The Senate impeachment trial is a real snoozefest
For reasons that remain obscure, the only camera on the floor of the Senate for President Trump's impeachment trial on Wednesday was stationary. This meant that at almost no point during the eight hours (not counting breaks for lunch and dinner) of opening remarks was it possible to see anything except the face of the current speaker and zoomed-in images of whatever PowerPoint slide or video clip was being displayed behind them. One could not get a sense of what any of the 100 senators in attendance were actually doing. At least one, the Idaho Republican Jim Risch, seems to have fallen asleep.
I do not blame him. What began around 1:00 p.m. with an irrelevant quote from Alexander Hamilton (who was writing in opposition to critics of the executive branch) ended well after 9:00 p.m. By the time the Senate had reconvened from its final recess two hours earlier, even The New York Times had given up covering the trial live. Despite the lack of back-and-forth between the House impeachment managers and their Senate colleagues, the proceedings seemed oddly unfocused. The whole thing might easily have been cut into a series of 10- or 15-minute extracts and rearranged in virtually any order while retaining essentially the same effect.
This was, as Risch demonstrated, mainly soporific. When Rep. Adam Schiff (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who has become the Democrats' point man and general-purpose fixer on impeachment, was not delivering patriotic soliloquies — "As George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware … " — or calling for a new Cold War, he was standing silently while footage of testimony from November played behind him, occasionally for minutes at a time. He seemed to assign an especial significance to a quote from William Taylor, the former ambassador to Ukraine, on "the nightmare" of a world in which an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden's activities in Ukraine took place and the former Soviet republic would not receive the financial assistance it had been promised. For many viewers, one suspects, there is nothing very frightening about this remark — for the not-very-complicated reason that nothing of the kind happened.
One thing that Schiff and his colleagues made abundantly clear is that they do not have confidence in the articles of impeachment for which they voted last month. If they did, they would not be insisting upon testimony and the release of further documents and saying things like "there's a good way to find out what happened on that call" in reference to conversations between the president and his lawyers. The explicit premise of Schiff's appearance in the upper chamber is that he and his fellow House Democrats know exactly what Trump said and why. At this point, on the basis of evidence already available, the case ought to have been made to their own satisfaction. If they had really thought it necessary to secure further documents and testimony, they should have taken the matter to federal court. Given the absence of material that they now claim is essential to proving their allegations (despite their not, of course, having seen it), it is difficult to see why they bothered voting for impeachment in the first place.
Or is it? At the beginning of December it had become obvious that the impeachment process was taking too long. If it were going to be wrapped up within anything like a reasonable timeframe, it would require an immediate vote in the House, followed by a swift trial in the Senate. The former was, as one might expect, forthcoming; the latter was not a question Democrats would be in a position to decide. Perhaps a case for impeachment tighter than the present one could have been made, but this might have required dragging things on for several months, as courts adjudicated their requests for testimony from various officials. Instead, the House gave it the old college try, and voted on the basis of what was available.
Now House Democrats are apparently having seconds thoughts. If there were any doubt about the fact the Democratic leadership would prefer to see Joe Biden win the nomination, there cannot be any longer. Taking the House impeachment managers at their word suggests that they would be happy to see this trial continue through the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, effectively removing both Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (the frontrunner in one recent poll) and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren from the campaign trail. Here's hoping former National Security Adviser John Bolton's testimony, if it is eventually secured, gives them everything they ever wanted.
The nightmare didn't come true. It's time for Democrats to go back to bed. The rest of the country is already asleep.
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