With little time to go until the Iowa caucuses, it’s hard not to feel agitated if you’re Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or Amy Klobuchar. The three senators have had to take time away from the campaign trail, mandated to sit in as jurors for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
The impeachment trial couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time, as their time away from Iowa could have an impact on bragging rights and on who gets an initial spurt of momentum in the race to be the Democratic nominee.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg essentially have Iowa to themselves. Whether this will have an impact on the caucus is yet to be seen, but Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, and Sanders have all been in a tight four-way race in the state. Warren led Iowa for a while, as did Buttigieg, and now polls seem to alternate between Biden and Sanders leading the pack. A strong showing from Klobuchar wouldn’t be out of the picture either, as she’s made Iowa the centerpiece of her campaign and has leaned into her Midwest “from the heartland” roots.
As Trump’s impeachment trial threatens to impact the primaries, there’s a long game of politics happening within the trial itself. Democrats and Republicans have had fierce opposition to the way each other seeks to lay the rules out for the impeachment trial, and Republicans recently had to make a concession to Democrats — allowing for three days of eight-hour arguments, versus two days of twelve-hour arguments. The two-day rule was a fundamental disadvantage for Democrats, as it meant their arguments would go well past midnight. Most Americans are in bed at that point, missing pivotal arguments and information on the withholding of Congress-approved military aid to Ukraine by the President. Yet, Democrats are nonetheless unhappy with the way Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is handling the impeachment process; he’s said from the jump that he’ll be working closely with the White House — a clear indication that he has no intent on being an impartial juror, let alone making it an impartial process.
Democrats have also made the case that the Senate body should hear more evidence and call more witnesses, and former national security advisor John Bolton has said he’d be willing to testify if he were subpoenaed by the Senate. Nonetheless, Trump and most Senate Republicans are opposed to hearing from witnesses that haven’t testified yet, despite declaring that Trump did nothing wrong. A handful of Republican senators have expressed a willingness to allow for more witnesses (Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, and Susan Collins), but in the end, it’s all but guaranteed that Trump will be acquitted, as removal from office requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate vote. Meaning about twenty Republicans would have to buck the party line and side with Democrats.
Despite the foregone conclusion that Trump will be acquitted, this is still a pivotal moment for Democrats to force the hands of several Republican Senators: the current makeup of the Senate is 53 Republicans to 47 Democrats and retaking the Senate will be critical for Democrats. Republican Susan Collins faces a tough reelection battle in Maine this year, and her vote, along with her stance on allowing for more witnesses, could put her between a rock and a hard place. If Trump is acquitted, the best-case scenario that Democrats can get out of this is showing that Republicans were in lockstep and unwilling to compromise on what was a serious issue: the question of whether Donald Trump jeopardized national security by withholding aid to Ukraine, and whether he did so on the condition of Ukraine investigating his political rival, Joe Biden.