WASHINGTON – Finally it is the Senate’s turn. And if recent history is a guide, President Trump’s political trial will be an intensely partisan display that will make the Clinton era polarization seem like a past period of political harmony.
While the Democrats and Republicans managed to unanimously agree on how to begin the trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999, the two parties, and their two leaders, are now irreconcilablely divided on how to proceed and if the trial is even legitimate.
A decade of intensification of the conflict in the Senate looms over the confrontation, exemplified by ruthless changes in party rules, constant filibusters, the Republican blockade of Judge Merrick B. Garland, poisonous confirmation fights and a shortage of legislative actions while the Senate leaders avoid votes that could threaten incumbents for re-election.
Trump’s trial provides an opportunity for senators to demonstrate that the institution can still overcome the brutal partisan combat at a time of constitutional gravity. But there are few reasons for optimism, since Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and majority leader, has repeatedly expressed his deep disregard for the House’s procedures and the conduct of his political rivals in the hall, a reflection of the opinion held by most of his Republican Colleagues.
“It’s a bad start, but that doesn’t dictate the end,” said Kent Conrad, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota who participated in the Clinton impeachment trial. “We could make some people have a crisis of conscience and realize that history will judge them by their performance here.”
Those inside and outside the Senate say that the partisan atmosphere has deteriorated markedly since the days of the Clinton trial. That in itself was controversial when House Republicans, at the behest of Tom DeLay of Texas, the Republican whip known for his approach to not taking prisoners, drove Political trial articles against the president in a lame Congress in 1998.
Still, the two leaders of the Senate at that time, Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, and Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, reached an agreement for the trial that the full Senate considered acceptable as a starting point.
The senators took their responsibilities seriously despite the consensus agreed from the beginning that Clinton He would not be removed from office, as well as a deep disagreement about the suitability of the accusations against him, similar circumstances to the current ones.
“As absurd as Clinton’s political trial was, he handled himself with proper solemnity,” said Russ Feingold, a former Wisconsin Democratic senator who was the only member of his party at the time to vote with Republicans against a motion. . dismiss the articles of political judgment against Mr. Clinton. “The trial was generally seen as essentially fair.”
In contrast, McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, are not in talks about the basic rules for Trump’s trial. Instead, McConnell is getting ahead and next week, he plans to set the parameters only with Republican votes if necessary, leaving some of the most important questions, including the possibility of calling witnesses as demanded by the Democrats, until later.
Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, who pressed to open the possibility of calling witnesses at trial, said she had pressured Mr. McConnell to allow him in part because of his experience with Mr. Clinton’s trial in 1999, and his desire to honor the unique obligation of the Senate on the political trial.
“I think I believe in the oath, and I believe in the precedent, and that is why I am doing it,” Collins said Wednesday.
McConnell has repeatedly denigrated the accusation of the House of Representatives as weak and rushed, mocked the tactics of President Nancy Pelosi and questioned Mr. Schumer’s motivations. The minority leader, the Republicans say, is using the trial trial to undermine Republicans in conflict like Cory Gardner of Colorado and Collins in an attempt to wrest control of the Senate from Republicans in November.
“The Senate Democratic leader said recently that, as long as he can try to use the trial process to damage the chances of reelection of some Republicans, he cites,” it is a win-win, “McConnell said this week.” That is what it is all about. All this”.
Democrats are enraged at the idea that they are playing politics and say Trump He put national security at risk by retaining Ukrainian military aid as a lever to force an investigation of a political rival and then hindered the Chamber’s investigation of its actions.
In a two-chamber story, the contrast between the House and the Senate was exhibited on Wednesday. House Democrats showed their selection of prosecutors and the ritual delivery of political trial articles throughout the Rotunda, while Senate Republicans treated the matter like a hot pope, without rushing to take office. . Mr. McConnell immediately postponed the formal receipt of the documentation until Thursday.
“The extreme left has been desperate to get rid of President Trump from day one, and that has been made very clear throughout this process,” said Senator Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, who, however, said he would try to weigh The merits of the case. “Now that the articles are delivered and a trial will take place in the Senate, I will keep my duty as a jury of political judgment and carefully evaluate the legal arguments.”
Before the Clinton political trial began, the entire Senate met in the old chamber through a marble hallway from the Senate floor to resolve their differences in a private discussion that participants remember as a unique event during their service . They said the weight of what they faced, and the historical environment of the chamber where illustrious senators of the past had roamed the floor, encouraged them to find common ground.
McConnell, in contrast, apparently wants nothing to do with the old Senate chamber. Republicans say they would prefer to stay out of historical space for fear that a meeting of all hands there will give undue importance to the trial and create an atmosphere in which some Republicans may decide to ally with Democrats in procedural matters, which effectively it will cost you process control
With his name on the ballot in November, McConnell must also manage his own relationship with Trump. Any movement that the White House interprets as moving away from a staunch defense or giving space to the Democrats to pressure their case will likely provoke an angry response from the president and aggravate Republican voters who believe the matter should not even be worthy in a trial. .
But Mr. McConnell is also very aware that the trial is a test of the Senate and of his own ability to navigate the cross-political currents of a political trial debate during the election year.
“This is a difficult time for our country, but this is precisely the kind of time for which the editors created the Senate,” he said in the room Wednesday while the articles were delivered. “I am sure that this body can rise above the short-term ism and faction fever and serve the best long-term interests of our nation. We can do this, and we must do it.”
With the provision of the articles now under the responsibility of the Senate, former members of both parties who served during the Clinton trial say that senators should strive to do their job in a way that ultimately reflects well in an institution that has lately fought to inspire public confidence.
“While any Republican senator could say: ‘I will vote not guilty because they treated him unfairly,’ they have to vote on the merits,” said Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator from the state of Washington who worked with the Democrats in 1999 to develop a bipartisan test framework. “They have to go through a real process of thinking about this. It’s a very serious matter, and it has to seem right from the point of view of people. “
Other 1999 participants said they feared future consequences for the Senate and the impeachment process if the Senate is considered to be ruining the trial.
“The Senate’s reputation is clearly in the line of the accusation,” said Daschle, the Democratic leader who worked with Mr. Lott to try to avoid a partisan disaster during the Clinton trial. “The way it is handled will not only affect the perception of the quality of governance at a critical time for our country, but it will have profound ramifications on how issues similar to this will be addressed in the future.”
Trump on Trial is a continuous series of articles that offer reports, analyzes and impressions of Senate political trial procedures.