Bennet, Other Senators Turned Presidential Hopefuls, Say Impeachment Comes Before Campaigning

Michael Bennet
Susan Walsh/AP
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., walks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to delay sending the impeachment articles to the Senate risks eating further into senators’ final weeks of campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination before the first caucus in February.

The five senators affected seem unfazed by the delay. Impeachment comes first, they said.

“This impeachment proceeding is more important than anyone’s schedule,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar told reporters after an event in Santa Monica, California, on Thursday.

With just over six weeks remaining until the first-in-the-nation caucuses in Iowa, Democrats have precious little time remaining to make their mark on the electorate in the early primary states — and those in the Senate are already preparing to spend two to three weeks in Washington and off the campaign trail in mid-January for the impeachment proceedings.

This could give candidates who don’t have a day job — like former Vice President Joe Biden and outgoing South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — an advantage in key early states, as other leading candidates, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are stuck in Washington. Some of the senators’ teams are already planning creative ways to keep their campaigns humming along in the states, while others who don’t have to be in Washington, like former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, are strategizing how to take advantage of the time on the trail.

Pelosi said Thursday that before she will send the Republican-led Senate the articles of impeachment approved by the Democratic-led House, the GOP leaders must provide more detail about how they will handle the expected trial. Democrats requested more witnesses, testimony and documents than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears willing to provide before they name the House managers who would prosecute Trump in the Senate.

Members of Congress left for the holidays Thursday night without any resolution to the standoff, which means that the earliest impeachment proceedings could begin in the Senate in the middle of the week of Jan. 6.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he told the presidential hopefuls in the Senate that “this trial is your responsibility,” and he dismissed any concerns they may have about their campaigns clashing with impeachment.

“There are benefits of running as a senator, and there are liabilities,” he added.

While Klobuchar didn’t weigh in directly on Pelosi’s gambit, she suggested she supports the speaker’s move in spirit.

“We should demand to hear from these witnesses that the president claims will exonerate him,” she said.

On Wednesday night, another Democratic presidential candidate, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, also expressed support for Pelosi, calling her a “light worker during a very dark time.”

“I know she has reasons to be skeptical when you have the person that’s in charge of the Senate openly saying he’s working in league with the president of the United States, the very person who’s just impeached,” he told reporters after an event in North Las Vegas.

And Booker dismissed questions over how the potential delay could affect his campaign, echoing comments made by nearly every senator running for president: that their day jobs come first.

“The president of the United States, a sitting president’s just been impeached for the third time in our history,” Booker said. “We all have to rise to this occasion. I, as a senator, will do my job in the Senate.”

Five senators remain in the Democratic presidential primary: Klobuchar, Booker, Warren, Sanders and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado. All of them have made similar commitments to prioritize their work in the Senate serving as jurors in impeachment proceedings over the Democratic primary.

As it stands, the Senate proceedings are expected to begin early in January, leaving candidates a week or two to hit the trail in earnest before the Iowa caucuses, scheduled for the first Monday in February. While the candidates are in D.C., their staffs are looking for creative ways to keep up enthusiasm for their campaigns in the states — including surrogate events, tele-town halls and even campaign events held via Skype.

If Pelosi and Schumer dig in to try to win concessions from Republicans and negotiations drag out beyond the holiday recess, it’s possible the Senate proceedings could begin even later in January — potentially keeping the candidates in Washington until days before the primaries begin.

Jim Manley, a former top Democratic Senate aide, said he believes both sides will wrap up negotiations and get to the Senate proceedings as early as possible. But he warned Democrats that whenever impeachment begins in the Senate, it has to be their top priority.

“No matter what happens, the folks running for president are going to have to figure out a way to deal with it. I understand some may have concerns about not being able to campaign, but the reality is, as a sitting U.S. senator, there’s nothing more important than being here for the proceedings,” he said.