The Senate Impeachment Trial Begins with No Shortage of Controversy

Since the House of Representatives impeached President Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in mid-December, there has been endless speculation over how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will take the reins. He has promised a quick end to the “partisan witch hunt,” much to the dismay of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Democrats. A feud between these two leaders over the Senate trial has reached a boiling point.

Trump was officially impeached by the House on December 18th of last year. In the month since then, the entire country has been eagerly awaiting Trump’s trial in the Senate. However, the wait was prolonged by Nancy Pelosi, who refused to hand over the approved articles of impeachment to the Senate right away.

It’s likely that Pelosi wanted to wait until the odds were tipped in favor of impeachment before allowing the trial to begin since a ⅔ removal vote in the majority-Republican Senate is quite the long shot. Some speculate that in light of the recent controversy regarding Trump’s assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Pelosi was waiting for Trump to potentially take a course of action that much of the country would disapprove of, encouraging Republican Senators to cast their votes for his impeachment. Despite anger from Democratic senators anxious for the trial to commence, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) came to Pelosi’s defense, stating that Mitch McConnell explicitly saying he’ll be “working in coordination with the White House” is proof enough that he will run the trial unjustly and justifies Pelosi’s continued withholding of the articles.

Mitch McConnell responded rather strongly to Pelosi’s attempts to reshape the rules of Trump’s trial in the Senate. McConnell claims that the case against Trump is purely out of political spite, unlike former President Clinton’s trial in which there was bipartisan belief that he lied under oath. Multiple Republicans came to McConnell’s defense, believing that it’s hypocritical for Pelosi to condemn McConnell for being partisan towards the Republican Party. They believe that this entire impeachment process is merely an act of aggression against Trump and has no grounding, despite what the Democrats have pointed out about Trump’s conspicuous phone call to the president of Ukraine. In addition, John Bolton, former National Security Advisor to Trump, said that regardless of how much Pelosi attempts to change how the trial is conducted, McConnell (and the rest of the GOP senators) will not change their minds about working closely with Trump, and thus Pelosi’s campaign to even the systemic odds in the Senate is one of futility.

On January 19th, Speaker Pelosi named seven impeachment managers: Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Val Demings, Rep. Sylvia Garcia, and Rep. Jason Crew. Pelosi said of her reasoning for appointing these seven representatives, “The emphasis is on litigators. The emphasis is on comfort level in the courtroom. The emphasis is on making the strongest possible case to protect and defend our Constitution.” On the other hand, Trump’s defense team consists of Alan Dershowitz, Ken Starr, Pat Cipollone, Jane Raskin, Eric Herschmann, Pam Bondi, Jay Sekulow, and Robert Ray. They are arguing that the impeachment is a sham and “constitutional travesty” (White House).

On January 21, days after each senator and Chief Justice John Roberts were sworn in to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws,” the trial began in earnest, with McConnell releasing the schedule. Both the House managers and the defense have 24 hours over three days to give their opening statements. During the first two days, the House managers argued that Trump’s “pressure campaign on Ukraine was not merely an effort to root out corruption but an abuse of power that warranted his removal” (New York Times). They defended both the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges using documents, text messages, and videos.

From this point forward, it’s incredibly difficult to predict how long the trial will last. And regardless of whether or not the Senate votes to remove him from office, it’s safe to say that Donald Trump will go down as one of the most controversial and polarizing presidents in U.S. history.