Impeachment trial? I swear we’ve been here before… Impeachment II is underway.
On Tuesday, the House impeachment managers and Trump’s defence team presented their arguments on the initial issue of whether Trump was actually subject to the jurisdiction of impeachment now that he is out of office. This was a motion raised by Senator Paul Rand to shelve the impeachment proceedings. However, the US Senate voted 56-44 to proceed with the impeachment trial of Trump, on the charge of inciting the riot on Capitol Hill, with only six out of 50 Republicans breaking rank and siding with the Democrats.
And with that confirming vote, the trial proceedings were to be held in the very Senate chamber in which the Capitol Riots took place. One cannot help but feel it would be slightly poetic if he were to be found guilty.
Unlike a criminal trial, Trump is essentially being judged and (potentially) convicted by those who feel they are victims to his crime. His jurors are both Republicans and Democrats, but many of them were there on the 6th January 2021 and they remember it well. Despite judicial jargon permeating through the Senate, this case is entirely political – and personal.
Prosecution getting personal
The personal side to this trial pervaded the prosecution’s case. The leader of the Democratic prosecuting team, Jamie Raskin, visibly wept as he told of his daughter and son-in-law fearing for their lives, cowered in an office in the House of Representatives. He stumbled over his words as he recalled his daughter saying she never wanted to return to the Capitol. To close off his emotional statement, he reminded the Senators of the scenes he witnessed, recollecting seeing someone use a flagpole, with the American flag attached, to attack a police officer serving to protect the Capitol. This emotional statement certainly maintained the attention and empathy of the Senators.
In efforts to sway Republican Senators towards prosecution, on Thursday, the House of Representatives impeachment managers showed new footage of the Capitol riots, in which politicians are seen within metres of the mob, mobsters are seen wearing body armour, and some members of the crowd are seen using bats and tear gas against the security officials. The video released to the Senate on Thursday encapsulates the violence that happened on January 6th - Mike Pence is seen being ushered to safety as chants of “hang him” echoed around the Capitol, whilst shouts of “Where are you, Nancy?” were heard as the rioters breached her office. It is spine-chilling to watch.
They hope to convince the Republican loyalists that January 6th was the direct result of Trump’s inciteful and inflammatory language, referring to him as “inciter in chief”.
Calling on the defence
Trump’s defence rests upon the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. His lawyers have presented the case that his language is protected by the amendment, and the individuals who breached the Capitol are entirely responsible for their own actions.
But they cannot rely solely on the free speech argument, as Trump said some rather condemnable things in the run up to the riots, which shall be utilised by the prosecution, including: “We fight like hell and if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore”. As a result, they shall draw on the argument that impeachment is not a weapon to be used on private citizens, which Donald Trump is after his electoral defeat.
Further emphasising Trump’s current position as a private citizen, they are also presenting the argument that the trial is solely political, designed to finish Trump’s political career entirely. Bruce Castor, one of Trump’s lawyers (infamously known for his controversial decision not to charge Bill Cosby in a sex crimes case), argued that the Senators are really here because “the majority in the House of Representatives does not want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future”.
When will this conclude?
With the Senators focused on the impeachment trial, Biden’s agenda could suffer as legislation will be postponed until the trial is finished.
Consequently, it is possible the trial shall quickly reach a verdict, with party leaders agreeing on a schedule with could lead to a result early next week.
However, as the likelihood of the Democrats gaining a 2/3 majority in an equally divided Senate is very slim, you may be wise in placing your bets upon Donald Trump’s acquittal. But if by some miracle, a large proportion of Republicans defect, Trump could be barred from holding public office again.
Trustworthy Trump? Biden thinks not.
Despite Biden claiming he was not going to watch the Senate trial coverage; he could not escape Donald Trump.
Whilst in an interview with Norah O’Donnell on CBS Evening News, Biden was asked whether former president Trump would still be given intelligence briefings, a privilege which many former Presidents have so they can be called upon to advise their predecessors, a prospect to which Biden bluntly replied, “I think not.”
After being pressed as to why, Biden outlined Trumps ‘erratic behaviour’ irrespective of the Capitol riots and addressed concerns that “he would slip and say something.”
This is a decision that probably surprises nobody, but which seeks to further remove the Trumpian stain on the White House and US political circles.
Biden’s Big Bill
Biden ran on a campaign of bipartisanship and cooperation in Congress, but he has set his sights on ploughing ahead with a huge $1.9 trillion relief bill which lacks Republican support. He argues this economic stimulus package is needed, and that he ‘needs to act’, as Americans are losing hope. However, it could prove damaging to relations with Republicans, and possibly some fiscally conservative Democrats, as economists have warned the bill may be ‘too big’.
The bill would normally struggle to pass, but the Democrats hope to fast-track the stimulus package through budget reconciliation, whereby once a year the Senate may pass such bills with a simple majority (51) instead of the usual 60 votes.
Vice-President Harris approved the Budget Reconciliation option last Friday, using her first tie-breaking vote, with not one Republican vote.
Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, said that the work to “deliver relief to the American people is urgent and of the highest priority”, hoping that the final bill would be passed in March.
Overall, this week has been eventful in US politics, and with the impeachment trial continuing into next week, I’m sure we can expect much of the same to follow.