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WBUR Analysts: McConnell's Impeachment Trial Strategy Could Backfire08:36
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The Capitol is seen at sunrise on the first full day of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, in Washington, Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
The Capitol is seen at sunrise on the first full day of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, in Washington, Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump begins Tuesday in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to pass trial rules allowing both the House impeachment managers and Trump's defense team 24 hours each to make their opening arguments.

McConnell's resolution also schedules opening argument to begin at 1 p.m. Wednesday, a move that all but insures the trial proceedings will last late into the night.

Democrats are demanding additional witnesses and fresh evidence be admitted in the trial, but McConnell's resolution does not guarantee that it will include either. Nor does the Senate majority leader plan to admit the House's impeachment findings as evidence at the outset.

To discuss the impeachment trial and how it could affect the presidential race, WBUR's Deborah Becker sat down with Democrat Michael Curry, former president of the Boston NAACP, and former Republican Gov. Jane Swift on Morning Edition.

Interview Highlights

On how this plays for senators (and for the Senate)

Jane Swift: I don't think the eventual vote is in real doubt, but how the process plays out and whether or not people think this is done fairly — I think particularly for senators who are at risk in the middle, [this] will be very important. And I think ... that hearing the charges, hearing witnesses, is something that moderates of both parties believe would be a fair process.

Michael Curry: You know, I'm disturbed by it. ...McConnell really wants to limit debate. He wants to try to avoid much of the evidence that came in the House [from] being considered. He's going against recent polls, [such] as the CNN poll that came out this week, saying 69% of those polled want to hear new witnesses. He does not. And this debate will carry into the evenings when people aren't paying attention.

On whether McConnell's strategy could backfire

JS: I do think it can backfire. I think that people want ultimately to believe that their elected officials are conducting themselves in the best interests of the country, not for their own political endgame. Although I will say: For generations, doing things late at night when people aren't paying attention is an age-old trick to divert attention.

On Dershowitz's claim that 'abuse of power ... is not an impeachable offense'

MC: There's a debate that's going on — I think is a legitimate debate, but it's one that's flawed. ...the White House is trying to raise the bar much higher for what you can use to impeach a president. That low bar of a high crime and misdemeanor is ambiguous; it's ambiguous for a reason.

JS: I actually think this is a smart political strategy because the more esoteric the constitutional arguments become, the more you lose the public. So if you can't get it done late at night, get it done in really esoteric constitutional-law language. I think mostly, what Americans want to know is: Did the president put his own political interests in front of the best interests of the country? Did he put the nation at risk for his own political gain? ...I think the American people pay attention when it gets to the actual specific language the founders intended. I wish that we could have a constitutional law class for the country, but I fear that's not effective at this point in time.

I think we may get a very interesting debate ... but for a very small percentage of the American people.

On what this might mean for senators running for president

JS: It's a very close race. It reminds me a lot, frankly, of the race on the Republican side four years ago that had us nominate Donald Trump. No one who is really breaking through with anything that looks anything like a mandate or a majority. And so, I think that it is not necessarily good for the prospects of the Democratic Party to be gaining momentum to beat Donald Trump.

I think if you are Elizabeth Warren, freezing the race right now [is] not good, because you're not trending well.

MC: This is the time where you pull out your best surrogates. I know that Warren is pulling out Representative Katie Porter from California. I would not be surprised if she taps Ayanna Pressley to make some stops for her. ...I know Bernie's going to pull Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. So they're going to pull out these stars who will draw people to the rallies, that'll give them the kind of touch that they're missing by not being in Iowa. ...if you send somebody that is exciting, that will draw my attention, I think the Iowans will take to that.

This segment aired on January 21, 2020.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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Wilder Fleming Twitter Political Producer
Wilder Fleming is a political producer at WBUR, focused on the path to November 2020.

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