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Impeachment Trial Would Create Unprecedented Issue For 6 U.S. Senators


Every Democrat who's running for president has called for President Trump to be impeached. Now, this could create a problem for the six senators who are running. If there's an impeachment trial, they could get stuck in Washington, and that could keep them out of Iowa in the weeks before the caucuses. NPR's Scott Detrow has this story.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: The House isn't anywhere close to voting on articles of impeachment. And it's not quite clear when that would happen. But many people in the Capitol are operating on the assumption of an end-of-year vote. That would set up a Senate trial, which could last weeks and could run six days a week for January. In other words, the final key weeks before the February 3 Iowa caucuses. Jason Johnson was the chief strategist on Ted Cruz's 2016 presidential campaign which won Iowa. I asked him what he'd do if Cruz had not been able to campaign.

JASON JOHNSON: It would be a disaster, frankly, if we were facing that.

DETROW: David Axelrod, who helped coordinate Barack Obama's 2008 Iowa win, agrees.


DETROW: Axelrod says for Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and the other senators running for president, he can't think of anything more devastating than being bound to a desk in Washington instead about campaigning just before a critical contest. He says that's especially true for Iowa, a state that can never get enough face time with candidates.

AXELROD: You know, it's a tactile kind of event where people expect to be seen and touched and courted.

DETROW: Axelrod says campaigns can be won and lost by how candidates respond to big events they can't control. But a Senate impeachment trial is different. The senators are the jurors. They can't question witnesses or do anything else that could show a presidential performance. They just sit there.

AXELROD: Your hands are nicely folded, and do you look pensive, and are you absorbing the evidence? I don't think that's going to cut it here.

DETROW: Several presidential campaign advisers have pointed out that an impeachment trial would be the center of attention and that the senators running for president will be in the news a lot reacting to the day's proceedings. Axelrod is skeptical.

AXELROD: The good news is you're going to have a lot of TV time. The bad news is you're going to have a lot of TV time talking about stuff that may not be what these voters are most interested in hearing.


ELIZABETH WARREN: Some things are more important than politics.

DETROW: Elizabeth Warren, at the top of most Iowa polls, has been calling for impeachment since the Mueller report was made public.


WARREN: We have a responsibility here. And it's not something that I take any pleasure in. But it's something that has to be done. So I'll be there.

DETROW: Campaign staffers for Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders say the same thing, but it's not like they have an option. Attendance at an impeachment trial is mandatory. Many think the trial traffic jam would give a clear advantage to one candidate, South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He's spent a lot of time campaigning in Iowa, and his campaign is well-organized there. Buttigieg talked to Iowa Public Radio about it this weekend.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: I suppose. I mean, you know, I don't have any procedural role in impeachment, right? And I think it helps me concentrate on what's on voters' minds in terms of what's going to impact them.

DETROW: Former Vice President Joe Biden will be able to keep campaigning, too. What about the senators? No campaign has come up with a clear solution yet. At least, one they'll share publicly. Of course, campaign volunteers and staffers will still be able to organize, and the campaigns can still run ads. Jason Johnson, the Cruz adviser, says the candidates should do what they can now.

JOHNSON: Yeah I would be there now, tomorrow, every day possible until I had to be back in the Senate for that impeachment trial.

DETROW: But it's not just Iowa the candidates need to worry about. Voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada all cast ballots in February, too. Scott Detrow, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.