Oral arguments are currently underway in the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
In one of the early hot spots of the trial, Democratic House impeachment officials (prosecutors, essentially) fended off a challenge from Trump’s legal team, which argued that a president could not not be tried on indictment after leaving office.
But this afternoon’s vote was not bad news for the former president: Forty-four Republican senators supported his lawyers’ argument that the trial was moot. While that would not be enough to dismiss the lawsuit, it would be more than enough to acquit him, as conviction requires a two-thirds majority.
If you haven’t already listened to it, today’s episode of “The Daily” features an informative conversation between Michael barbaro and Jim rutenberg, a general writer for The Times, outlining the legal strategies each party announced they would pursue this week.
But to delve a little deeper into the political implications of the trial, I spoke to Lisa Lerer, my fellow newsletter editor, who has been following the debates in Washington closely – and has spoken to insiders about what this might mean for the future of each party.
Hi Lisa. Almost exactly one year ago, the Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump in his first impeachment trial. Only one Republican voted to condemn him. Democratic lawmakers must feel they have a better chance this time around, as they try it again. What do they think makes this different and how have they adjusted their strategy since last year’s trial?
It’s hard to find a Democrat who believes the trial will result in a conviction. But the feeling within the party is that the siege on Capitol Hill was such an extraordinary threat to democracy that the former president must be held responsible for stoking it. Allowing Trump’s rhetoric to go unpunished, they say, would set a dangerous precedent of impunity for future presidents.
- A trial is underway to decide whether former President Donald J. Trump is guilty of inciting a murderous mob of his supporters when they stormed the Capitol on January 6, violently breaching security measures and sending lawmakers go underground as they convene to certify President Biden. victory.
- The House voted 232 to 197 to approve a single article of impeachment, accusing Mr. Trump of “inciting violence against the United States government” in his quest to overturn the election results. Ten Republicans joined Democrats in voting to remove him.
- To condemn Mr. Trump, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to agree. That means at least 17 Republican senators would have to vote with Senate Democrats to be sentenced.
- A conviction seems unlikely. Last month, only five Republicans in the Senate sided with the Democrats in pushing back a Republican attempt to dismiss the charges because Mr. Trump is no longer in office. On the eve of the start of the trial, only 28 senators say they are undecided on whether to convict Mr. Trump.
- If the Senate condemns Mr. Trump, convicting him of “inciting violence against the United States government,” then senators could vote on whether to prevent him from performing his future duties. That vote would only require a simple majority, and if it were party lines, Democrats would win with Vice President Kamala Harris voting for the tiebreaker.
- If the Senate does not condemn Mr. Trump, the former president could again be eligible for public office. Public opinion polls show he remains by far the most popular national figure in the Republican Party.
This is why you saw the Democratic impeachment officials open their arguments today by showing graphic videos of the attacks. They want to remind Americans – and senators, who are both jurors and witnesses – how shocking and violent the events of January 6 were.
Trump encountered complications in building his team for this trial. His team does not include any of the lawyers who made headlines (some of whom are now facing action) for defending his baseless allegations of electoral fraud. Who is defending Trump and what do we know about their strategy?
Trump is represented by two lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce Castor. Much of their argument will apparently center on the idea that the Senate does not have the constitutional power to try a former president because, by definition, he cannot be removed from office. (The president was impeached by the House before leaving office, and most jurists agree that a former president can be tried by the Senate even after leaving office.)
They also claim that Trump’s lies about a stolen election, spoken at a rally outside the White House before the pro-Trump mob stormed, are protected by the First Amendment.
Early signs suggest House directors face a surge to persuade enough Republican senators to vote for impeachment; it would take them 17 to join the Democrats to get the necessary two-thirds majority. Do they have a chance?
Frankly, it seems unlikely. In the Senate last month, 45 Republicans voted for a proposal that would dismiss the lawsuit as unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office. Of course, we don’t know what new information will come out of the trial. There could be something so inflammatory that Republicans – or at least 17 of them – decide to condemn Trump.
A few Republican senators have expressed their willingness to condemn Trump. If they do, will any of them face a pro-Trump Republican challenge for their Senate seat anytime soon? Or the censorship of their states parties, as some pro-impeachment Republicans have faced?
Any Senate Republican running for re-election who voted for conviction would likely face a primary challenge from the Trump wing of the party. That is part of the reason why we have not seen many of these senators take such a position.
Among those who have expressed any openness to conviction, several (Senators Susan Collins, Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse) are not re-elected in 2022. Others (Senators Richard Shelby and Rob Portman) have announced their intention not not stand for election. Yet these senators could face other repercussions: In Nebraska, the state Republican Party is pushing forward with a censure resolution against Sasse.
Whether Trump is ultimately convicted or not, each side will certainly try to make their case in the court of public opinion. Is there a way the Democrats fail to condemn it, but continue to impose themselves in this area? If not, is there a scenario where Trump could lose this trial and then turn it into a “victory” with his supporters?
Trump and the Democrats are likely to claim some sort of victory. Democrats will argue at their grassroots that they held the former president accountable for his actions. Trump and his allies will dismiss the whole trial as a witch hunt, an unconstitutional sham by overzealous liberals that they will use to strengthen their base.
But there are plenty of politicians in both parties hoping to get through this second indictment as quickly as possible. The Biden administration wants to advance its plans to help control the pandemic and revive the economy. And there is a section of the Republican Party that would like to escape the political stranglehold of Trump’s inflammatory words.
The mid-term of the House and the Senate is over 20 months away. How might the final Senate vote affect the election?
For now, many Democrats believe 2022 will be a referendum on “needles and checks” – the economy and their efforts to distribute the vaccine. Could Trump try to use impeachment to rally his base? May be. Or will he have lost some of his juice – and his interest – in Republican politics? Of course, that could also happen. It’s really hard to know now what his role will be and how impeachment might affect him.
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