Last January, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan exploded onto the national political scene with her expletive-laden cry to impeach President Trump. A little more than a year later, senators arrived in their chamber today to somberly sign an oath to deliver “impartial justice” in Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial.
It’s a moment that many Democrats have been waiting months — even years — to see. But for the four senators running for president, it’s also a moment they wish could have happened just a couple of months sooner.
The rules for senators at the trial are firm: six days a week in the Senate chamber, no cellphones, no talking.
It’s hard to overstate how big a problem this is for the candidates serving as jurors. In Iowa, where the caucuses are less than three weeks away, the four leading contenders are locked in a dead-heat race, polling shows.
Two can keep campaigning without restrictions: Joe Biden, the former vice president, and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind. The other two will most likely be stuck in Washington much of the time: Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
And unlike voters in big states (think Texas or California, where advertising is king), Iowans expect to see their candidates up close. In their living rooms. At their farms and their ethanol plants. Or at the very least, in a banquet hall somewhere.
David Axelrod, one of the architects of Barack Obama’s underdog win in the state in 2008, said Mr. Obama campaigned until he lost his voice, meeting thousands of voters in the final week before the caucuses.
“It was like, meet everyone you can meet, go everywhere you can go,” he recalled. “That personal contact closing the sale is really important.”
So, this is not the time any candidate wants to be locked in a room with 99 other senators, forbidden to speak or even to look at a phone. And no one knows exactly how long the trial will last.
White House aides hope the process will wrap up by the State of the Union address on Feb. 4, the day after the Iowa caucuses. But top Senate Republicans have indicated that they expect the trial could easily extend past then, running into the New Hampshire primary and maybe even beyond if the Senate votes to call witnesses.
The campaigns are trying to make the best of a bad situation, chartering planes for middle-of-the-night flights back to Washington and organizing town hall events hosted via phone or video chat. Mr. Sanders plans to leverage his social media following by hosting live-stream events. (In the first week of January, Mr. Sanders’s live streams received 6.5 million views, according to his campaign.)
They’re also dispatching top surrogates, like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York for Mr. Sanders and Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts for Ms. Warren.
But, of course, supporting cast members can never really replace the star of the show.
The dynamic is probably most damaging to Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who lacks the national brands of Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren and has predicated her success on a strong finish in Iowa, where she is polling in fifth place. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who has less than 1 percent support in the polls, will also be pulled off the campaign trail.
Meanwhile, Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg plan to spend much of the next three weeks in Iowa.
Aides to Mr. Biden say the trial could be an asset, reminding voters that Mr. Trump fears Mr. Biden as a political opponent. (Revelations that Mr. Trump tried to collect political dirt on Mr. Biden and his family from Ukrainian officials kicked off the impeachment inquiry.) They’ve released a new ad arguing that Mr. Trump is “obsessed” with their candidate.
Mr. Buttigieg is planning to spend 15 of the 18 days before the caucuses barnstorming the state.
“I’ll leave it to the analysts to figure out the political impacts,” Mr. Buttigieg said in Iowa on Wednesday. “We’re going to use every moment available to us to continue making the case and to continue listening to voters.”
For Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders, there might be a tiny sliver of sunshine in all this impeachment doom. The hearings will distract from their escalating — and mutually distracting — feud.
“I have no further comment on this,” Ms. Warren told reporters at the Capitol today when asked about her relationship with Mr. Sanders. “We are here right now at an important moment in American history. And that’s what we need to keep our focus on.”
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The week in impeachment
With impeachment racing ahead, it can be hard to keep track of the daily stream of new developments. So our colleagues from the Impeachment Briefing newsletter have generously volunteered to catch us up every Thursday on what has happened during the week.
The case has moved to the Senate. This week the House of Representatives formally delivered to the Senate two articles of impeachment charging President Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial, was sworn in, and then administered an oath to the senators.
Democrats picked their managers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed a team of seven so-called impeachment managers, members of Congress who will act as prosecutors and present the House’s case against Mr. Trump before the Senate. There were some predictable picks, like Representatives Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler, along with some surprises, including the first-term members Jason Crow and Sylvia Garcia.
More evidence came out. House Democrats released dozens of pages of documents that detailed efforts in Ukraine by Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, and his associates. The revelations brought even more intense calls from Senate Democrats to allow new evidence and witnesses to be introduced in the trial.
The trial starts next week. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said the trial would begin in earnest next Tuesday, and Senate leaders said they expected it to last three to five weeks. Unlike the House hearings, though, the Senate proceedings will provide little room for grandstanding — senators will submit their questions in writing.
You can sign up for the Impeachment Briefing newsletter here.
Sorry, everyone, Mr. Sanders will not be offering birthday greetings. Here’s what he told the New York Times editorial board on the subject.
This calls for you to be a little self-critical. What are you likely to fail at or to do poorly as president?
Talk to The New York Times. Look, I don’t tolerate [expletive] terribly well, and I come from a different background than a lot of other people who run the country. I’m not good at backslapping. I’m not good at pleasantries.
If you have your birthday, I’m not going to call you up to congratulate you, so you’ll love me and you’ll write nice things about me.
That’s not what I do. Never have. I take that as a little bit of a criticism, self-criticism. I have been amazed at how many people respond to, “Happy Birthday!” “Oh Bernie, thanks so much for calling.” It works. It’s just not my style.
Check out transcripts of the editorial board’s interviews with nine of the candidates. And be sure to tune into “The Weekly” on FX and Hulu on Sunday night, when the board will unveil its endorsement for the Democratic nomination. (The board is completely separate from those of us in the newsroom.)
Who will get The New York Times’s rose?
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