As the Senate begins the impeachment trial of President Trump, it faces the challenge not just of weighing the charges, but of trying to rescue the entire process from the low political farce that the House has made of it.
“This is very, very serious stuff,” Chuck Schumer told reporters after Chief Justice John Roberts swore in senators for the impeachment trial that begins Tuesday. Will the Senate minority leader truly play it that way?
House Democrats sure didn’t. Speaker Nancy Pelosi played games from the start, announcing an “official” inquiry weeks before she called a vote to make it official — and then only after the closed-door testimony with selective leaks had put a heavy thumb on the scale. Her leadership team rushed the whole thing, skipping over trial witnesses when getting them to testify would slow things down, because (Pelosi & Co. said) Trump is such a threat to national security that they didn’t dare wait.
Except that Pelosi then sat on the articles of impeachment for a month before sending them over to the Senate — and made that solemn moment into a silly stunt of its own, signing the official documents with commemorative pens made for the occasion and, a big grin on her face, handing them out as souvenirs afterward.
Friday, on HBO, she grinned again while exchanging fist bumps with Bill Maher in celebration of the stain she said is “forever” on Trump’s record.
The Senate is left with the all-but-impossible task of corralling this circus. Yet Majority Leader Mitch McConnell couldn’t stop Democrats from behaving outrageously during Kavanaugh hearings; can he do better now? (At least the Constitution’s rules for the trial will minimize senators’ chances to give grandstanding floor speeches.)
Most of Schumer’s party wants him to play it as partisan as Pelosi. Will he simply ignore what he wrote in 1999, a day before the Senate vote in President Bill Clinton’s trial?
Schumer implored his colleagues to “shake hands and say we are now going to forgo bringing down people for political gain.” More: “What Bill Clinton did was wrong and arrogant … We are all angered,” he wrote. But with no “popular groundswell to remove him” nor sufficient magnitude in “the wrongs he’s committed,” Schumer was “shaken” that people “with such obvious political motives could use our courts, play the media and tantalize the legislative branch to achieve their ends of bringing down the President.”
Both parties had taken to “routinely using criminal accusations and scandal to win the political battles and ideological differences we cannot settle at the ballot box,” Schumer noted. Two decades later, is he willing to try to put an end to this madness?