Impeachment Trial Could Give Biden and Buttigieg a Leg Up On Sanders and Warren

The sitting senators will be pressured to spend six days a week off the presidential trail. How will their campaigns adjust?

The senators are not required to be present at the trial, but given that the Senate is majority Republican, Democratic senators will likely feel an obligation to attend.

Well, it’s finally happening. The House of Representatives voted 230-197 to charge President Trump with abuse of power over his communications with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and 229-198 to charge him with obstructing Congress by ignoring subpoenas for documents and testimony from other executive branch agencies.

This means that an impeachment trial will be held by the Senate. Because Speaker Nancy Pelosi has delayed delivering articles of impeachment to the Senate, questioning whether the GOP will hold a fair trial, it seems likeliest that a trial will happen in January.

Some on the Left have debated whether impeachment is a distraction from more pressing political issues. Others have criticized the Democrats’ handling of a matter: In a Tweet, Jamelle Bouie, an opinion writer for The New York Times, referred to the timing of the impeachment during the primaries and the narrow focus on Ukraine as “absolute political malpractice.”

What’s sure is that a Senate trial will be a major problem for the five sitting Senators running for the Democratic nomination for president, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Senators’ schedules would be occupied—possibly for six days a week—just as the presidential primaries take off.

The senators are not required to be present at the trial, but given that the Senate is majority Republican, Democratic senators will likely feel an obligation to attend. In response to the release of the articles of impeachment on December 10, Sanders issued a statement denouncing Trump as “the most corrupt president in history” and pledging to “uphold [his] constitutional responsibility as a juror.”

Sanders and Warren have been on the march around the country, holding town halls, rallies and other campaign events. Sanders has appeared in 102 events in Iowa alone between Jan. 1, 2019 and Dec. 19, 2019, while Warren appeared in 77 events in Iowa during that period. A Senate impeachment trial, expected to start in January and possibly extend into February, would put a near-halt to that travel.  With Iowa’s caucus February 3 and New Hampshire’s primary soon after, this could prove advantageous to the campaigns of the other two frontrunners, former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In Politico, journalist Marc Caputo quotes a Biden campaign advisor who says that if Sanders and Warren have to be in Washington for impeachment hearings “while we’re in Dubuque[, Iowa], that’s their problem.”

But it appears the candidates have some workarounds in mind. Sean Bagniewski, chairman of the Polk County Democratic Party in Iowa, told Politico that candidates do not have to remain on the campaign trail every day to remain relevant. He argues that if Warren and Sanders could make their way to the living rooms of Iowans through TV coverage of impeachment, it would be a net positive for their campaigns.

The Sanders and Warren campaigns, as well as the organizations that have endorsed them, are beginning to develop plans themselves.

Even if Sanders stops his campaign travels, his supporters will still be on the road. According to the Washington Post, Sanders campaign advisers hope that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) could stand in for Senator Sanders’ visits to Iowa. She already made waves in Iowa campaigning for Sanders in November.

Jack Reardon of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (Iowa CCI Action Fund), which recently endorsed Sanders, believes his grassroots support can keep the campaign alive.

“His campaigning has knocked on the most doors in Iowa and made the most calls,” says Reardon, “[Bernie] believes in the power of movement politics and organizing everyday to make that change.”

The Warren campaign is also planning for impeachment hearings. In an interview with the Washington Post, Warren communications director Kristen Orthman suggested several options the campaign could take, including “travel by Warren’s husband, Bruce Mann, and remote appearances by Warren.”

Reardon emphasizes that regardless of the timing of the hearings, the Democratic nominating contests will be decided by turnout. “Get out there and organize!” he tells Sanders supporters. “Change happens from the bottom up. The only way the people’s candidate wins on caucus night is when people get out there and organize their family, friends and neighbors and build a people/planet first movement.”

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Will Kang is a fall 2019 editorial intern for In These Times.

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