tool to overturn the result of the 2016 election and to interfere in the 2020 election,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “All of that is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn.”

The Trump legal team’s filing comes after House Democrats submitted their brief that essentially summarized weeks of testimony from witnesses.

Democrats’ impeachment case accuses Trump of abusing his power by withholding military aid from Ukraine while he was pushing to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter, and Ukraine-based energy company Burisma Holdings, where the younger Biden sat on the board. They have also alleged Trump obstructed Congress by not sufficiently cooperating with their inquiry.

The House impeachment managers, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), responded to the White House’s filing on Monday afternoon.

“President Trump has engaged in the trifecta of constitutional misconduct warranting removal,” the managers wrote in response. “He is the Framers’ worst nightmare come to life.”

Their filing argued: “President Trump did not engage in this corrupt conduct to uphold the Presidency or protect the right to vote. He did it to cheat in the next election and bury the evidence when he got caught.”

Republicans control the Senate with a 53-47 majority. A simple majority (51 votes) is required to dismiss the charges against Trump.

A two-thirds supermajority (67 votes) in the Senate is required to convict a president and remove the president from office. About 20 Republicans would have to break with their party and join the Democratic minority to achieve a supermajority.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.

Follow Mimi on Twitter: @MimiNguyenLy

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Trump impeachment: What you need to know about the Senate trial

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Media captionA beginner’s guide to impeachment and Trump

For only the third time in history, an American president is facing an impeachment trial, with hearings set to start on Tuesday at 13:00 (18:00 GMT).

Such a trial could, in theory, lead to President Donald Trump being removed from office. That outcome would be a huge shock – we’ll explain why later – but the very fact a president is facing trial is significant.

Here are seven questions and answers that will help you understand the trial.

1) What is impeachment?

Put simply, it’s a process that allows senior figures in government to hold other officials (like judges, the president and cabinet members) to account if they’re suspected of committing offences while in office.

Those offences can include “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours”.

After someone is impeached, they then go on trial in the Senate, the members of which will decide whether they are guilty or not. It’s a political trial not a criminal one.

2) What is Mr Trump accused of?

He’s facing two articles of impeachment, or charges.

Firstly, he’s accused of seeking help from Ukraine’s government to help himself get re-elected this November. He’s alleged to have held back millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine and dangled a proposed White House meeting with Ukraine’s president, both as bargaining chips.

In exchange, witnesses say he wanted Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation into Joe Biden, the man who’s leading the Democratic race to challenge him in the election. Polls suggest Mr Biden would beat him if chosen as the Democratic candidate.

Secondly, after the White House refused to allow staff to testify at the first impeachment hearings last year, Democrats accused Mr Trump of obstructing Congress (the part of the US government that writes and brings in laws, and which was investigating him).

Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing and his legal team say the “flimsy” charges are a “dangerous perversion of the Constitution”.

It’s worth emphasising that this has nothing to do with the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election, and into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. That ended with no further action against Mr Trump himself.

3) Why is there a trial?

This is what led us to this moment:

  • August 2019: A whistleblower made allegations against President Trump
  • October – December: An investigation took place, with hearings in the House of Representatives (controlled by Mr Trump’s Democratic rivals)
  • December: Democratic leaders from the House voted to impeach Mr Trump
  • January 2020: The case was passed up to the Senate (controlled by Mr Trump’s Republicans), where the trial will take place

4) What does a Senate trial involve?

The US Constitution is a bit vague when it comes to the specifics of managing impeachment. But there are general rules based largely on the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868. In that case, he just about kept his job.

The only other president to face an impeachment trial was Bill Clinton in 1999. He too survived.

Two people are deciding how the trial will be conducted: Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, and his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer.

They’ll both have to agree guidelines for evidence, witnesses, duration and arguments. But because the Republicans control the Senate, Mr McConnell has the final say over the format of the trial. Senators will vote on the rules of the trial on Tuesday.

A few rules have already been laid out: there is to be no live tweeting from the chamber, and no outside reading material should be brought in. Senators are also not allowed to speak to those sitting near them while the case is being heard.

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Getty Images

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Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (left) and Republican leader Mitch McConnell (right) will be key players in the Senate trial

Senators will hear from both sides – prosecutors from the House of Representatives and lawyers from the White House – as well as from any witnesses. After that, senators will be given a full day to deliberate before they vote on whether to convict Mr Trump.

A two-thirds majority of 67 votes in the 100-seat Senate is required to convict and oust Mr Trump. But because there are only 47 Democrats (and 53 Republicans) in the Senate, the president is widely expected to be cleared.

In the unlikely event of Mr Trump being found guilty, he would be removed from office and Vice-President Mike Pence would be sworn in as president.

A simple majority of senators – 51 – could also vote to end the trial should they wish.

5) Who are the main players?

Each senator, including Mr McConnell, has delivered an oath promising to deliver “impartial justice” during the trial. But Mr McConnell – the most senior Republican in the Senate – last month said “I’m not an impartial juror” and has also said he and his party are working hand-in-hand with the White House.

“Everything I do during this, I’m co-ordinating with the White House counsel,” he told Fox News, to the fury of senior Democrats.

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Media captionHow US law professors teach impeachment

He won’t be presiding over the trial – that job has gone to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, although the 100 senators will ultimately act as both judge and jury. Justice Roberts is there to make sure the trial sticks to the predetermined rules.

A group of seven Democrats will act as impeachment managers – essentially prosecutors for the House, who will present its case for impeachment to the Senate. They include Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, both frequent targets of Mr Trump’s anger.

President Trump’s defence team will include special prosecutors from President Bill Clinton’s impeachment – Ken Starr and Robert Ray.

Alan Dershowitz, whose past clients include OJ Simpson, is also part of the team which will be led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Mr Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow.

Want to know more?

6) Will Mr Trump give evidence?

He could choose to appear before the Senate himself, but it’s much more likely that White House lawyer Pat Cipollone and Mr Trump’s own lawyer Jay Sekulow will speak on his behalf.

They, like the impeachment managers, will be able to question witnesses and deliver opening and closing statements. Mr Trump is also represented by Ken Starr – who investigated Bill Clinton – and famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz.

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Media captionTrump says Democrats will “regret” impeachment

Mr Trump is very keen for Mr Biden to testify along with the original whistleblower. Democrats want several senior White House officials to testify, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

But there may not be any witnesses at all if Republicans decide they would rather keep the trial short, which is possible. A simple majority of senators – 51 – is needed to agree whether witnesses (including Mr Trump) will be called or not.

Senators can ask questions of witnesses or counsellors, but only by submitting them in writing to Justice Roberts.

Witnesses may not necessarily appear on the Senate floor. They could be interviewed by a committee of lawmakers, and footage of the testimony would be aired during the trial instead.

Mr Clinton’s trial had no live witnesses.

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AFP/Getty Images

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Monica Lewinsky testified in a recorded interview during her former lover Bill Clinton’s trial in 1999

7) When will this all be over?

After the House presents the articles of impeachment to the Senate – a process that took three days in Mr Clinton’s trial – senators must remain in session every day except Sunday until they make a final decision.

This means that the four Democratic senators who are running for the presidency – Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet – will have to leave their campaigns behind for the length of the trial.

The trial is likely to last for weeks but how many is anybody’s guess – Mr Clinton’s took almost a month. Democrats will hope it is all done by February and the start of the 2020 primary elections, which will decide their nominee to run against (probably) Mr Trump.

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On King Holiday, 2020 Democrats March Arm in Arm to Honor His Legacy

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Several Democratic presidential candidates briefly put aside their recent sparring on Monday and marched arm in arm through the streets of South Carolina’s capital to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom they later invoked in speeches about America’s past and future that were rich with election-year overtones.

As the six-block march began from the Zion Baptist Church to the State House, where a Confederate flag once flew over the dome, Senator Bernie Sanders looped an arm through Senator Elizabeth Warren’s elbow, as the two joined other candidates in singing “We Shall Overcome” for part of the trip. Representative Tulsi Gabbard and Senator Amy Klobuchar each locked elbows with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as well.

The sight of Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren shoulder to shoulder — after a week in which they argued over their recollections of a private conversation about whether a woman could win the presidency — delighted Lisa Ray Clarkson, a retired teacher from Norfolk, Va., who was at the march.

“That means they have gotten over their differences and the Democratic Party is reuniting,” Ms. Clarkson said as she walked alongside the procession to the State House, where several thousand people converged.

It was a hopeful sentiment for a Democratic field that has become noticeably more fractious in the final weeks before the Feb. 3 caucuses in Iowa, where Mr. Biden, Ms. Warren, Mr. Sanders and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., are bunched tightly in polls and campaigned on Monday afternoon.

In addition to the Warren-Sanders argument, Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders have been criticizing each other’s records, with Mr. Sanders trying to cut into Mr. Biden’s support among older voters and black voters by portraying the former vice president as open to cuts in Social Security. Mr. Biden has denied that and demanded an apology from Mr. Sanders, who has stood firm.

On Monday in Iowa, Mr. Biden, who over the course of his career has at times supported Social Security freezes, vowed, “There will be no compromise on cutting Medicare or Social Security.”

Tensions also flared on Monday after the Sanders campaign circulated an op-ed written by Zephyr Teachout, an associate professor at Fordham Law School and a former New York political candidate, that accused Mr. Biden of having a “big corruption problem.” Ron Klain, a top Biden adviser, responded on Twitter: “There are a lot of legitimate issues to debate in 2020. But the only two campaigns ever to call @Joebiden “corrupt” are Trump and Sanders. What does that tell you?”

Mr. Sanders took the step of apologizing to Mr. Biden in an interview with CBS News. “It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way. And I’m sorry that that op-ed appeared,” Mr. Sanders said in the interview, which went online Monday night. Ms. Teachout is a longtime Sanders supporter whom the Vermont senator backed in a congressional race in 2016.

The four leading candidates in the polls are competing hard in South Carolina, particularly for support from black voters, who will make up a majority of the Democratic primary vote in the state on Feb. 29. Mr. Biden has a strong lead in South Carolina polls and is widely favored among black voters. None of his rivals took him on frontally on Monday, but instead sought to make the case to African-Americans and others in South Carolina about how the next president could benefit their interests.

Mr. Sanders, addressing the enthusiastic crowd on a cold day at the State House, reminded onlookers of Dr. King’s legacy of courage and opposition to the Vietnam War, which the 78-year-old Vermont senator also denounced. While Mr. Sanders has been trying to draw a contrast with Mr. Biden on their records on military action, he focused more on Monday on President Trump.

“If we do not allow Trump and his friends to divide us up by the color of our skin, or where we were born, or our sexual orientation or religion, if we stand together there is nothing we cannot accomplish in the fight for racial justice, social justice,” Mr. Sanders said.

Ms. Klobuchar, of Minnesota, invoked Dr. King’s comment that Americans are “all tied in a single garment of destiny — what affects one directly affects all indirectly,” and said that rising hatred across the nation would ultimately wound everyone.

“It coarsens our civic life. You can see it in the senseless racist shooting of worshipers in Charleston, you can see it in that rabbi’s home and stabbing, you see it in that bombing of the mosque in Minnesota, you see it at the riot in Charlottesville,” she said.

Addressing Mr. Trump directly over his comment in 2017 that “both sides” were to blame for the violence in Charlottesville that killed Heather Heyer, who was protesting a white supremacist rally there, Ms. Klobuchar said: “And no, there are not many sides to blame, Mr. President, when one side is the Ku Klux Klan. There is only one side, and that is the American side. That is it. That is all.”

Before the march and State House speeches, several candidates told a breakfast gathering of predominantly black voters that they were committed to advancing Dr. King’s legacy and that defeating Mr. Trump in November was a crucial step toward that goal.

“My campaign revolves around the image of the first day that the sun comes up over South Carolina and our country and Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States,” Mr. Buttigieg said at the Columbia Urban League’s annual King breakfast. “I raise the image of that sunrise because it will bring forth the burning question Dr. King posed in the summer of 1967: Where do we go from here?”

“Because on that day our country will be even more polarized and torn up than it is now,” said Mr. Buttigieg, who is one of the top-polling candidates in Iowa but is struggling in South Carolina and among black voters. He urged action to combat disparate treatment by race in the health care system and to address environmental pollution disproportionately affecting African-Americans, who make up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate in the state.

Former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, the only black candidate still in the Democratic field, took a different tack, telling the breakfast audience, “If we are really going to deliver a future for our children and grandchildren consistent with the values of equality, opportunity and fair play, to which Dr. King and the Urban League served as examples, then we’re going to have to start rejecting false choices.”

“Prosperity and justice can live alongside each other,” he said. “The notion that you have to hate business to be a social justice warrior or hate police to believe black lives matter are ridiculous.”

After the South Carolina events, most of the candidates flew quickly to Iowa to attend the 2020 Iowa Brown & Black Democratic Presidential Forum on Monday afternoon.

Mr. Biden, who repeatedly noted his commanding lead in polls with African-American voters over all, objected when moderators at the event noted Mr. Sanders’s strength with younger black voters. He also spoke about his heartfelt connection to black Americans, while acknowledging that he could not “fully understand” their experience.

“I know enough to know and see the pain, you can see the pain in people’s eyes,” he said. “I’m not saying, ‘I am black.’ But I want to tell you something. I have spent my whole career with the black community.”

“They know me,” he said firmly. “They know where my heart is. And they know what I’ve done.”

Mr. Buttigieg was pressed about his mayoral record in South Bend, specifically regarding his decision to fire a black police chief and his handling of racial divisions within the department. At times, the questioning even seemed contentious, as Mr. Buttigieg refused to go into detail about specific personnel decisions.

Mr. Buttigieg acknowledged fault on one point: the decrease in the number of black police officers during his tenure.

“This is an area where I’ve admitted it’s not where I wanted to be,” he said.

Mr. Sanders faced a question about the president’s wall on the southern border, and whether it would be a powerful statement if the existing barrier were taken down. “I don’t know, maybe the answer is yes,” he said, adding that if it cost “billions of dollars to tear it down, maybe the money would be better spent on child care in this country.”

Mr. Sanders also spoke about his immigration plans, which include a moratorium on deportations, and said there could be exceptions to the moratorium if an undocumented immigrant were convicted of a “terrible, terrible” crime.

But he noted that his immigration stance could leave him open to attack in a general election. “This is an issue, of course, something Trump will jump all over,” he said.

The forum ended on a lighter note when Ms. Klobuchar was asked about the last time she had smoked marijuana.

“Uh, you’d have to go back to college days,” she said to laughter.

Reporting was contributed by Jonathan Martin from Columbia, S.C., Lisa Lerer from Washington, and Katie Glueck, Jennifer Medina and Astead W. Herndon from Des Moines.

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Beacon Extra 1/20/20 – Washington Free Beacon

Welcome to the Washington Free Beacon’s morning newsletter, your comprehensive briefing on the Enemies of Freedom. To get this newsletter sent straight to your inbox every morning, sign up here.

SOLEMN SMILES …Dem Rep: ‘There Was No Joy’ at Impeachment Ceremony,” by WFB’s Graham Piro: “There was no joy in that ceremony,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.) said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. “And from the very beginning through the end, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi has been clear that we are going to proceed in a very serious and solemn and sober fashion.”

David Rutz breaks down the most important news about the enemies of freedom, here and around the world, in this comprehensive morning newsletter.

Sign up here and stay informed!

Anchor Chris Wallace had shown Jeffries photos of the ceremony, indicating that “all the participants look pretty happy.”

IT’S ALL ON VHS … Biden and Sanders Fight Over Social Security,” via WSJ: “The facts are very clear: [Joe] Biden not only pushed to cut Social Security—he is on tape proudly bragging about it on multiple occasions,” [Bernie Sanders campaign manager] Faiz Shakir said.

The Sanders campaign pointed to 1995 Senate floor speeches in which Mr. Biden noted his work with Republicans to balance the federal budget.

COMRADES, PLEASE! …Sanders and Warren Try to Tone Down Rift. Some of Their Supporters Seem Less Willing,” via NYT: Yet after [Senator Bernie] Sanders and [Senator Elizabeth] Warren, of Massachusetts, angrily accused one another of lying about whether he had told her a woman could not defeat President Trump, and with just over two weeks until the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses, supporters of the two progressives and erstwhile political allies remained upset.

“I was really disappointed,” said Jayne Cousins, an ardent Sanders supporter who attended his [New Hampshire] rally. She predicted Ms. Warren’s claim, which Mr. Sanders denies, would adversely impact Ms. Warren because, she said, it was so implausible.

LETHARGIC FRONTRUNNER …Progressives Warn of a Great Deflation,” via THE ATLANTIC: [Joe] Biden’s rallies are consistently much less well attended [than ones for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren]. And although crowd size is not necessarily predictive of electoral success, it could indicate whether a candidate has a sizable pool of enthusiastic volunteers to draw from in the general election. A Biden nomination would trigger a huge deflation in enthusiasm, and a shrinking of that volunteer pool, progressives argue.

RUNNING SCARED …Under criticism, Buttigieg changes plans and will attend King Day event in South Carolina,” via WAPO: [Former South Bend mayor Pete] Buttigieg’s planned absence from the high-profile event was taken by some in the state as a slap at those voters.

“I’m putting this out there. Candidates skipping King Day at the Dome is disrespectful [as it gets,]” Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina state legislator who endorsed Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D., Calif.) before her departure from the presidential race, tweeted on Friday. “You don’t miss an Iowa steak fry. Look, you’re not just speaking to black folk in SC you’re speaking to black folks throughout the South. I’m disappointed. It’s like you don’t care.”

SHUT UP AND DRIBBLE … ‘It’s going to be devastating’: Senators gear up for no-talking, no-electronics impeachment trial rules,” via CNN: To start, lawmakers used to giving lengthy speeches on the Senate floor to weigh in on the issues of the day will instead have to be quiet. Official decorum guidelines for the trial released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s offices say that senators must refrain from speaking while the case is being presented …

“It’s going to be devastating for some,” Democratic senator Jon Tester of Montana said with a smile about the fact that senators won’t be able to talk. 

MIGA? …‘Make Iran Great Again!’: Trump hits back after Khamenei’s gibe,” via POLITICO: Shortly after Trump’s tweet, [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s official English language account tweeted out that the U.S. government lies when saying it stands with the Iranian people.

“If you are standing by the Iranian ppl, it is only to stab them in the heart with your venomous daggers. Of course, you have so far failed to do so, & you will certainly continue to fail,” Khamenei’s account said.

Trump retweeted his response in both English and Farsi: “The noble people of Iran—who love America—deserve a government that’s more interested in helping them achieve their dreams than killing them for demanding respect. Instead of leading Iran toward ruin, its leaders should abandon terror and Make Iran Great Again!”

FINISHING WHAT MEL GIBSON STARTED …UK’s Harry and Meghan to drop titles and retire as working royals,” via REUTERS: The couple’s plans for independence, announced after a long break over the Christmas period in Canada, caught the rest of the royal family by surprise earlier this month and left the queen and other senior Windsors hurt and disappointed, according to royal sources.

However, in a TV interview aired in October, both had made it clear how they were struggling with the immense media attention. Harry said he felt his wife had faced “bullying” from some tabloids. 

RIGHT DOWN THE MIDDLE … “NBC News’ Ben Collins slammed for warning of ‘white nationalist rally in Virginia’,” via FOX NEWS: Ahead of Monday’s gun-rights rally in Virginia, NBC News reporter Ben Collins labeled the event a “white nationalist” gathering Sunday, even as he warned against spreading “made-up stuff” on Twitter—prompting scores of critics to point out the apparent irony and to condemn his network for sanctioning Collins’ checkered reporting on the so-called “dystopia beat.” …

Commentators and Second Amendment advocates had unloaded on Collins, asserting that it was strikingly unfair to claim that the thousands of expected attendees at the gun-rights rally were attending a “white nationalist” event simply because a handful of people outside the state potentially plotted to attend.

A TIME FOR NOT CHOOSING …Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren: The Democrats’ Best Choices for President,” via NYT: There will be those dissatisfied that this page is not throwing its weight behind a single candidate, favoring centrists or progressives. But it’s a fight the party itself has been itching to have since Mrs. Clinton’s defeat in 2016, and one that should be played out in the public arena and in the privacy of the voting booth. That’s the very purpose of primaries, to test-market strategies and ideas that can galvanize and inspire the country.

Ms. Klobuchar and Ms. Warren right now are the Democrats best equipped to lead that debate.

May the best woman win.

REID’S CYBER EXPERT UNAVAILABLE FOR COMMENT …Joy Reid Body Language Expert Says Elizabeth Warren Was Telling the Truth: ‘I Think Bernie’s Lying’,” via MEDIAITE: “Most of us want to deal with it afterwards instead of just going right for it,” [body language expert Janine] Driver said, and added “The fact that Elizabeth Warren not only came right over, she squared her body, he’s giving her the cold shoulder, he doesn’t turn to her, she says ‘I think you just called me a liar on national TV,’ if you go back to Wienergate, you go back to all of these political armageddons when it comes to deception, no one calls someone else a liar.”

LACK OF JEW-BAITING DAMPENS ENTHUSIASM …Women’s March Draws A Smaller, But Passionate Crowd,” via NPR: The fourth annual Women’s March descended on the streets of Washington on Saturday. But unlike the first demonstration that brought hundreds of thousands to the capital the day after President Trump’s inauguration, the march drew just a fraction of the original turnout as the movement has struggled with changes in leadership and questions about inclusivity …

After claims of anti-Semitism pushed three founding members of the Women’s March to step down from their roles last year, a bigger and more diverse board took their place.

WE READ IT BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE WILL … Review: ‘Restoring Our Republic’ by Ned Ryun,” by WFB’s Andrew Stiles: How many times should the word “transcendent” need to appear in a book about the history of the American republic and how to “reclaim” it from the communists? Once? Twice? Surely, 13 times is excessive, but Ryun lets it fly like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stuttering at the podium. The word “Trump,” meanwhile, appears just one time and only in the context of praising the administration’s efforts to reform the Department of Agriculture, an agency that ought to have been abolished by now if we are serious about promoting “small government” in this country. Alas…


You know who really doesn’t have it? Joe Biden.” —Former President Barack Obama

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Kellyanne Conway Says Impeachment Goes Against Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Vision’ for America

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Monday she does not believe the Democrat-led impeachment of President Donald Trump fits with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “vision” for America.

NBC News White House correspondent Geoff Bennett asked Conway what Trump was doing to observe Martin Luther King Jr. day.

Conway responded that the president — who was traveling to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Monday –“agrees with many of the things that Dr. Martin Luther King stood for and agreed with for many years, including unity and equality.”

She then said that Trump is not trying to tear the country apart through impeachment, as, she implied, congressional Democrats are.

TRENDING: Teenage Cashier Suspended After Buying Cop $2.75 Dessert with Own Money

“I’ve held my opinion on it for a very long time,” Conway said, “but when you see the articles of impeachment they came out, I don’t think it was within Dr. King’s vision to have Americans dragged through a process where the president is not going to be removed from office, is not being charged with bribery, extortion, high crimes or misdemeanors.

“And I think that anybody who cares about ‘and justice for all’ on today or any day of the year will appreciate the fact that the president now will have a full-throttle defense on the facts, and everybody should have that.” she continued.

Trump’s legal team filed a lengthy legal brief with the Senate on Monday calling the House Democrats’ impeachment effort an “affront to the Constitution” that should be rejected on its face.

Do you think Conway’s right?

Trump’s 110-page legal brief highlights that the House voted to impeach the president without alleging any criminal conduct.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution provides that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The president’s attorneys argued that “the Senate should speedily reject these deficient Articles of Impeachment and acquit the President.”

“The only threat to the Constitution that House Democrats have brought to light is their own degradation of the impeachment process and trampling of the separation of powers,” the legal brief read.

House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia argued on Fox News’ “Life, Liberty, and Levin” that House Democrats did not afford Trump the due-process rights that are a hallmark of equal justice under the law during their impeachment proceedings.

RELATED: Trump’s Legal Team Files Lengthy Brief Calling Impeachment Articles ‘an Affront to the Constitution’

Collins pointed out that House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland had said that Trump bore the burden of proving his innocence, rather than have the presumption of being innocent until proven guilty.

Similarly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in October, when launching the impeachment inquiry, that Trump would have the chance to “exonerate himself.”

“Did we all of a sudden suspend the Bill of Rights?” Collins asked Levin. “Did we suspend any modicum of due process?”

The lawmaker mentioned that while Democrats like Hoyer and Pelosi shifted the burden of proof to Trump, they also denied him the opportunity to call witnesses during the House hearings or have legal counsel present during the questioning of fact witnesses before the House Intelligence Committee.

“I don’t care if you think this president ought to be impeached or not,” Collins said. “This is irrelevant. This should bother everybody.”

“This is a political impeachment,” he said.

“It has been a political impeachment from day one.”

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day last year, Trump argued that King’s vision for a more equitable America had advanced under his administration.

The president pointed to record-low unemployment rates for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans.

Trump also highlighted the “First Step Act,” passed with bipartisan support in December 2018, which is intended to give those who have been incarcerated for non-violent crimes a “second chance at life,” through new sentencing guidelines and education and job-training programs designed to make their transition back into society easier.

“We have also made great strides as a nation,” he said, “but we acknowledge that more work must be done for, in the words of Dr. King, ‘justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

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Everything That Went Down at the 2020 Iowa Brown & Black Presidential Forum

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg admitted the city failed in retaining black police officers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren confirmed that she’d pull combat troops out of the Middle East. And former VP Joe Biden said he wouldn’t compromise with Republicans to cut Social Security or Medicare. Period.

The Democratic presidential contenders defended their records and charted out competing visions for the White House Monday at the 2020 Iowa Brown & Black Presidential Forum, the nation’s oldest minority-focused presidential forum.

In interviews with VICE News correspondents, eight candidates drilled into criminal justice, immigration, and other issues affecting minority communities around the country.

Here’s what went down:

Sen. Bernie Sanders doesn’t see himself as a radical. “Guaranteeing healthcare to all people through a Medicare for All program, is that radical?” he said. “I beg your pardon.”

Joe Biden said the Sanders campaign is lying about his positions on entitlements. “There will be no compromise on cutting Medicare and Social Security, period. That’s a promise.”

A Warren administration would pull combat troops out of the Middle East. “We’ve turned the corner so many times we’re going in a circle.”

After eight years as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg explained his record on race and policing. “This is an area where I’ve admitted we’re not where we want to be.”

Businessman Andrew Yang battles Asian stereotypes with math jokes. “By poking fun at these things, we can actually see them for how ridiculous they are.”

Is Sen. Amy Klobuchar the type of white moderate that MLK warned about? “At the time, there were plenty of whites that would perhaps profess to be helpful to African-Americans but were actually holding back a lot of federal civil rights legislation. That is not me.”

Sen. Michael Bennet has no problem being the “bland white guy” in the room. “I’ve stayed in the race because I actually think I have a stronger anti-poverty platform than anyone in the race.”

Former congressman John Delaney argued that Medicare for All is political suicide. “It’s never going to happen. I’m actually for doing things that are going to happen.”

Coming on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the forum gave candidates the chance to address non-white Americans who will comprise one-third of eligible voters for the first time.

Watch the replay on Facebook:

Cover: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at the 2020 Iowa Brown & Black Forum in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 20, 2020. (Photo: Justin Hayworth/VICE News)

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Democratic presidential candidates enjoy moment of harmony to mark King birthday

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Reuters) – Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren marched arm-in-arm on Monday, as a group of often feuding U.S. presidential candidates set aside their differences long enough to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.

Other Democratic White House hopefuls, including Pete Buttigieg, shook up multi-state campaign schedules to seek the support of black voters in Columbia, South Carolina, who will be crucial to victory in a tight race for their party’s nomination.

“Our job is not just to remember the history of Dr. King, it is to absorb his revolutionary spirit and apply it today,” Sanders said at a rally after the march.

Monday is the federal holiday celebrating King, who was shot dead by an assassin in 1968 at age 39. King’s efforts are credited with the expansion of black civil rights sometimes seen as under attack today.

Monday’s rally was organized under the theme “we vote, we count” by local chapters of the NAACP.

Candidates have packed their holiday schedules in the crucial final days before Iowa holds its Feb. 3 caucus, the nation’s first nominating contest. After the rally, several of the candidates rushed to catch flights to a forum on policy issues facing black voters in Des Moines, Iowa.

The day’s events marked a rare moment of apparent harmony between candidates, including Sanders, Warren and Joe Biden, who have clashed in recent days.

Warren and Sanders have sparred over differing accounts of a 2018 private meeting between them, while Sanders and Biden have sparred over their views on Social Security, the retirement and disability benefits program popular with voters.

But all are united in seeking support of black voters, who will play a key role as Democrats choose who will face President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election. They account for more than one in five Democratic primary voters nationally and about two-thirds of the party electorate in South Carolina, making the state a scene of frequent campaign stops.

South Carolina Democrats hold the fourth nominating contest on Feb. 29, before the 14 states holding contests on Super Tuesday on March 3.

“They spend a lot of time here,” said JT McLawhorn, president of the Columbia Urban League, a South Carolina nonprofit organization that hosted the candidates at a breakfast on Monday. “You seem them so much you think they live here.”

Slideshow (13 Images)

Biden leads among black voters nationally, with about 24% of the vote, compared to Sanders at 16%, according to an average of recent Reuters/Ipsos polls. A quarter of black voters said they were undecided.

Democrats have crafted competing policies on voter suppression, economic development and criminal justice reform aimed at courting black voters.

Michael Bloomberg, for instance, this week unveiled a pledge to spend $70 billion to fight poverty in 100 disadvantaged neighborhoods if elected, and announced efforts to help one million black Americans become homeowners over 10 years. He marched in a parade not far from the Little Rock, Arkansas, school desegregated with the backing of federal troops in 1957.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Bill Berkrot