Living in Washington, DC, it was easy for me to swing over to the U.S. Capitol to attend President Trump’s first impeachment trial in the Senate back in 2020. Now that Trump is on trial for impeachment again, I figured that my experiences might be of interest. This informal paper is a compilation of my contemporaneous Facebook posts from late January and early February of 2020.
- For the most part, my writing here is strictly apolitical, merely describing my experiences and direct observations, with no partisan political interpretation. The only possible exception is the postscript sections with my views on censure vs. impeachment, voting threshold, and impeachable offenses, which aren’t really partisan per se, but not completely apolitical either.
I had actually attended a couple of hours of Clinton’s impeachment back in 1999. That was a very surreal experience.
I figured I’d do something similar for Trump’s impeachment trial, just attend a couple of hours to check out the scene, or maybe an hour or two on two days for some variety. I ended up going a lot more than that.
I started by heading over to my delegate’s office in the Rayburn House office building. Since DC is not a state, we don’t have a Representative in the House or Senators in the Senate. Instead, we have a single Delegate. Normally, a citizen would go to their Senator’s office to get a Senate Gallery pass, which is free.
I wasn’t sure what the procedure would be for attending the impeachment trial in the Senate this time since I read that they would have some special procedure for passes. It turned out that the procedure was for those who got special access passes, but ordinary citizens had to get regular Gallery passes and wait in line.
To make a long story short, I went to the Capitol on six days of the trial, stood in line, and actually managed to get into the gallery three times. Actually, it was four times, twice on one day. And miracle of miracles, I actually got in for the grand finale, the closing speeches by the four Senate leaders — Durgin, Graham, Schumer, and McConnell, and the actual voting and the closing of the trial.
I posted my experiences on Facebook on those days. I’ve combined those posts here, one per section.
I haven’t revised or edited the posts, other than to correct misspellings, notably Capital which should be Capitol. I made no attempt to correct or reinterpret my observations, preferring them to reflect what it felt like at the time. In some limited cases I added some editorial comments, but in [brackets] to avoid disturbing the original text.
So, here we go….
My first day: Tuesday, January 28, 2020 — Almost, but no luck
I almost made it in to see the impeachment trial in person today, but… with only a dozen people ahead of me, the Senate Gallery check-in staff guy came out and informed us that the Senate was “adjourned for the day.” I actually hadn’t intended to get in today anyway, but I stopped by after picking up my gallery pass at my delegate’s office and the line didn’t seem too bad. I would have gotten in, but the trial session was only 2 hours today.
I only spent 75 minutes in the line and got to talk to some interesting people anyway. The woman ahead of me was a teacher from Pasadena, CA who lives in an area that is mostly Asians, so she had some interesting perspectives on this coronavirus from China.
After she left because she was out of time, the woman behind me turned out to be an assistant producer for NBC Meet the Press who was there on her day off. I got some interesting insight into what goes into producing the show.
Normally you get a Senate Gallery pass from your Senator’s office and a House Gallery pass from your Representative’s office, but we in DC don’t have either Senators or Representatives. Instead, we have just a single Delegate who gets to be on House committees but cannot vote in the House. But at least they can give us Gallery passes for both the House and Senate.
My original intention was to pick up my gallery pass today and then use it tomorrow (Wed) evening after I get out of an event in downtown DC that ends at 5:30 PM. My purpose today was to get the pass and scope out the situation to know where to go and how the process works. I learned a lot while in line and talked to a bunch of staffers to get details.
They usually do a rotation where you can sit in the gallery for either 15 or 30 minutes (depending on how busy) and then you have to go back to the end of the line if you want to stay longer.
The next phase of the trial is 16 hours of questions from Senators.
Back in 1999 I actually attended an hour of the question portion of the Clinton impeachment trial. I had simply walked over at the end of the day from the courthouse where the Microsoft antitrust trial was being held at the same time, intending only to see how long the line was, but there was no line at all, so I just walked in and stayed for a full hour. I was there when they played the infamous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” video.
Curiously, there was one topic which nobody was talking about at all: Trump! It was more about the process, the lawyers, and where everyone was from. Wow — 75 minutes and nobody even mentioned Trump’s name, directly or even indirectly!
My second day: Wednesday, January 29, 2020 — No luck
I failed again yesterday (Wed) to get into the Senate impeachment trial. My afternoon event ran a little over and I didn’t get to the line until 7 PM. And the line was moving extremely slowly — it didn’t move at all for two hours. I stayed until 9:30 PM, and even then I was two groups away from getting to the check-in station (where you have to surrender your phone!), and there is a 40-minute line up stairs at the actual gallery, with yet another metal detector, after that. So, there wasn’t much chance I would get in.
I may or may not try again later this afternoon. If I don’t feel productive, it’s at least worth the walk just to check to see what the scene is like.
There were no protesters at the Capitol at that hour, but I did walk past a march in the street on Pennsylvania Ave by the Freedom Plaza. Not exactly sure what they were protesting, just that they wanted justice and they wanted it now. I didn’t see any Trump-related signs.
But it wasn’t a total loss since I once again got to talk with a lot of interesting people in line. For example, a group of law students from… New Zealand. We discussed the pros and cons of the two systems, among many other topics.
And at one point I found out that the guy behind me was the husband of a network congressional correspondent — when she came over to talk with him and had all these media credentials hanging around her neck. Their kids were already in the gallery on tickets [each senator got three tickets per day and they were given out for nominally one hour at a time], but she was still waiting to get him a ticket. He was in line just in case he could get in quicker, but awhile later they got a ticket for him so he could go right up. He’s a civil engineer who works on tunnels — DC is putting in a huge 5-mile storm water tunnel 100 feet below ground. She was able to give us a little inside information about the proceedings which was not readily available in the public news. At one point she said something and then later had to correct herself, so I politely suggested it was “fake news” — which she frowned at and then laughed!
There were a few anti-trump tee shirts in line, but everything was quite civil.
My third day: Thursday, January 30, 2020 — I got in!
“Third time’s the charm” — it’s so amazing how often things really work out that way… I wandered over to the Capitol again, for the third time in three days, yesterday just to see how the line for the Senate impeachment trial was shaping up, and… I actually got in!
Sure, I had to wait THREE HOURS (okay, 3 and a half, but who’s counting!) to get in, but I was there at least for this historic event. That’s the time from when I got in line to the moment I walked into the Senate gallery — from 5:38 PM to about 9:05 PM. And that required FOUR separate lines, an extra airport style security screening, surrendering your phone or other electronic devices, and an elevator ride from the underground Capitol visitor center up to the third floor Senate Gallery. [We walked down the same hallway and walked through the same doorway to the gallery as you saw the January 6, 2020 protesters going through in the video of them entering the Senate gallery — it was quite creepy recognizing the hallway, ceiling, floor, doors, lights, and gallery entrance in the video.]
As in the previous two days, the time in line is not a complete loss since you get to talk to so many interesting people. Today, a producer from German TV, a group of honor students from southern Louisiana, and a woman from Palm Beach Florida — who informed us that Mar-a-Lago is actually in a BLUE county! And then there was this guy who was supposedly a Navy SEAL, and…
Nominally you get to stay for 30 minutes. And if the Senate goes on a break that time gets extended. They took a 5 minute break, which turned into about 12 minutes (according to CNN) in the middle of our half hour. They kicked us out at about 9:55 PM, so we were in there for about 50 minutes. I think they adjourned just before 11 PM, so we saw the next to last hour of the two days of questioning.
Having a break is good because it gives you a chance to survey all the details of the Senate floor and which Senators are where. They give you a map of the Senate desks.
On C-SPAN they only give you a limited view of the chamber or whoever is speaking, but we could see everything. Well, not actually everything since the seats are up high and looking down, so Senators in the back third of the chamber are not visible. And you have to stay seated, so it’s an art to maneuver so you are partially standing and leaning to glimpse at least a few more of the hidden Senators. [Our gallery was the back right corner if you are facing the front of the chamber — which you can see in that January 6,2020 protester video.]
It’s actually difficult to recognize a lot of the Senators since you’re looking at the tops or backs or sides of their heads in a way that rarely matches the frontal face shots which you see in the media or photos. I presumed that the guy standing at McConnell’s desk (from the map) was McConnell, but from the back of his head, who could say! His voice certainly matched up. I didn’t hear Schumer speak once. Schiff a bunch of times. Some of the Senators are iconic, but many are not.
Yep, there’s Bernie, and Elizabeth Warren, and over on the far left there is Cory Booker chatting with Kamala Harris (during the break) — they were sitting one seat apart with Blumenthal between them. I couldn’t see Amy Klobuchar.
I was able to identify at least a dozen more from appearance as their faces become visible, especially during the break as they all milled around, chatting, grinning, and even laughing as if they were at a cocktail party or reception! There were probably 25 or so that I could identify only from the desk map.
Tim Kaine was hunched over writing furiously for the whole time we were there. Maybe he’s writing a book?! Only a handful were taking notes.
Several were eating snacks at their desks — one pouring some snack out of a small bag right into his mouth (“snout”?!!!).
There were no videos of witnesses or documents during our stay. But I’ve seen a bunch when watching the trial online.
There’s so much more to describe. Maybe I’ll pen another post.
Now, I’m debating whether to try again today, especially since this might be the last day. It’s hard to resist since it’s so historic. Okay, it’s my SECOND impeachment, but still…
My fourth day: Friday, January 31, 2020 — No luck
Once again I failed to get into the Senate impeachment trial on Friday. It wasn’t so much that the line was longer, but that the Senate adjourned earlier — 8 PM — and they took over an hour recess while they were negotiating how to end the trial. There was only one group ahead of me, so I probably would have gotten in if they hadn’t adjourned so early.
I arrived at the Capitol a little after 5 PM. Just after 6 PM they announced this long recess, but weren’t sure it would be one or two hours — it ended up being a little over an hour.
Once again, time spent in line was not a total waste since there were so many interesting people to talk to. Some local college students. Two congressional interns from Indiana — damn, I forgot to ask them whether they were bummed since a guilty verdict would have elevated their guy, Pence, to President!
Everybody in line was quite civil. Unlike Thursday, I didn’t see any anti-Trump tee shirts. You could indirectly deduce where people stood, but NOBODY mentioned his name, not even once. Weird.
I saw a few more protesters outside on the way in, but not many. Maybe 20 or so. Some holding large letters that spelled out “F A K E T R I A L”. A similar number on the way out four hours later. It seemed like there was one Capitol police officer per protester!
I had seen one small group of protesters on Thursday, surrounded by Capitol police, but well away from the main Capitol itself.
I haven’t decided whether to go on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday next week. Supposedly it is only four hours for closing arguments on Monday and just time enough to vote on each article of impeachment on Wednesday, and then the time between is reserved for all senators to speak to explain their votes — 10 minutes each, if they want. If I understand correctly, during those speeches the trial is suspended, so presumably Roberts, the House managers, and the President’s legal team will not be present. I presume they’ll all return for the final two votes on Wednesday, at 4 PM.
I’ll hold off on my comments on the content of the trial until it is actually and officially over, which may be Wednesday, but we’ll have to see.
The only thing I would say right now is to echo the words of the most famous American philosopher, Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over” — everything really is subject to change.
My fifth day: Monday, February 3, 2020 — I got in — closing arguments!
Sometimes you get lucky. And sometimes you get doubly lucky. And rarely you get triply lucky. Today I got triply lucky, not only getting into the Senate impeachment trial, but getting in twice in the same day — and getting the two time slots I preferred.
I was able to attend both the first half hour of closing arguments and the last half hour as well.
If there had been only one more person ahead of me in line I would have been in the group that was let into the Senate gallery for the next to last half hour, but not the final half hour.
Four hours were scheduled for closing arguments today (Monday), two hours for each side.
The trial started for the day at 11 AM. They began processing the first group of the public — which I was in — just after 10 AM so that we would all be settled in the gallery by the time the trial opened for the day. We got through the three additional lines and extra security scan and into our seats at about 10:30 AM.
That gave us half an hour to survey the chamber before the start of the trial for the day.
I arrived at the line at 9:30 AM, so this was a short wait today, compared to a couple of hours on other days, but I arrived later in the day on previous days.
We got to see all the opening fanfare. The chamber was almost empty at 10:30, but staff, lawyers, and Senators slowly trickled in. This gave us plenty of time to get acquainted with who sits where. We were there for the “all rise” moment as Chief Justice Roberts entered. And then the Senate Chaplain delivered the opening prayer. And we all — Senators, lawyers, staff, and us the public in the gallery — recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. [I didn’t notice anybody kneeling in protest!!]
The House Managers led with their closing arguments. We were only allowed to stay for the first half hour of those.
I immediately got back in line for my next turn in the gallery. It took about 2.75 hours until I was seated in the gallery again. By then it was 2:26 PM, which meant that our half hour would last almost to the scheduled 3 PM end of the trial for the day.
The House Managers had the last word after the President’s counsel delivered their closing arguments. The President’s counsel were done before we entered — so I didn’t hear any of them. Congressman Jeffries was speaking when we entered. Then Congressman Schiff delivered the last words.
I was watching the clock closely as we approached our half hour time limit with Schiff still going strong. I think we actually went a couple of minutes past our limit, but just as staff approached my aisle and motioned for us to leave, Schiff sat down and as I was walking out McConnell was calling for adjournment of the trial for the day, so we just barely got to hear the full end of the closing arguments. I really lucked out today.
The impeachment trial now remains adjourned until the final votes (one vote for each of the two articles of impeachment) at 4 PM on Wednesday. Between now and then each Senator gets to speak for 10 minutes about their upcoming vote. These speeches are NOT part of the trial and trial record itself. They’re just part of the Senate record — and viewed by the public.
There were a few dozen protesters outside when I left around 3:30 PM. There had been only a few when I arrived before 9:30 AM.
I’d like to go to the final votes on Wednesday, but they will happen so fast that the odds of being in the group that is in the gallery at that time are very low. It would also be interesting to be in the gallery as the last few Senators give their speeches just before the votes. I’ll decide on Wednesday what to do then.
Once again, there were lots of interesting people in line. I chatted with a NASA lawyer involved with the new Webb space telescope, a political organizer from Ohio, a retired foreign service officer from the State Department who had worked under Bill Taylor in Ukraine, and more.
Overall, this was an incredible, and historic, experience.
Now, the huge question is… will Trump mention the impeachment in his State of the Union address on Tuesday! I’m betting that he won’t — Stephen Miller, who writes such speeches will focus on positive results and a positive view of the future (i.e., a second term for Trump.)
My sixth day: Wednesday, February 5, 2020 — I got in, for the grand finale and vote!
While standing in line for the Senate gallery, we saw a small group of these protesters sitting on the floor in the Capitol visitor’s center in the middle of the afternoon looking like they were planning something. A Capitol police officer soon came over and told them they couldn’t sit on the floor and they dispersed. They had the same tee shirts as in the pictures.
Oh, and BTW, even the smallest transgression in the Capitol area is… (wait for it)… a “Capitol” offense [okay, that’s not quite the same as a “capital” with an “a”]!! My apologies!
There were dozens, maybe a hundred, but I don’t think there were hundreds out on the Capitol east lawn, when I left the Capitol visitor center just after 5 PM. They were chanting loudly and had lots of signs, but they were fairly widely dispersed, not causing much of a disruption and not acting in a threatening manner. I actually walked through their protest since the cops had the sidewalk closed to keep the protesters well away from the plaza and roadway.
There was another protest group on another part of the east lawn, but they also were well-behaved, although not many people had showed up, yet.
BTW, if you’ve never been to the Capitol in the past decade, the Capitol visitor center is two levels underground, under the plaza on the east side of the Capitol. There are auditoriums, meeting rooms, a really nice public cafeteria, and gift shops down there. There are stairs, escalators, and elevators up into the Capitol building itself. And there is access to the train tunnels from the Capitol to the various congressional office buildings, although at least some of them were not accessible to the public during the impeachment trial.
I got doubly lucky again today, managing to both get into the Senate impeachment trial to see the final votes, but also to get into the last four Senator speeches right before the votes.
The actual end of the trial, the votes, was fairly brief, ending up being less than 40 minutes. That meant that only one group of people from the public could get in on a 30-minute time rotation slot. I managed to just barely get into that one group of 21 people, being the 21st person in line.
There were actually two lines today, one for people wanting to go up to the gallery to watch the Senators each give their 10-minute speeches to explain their upcoming votes — and/or to lobby other Senators to vote this way or that way, and a second line for those hoping to get in for the scheduled 4 PM votes.
I actually wanted to go up and listen to the speeches, but my priority was to try to get in for the 4 PM votes. So, I chose the second line.
I arrived around 1 PM, three hours before the 4 PM votes. That’s a long time to stand in line, but that’s the cost of democracy! And the time actually went fast since once again there were a lot of interesting people in line. Behind me was a father from West Virginia and his two teenage kids. Ahead of me was a local retired former activist, and ahead of her was a social media video blogger — with both KAG and MAGA hats (America’s Voice News — associated with Steve Bannon.) Oh, they were very interesting, but reasonably civil discussions!
And we didn’t actually wait in line for the full three hours since they sent us up a little before 3 PM. In fact, by 3:20 PM we were in the gallery, listening to the final four Senator speeches, 10 minutes each. Usually it takes 40 minutes to an hour to get in, but this was faster since there was no group ahead of us since they stopped letting people into the gallery to make sure that we could get in and be settled in time for the 4 PM votes.
The final speeches were by the heavy hitters, Dick Durbin and then Lindsey Graham, followed by the leaders — Chuck Schumer and ending with Mitch McConnell.
McConnell ended right at 4 PM and then immediately put the Senate in a recess. [Technically, none of the speeches by the senators were part of the trial proper. They were part of the Senate regular session proper, but not the trial itself. Kind of strange, but the Senate is kind of strange anyway.] Senators began trickling in about 20 minutes before 4 PM. Before that, the Senate Chamber was essentially empty except for the one Senator speaking and some random Senator sitting in as President of the Senate — Tom Cotton in our case.
Then the legal teams marched in, the House Managers and the President’s counsel — 13 lawyers on each side at two long tables.
A few minutes after 4 PM we got the “All Rise” command and Chief Justice Roberts strolled in and the trial was once again resumed after having been adjourned at 3 PM on Monday after closing arguments.
They quickly got into the two votes, one for each article of impeachment. The clerk read [the full text of] each article of impeachment, which took 5–10 minutes each. After each reading they did a roll-call vote, with each Senator’s name being called out and then that Senator standing and calling out “Guilty” or “Not Guilty”, which the clerk would read back to confirm. They had to do that for all 100 Senators, twice, once for each article. All told, it took about 30 minutes for the two votes — starting about 4:10 and ending about 4:40.
Our group was able to remain in the gallery for about an hour and 25 minutes, which was great considering we were only promised 30 minutes of trial time.
We had heard about Romney’s decision while standing in line, but it was still surreal to see and hear his votes in person. Although he broke ranks and voted to convict on the first article, he actually voted not to convict for the second article, which was a bit of surprise, at least to us in the gallery. It was also a surprise that none of the four moderate Democrats broke ranks.
Oh… one minor bit of drama was that Romney was the last Senator to be seated and actually didn’t come into the chamber until after Roberts!
After the votes were done and the verdict announced by Roberts, the two leaders made some comments to thank people and presented Roberts with a gold gavel to thank him for his service. There was applause by the Senators, but the gallery was previously admonished not to clap — or do anything but sit there silently — even when the Senators were clapping.
Oh, and this time, for the only time in the whole trial, the gallery was packed full, with hundreds of people — each Senator had 3 tickets to parcel out. But only our 21 seats were available for the general public.
Overall this was a very surreal but historic experience.
Postscript — Thursday, February 6, 2020 — censure
Okay, now that the impeachment trial is finally officially over, I am no longer restrained by my self-imposed moratorium to refrain from commenting on the day to day news about impeachment — except for aspects where I have a personal experience or some more abstract aspects that are quite removed from the daily news. I actually attended portions of the Senate impeachment trial, so I did comment on them to the extent of my personal experience, but I’ve stayed away from weighing in on the content of the impeachment and trial itself. But now…
I’m not going to go back and relive all of the news of the past six months, but I am going to reflect on larger issues that the impeachment has brought to the surface, as well as any particularly egregious issues that beg for comment.
I’ll start here with only a single issue, with future posts to pursue other issues…
Issue: Vested interest and fairness.
This is really simple: NOBODY can offer a fair judgment when they have a VESTED INTEREST in the outcome of a decision.
If a judge or a juror has some personal or other vested interest in the outcome of a trial, they are automatically and unconditionally DISQUALIFIED.
Guess what… every single Democratic senator and every single Republican senator, as well as the so-called independents who caucus with the Democrats, had a very clear vested interest in the outcome of this trial. There are probably a whole host of vested interests, but particularly the impact of conviction on the 2020 election and ongoing battles over liberal and progressive values and ideals vs. conservative values and ideals.
So, from that perspective, a “fair” trial could only be held if ALL 100 senators were disqualified. So, go ahead and let the House Managers present their case and have a vote in which nobody gets to vote, so no vote to convict can be achieved.
Of course we’re not going to do that, but the implication is that the traditional notion of fairness from a normal trial simply doesn’t apply to an impeachment trial — at all. So don’t even bring it up.
The real bottom line on this issue is that an impeachment should be WIDELY BIPARTISAN in order to be valid and fair. In other words, the charges for alleged offenses should have wide bipartisan support, or else the outcome will be guaranteed to be acquittal — or worse, guilty on a primarily partisan basis.
The mere fact that the House vote was strictly partisan (or at least close to it) assured that the impeachment was not “fair” in any meaningful sense.
Sure, you can go through the motions of a Senate trial for a partisan impeachment, but it’s a mere mockery of the impeachment process — and pure GRANDSTANDING.
It would be far better to do in the House (or Senate) what was proposed in recent days — a vote to CENSURE the president.
That’s my solution: If you have the votes to convict and remove, go for it, otherwise go for censure.
To be clear, I am NOT suggesting impeach first and only censure when an impeachment trial fails — that’s a silly thing to do.
Postscript — February 7, 2020 — impeachable offense
One great unanswered question from the impeachment: What exactly is an impeachable offense? We all heard all the constitutional law experts and lawyers from both sides, but there was no consensus or final agreement about a clear definition of what constitutes an impeachable offense.
The Constitution merely says:
- “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The linked web page (from Thomson Reuters FindLaw) has a nice summary of the possibilities in reasonably plain English, and gives four distinct interpretations, roughly, in my words:
- Whatever Congress wants it to mean — and can get the votes to impeach and convict.
- An indictable crime — an actual crime.
- Misdemeanor means maladministration or malpractice or neglect of duty.
- Failure to carry out official duties, but more serious than mere maladministration.
My conclusion is that there is no clarity here whatsoever, and that the issue is ripe for review by the Supreme Court.
Personally, I’ve always leaned towards #1, but with an emphasis on #4 (neglect or incompetence at official duties.) The threshold of 2/3 for conviction reasonably assures that frivolous or minor offenses, or a slim majority would be unlikely to garner enough votes [to convict in a Senate trial].
Still, I’d like to see the Supreme Court speak more authoritatively on this topic. Maybe on a future impeachment the president could appeal on this issue.
Postscript — February 8, 2020 — impeachment voting threshold
Another impeachment issue that I have pondered in recent months is whether the Founders were brilliant or misguided in their decision to use a different voting threshold in the House and Senate for impeachment and trial. Requiring a 2/3 supermajority in the Senate impeachment trial seems to be a clearly wise decision, but is it really that wise to permit impeachment in the House on a possibly-partisan simple majority?
I’m generally in favor of efficiency, so it at least superficially seems misguided to be so inefficient — to waste so much time, energy, and money on a trial which is unlikely to produce a guilty verdict.
If there were to be an overwhelming, bipartisan, 2/3 supermajority in the House, then there can be a reasonable expectation of a guilty verdict in the Senate. That seems to make more sense and offer some predictability.
That’s the efficiency argument.
Upon reflection, I realized that there is another perspective — the cathartic release.
Even if the impeachment is unlikely to prevail in a Senate trial, the mere act of voting to impeach in the House can give members an opportunity to vent, to blow off steam, to feel that they are having their day in court. [That their voices are being heard.] This may not give them the ultimate relief of a guilty verdict, but it may in fact be a satisfactory consolation prize, that helps members expunge their pent-up emotions.
I suspect that the Founders were well-familiar with the work of political philosopher Hobbes and his concerns with human strife and the risks associated with elevated and unresolved human emotions. Allowing members to resolve their negative passions without any great and irreversible net harm to society or the government would fit in with such a political philosophy.
So, there is indeed a credible and rational argument for having a lower threshold for impeachment in the House — provided that there is a substantially higher threshold in the Senate to serve as a check for any [emotional or partisan political] excesses of the House.
FWIW, I am neither endorsing or in favor of Sen. Scott’s particular proposal to raise the voting threshold in the House, although it would be consistent with my efficiency argument. Besides, Sen. Scott is only suggesting a 3/5 (60%) threshold compared to the 2/3 (67%) threshold in the Senate.
So, I remain of mixed mind — I consider the efficiency approach valid and very appealing, but I accept the wisdom of the cathartic approach as well.
What to do? Nothing, for now. Unless impeachments become more common and too disruptive.
Trump Impeachment Trial 2.0?
Obviously none of us average citizens can attend the second Trump impeachment trial this year due to the virus, but I was thinking of walking over to the Capitol area just to check out the outdoor scene — whether there are any protesters, how much media presence, etc. I have no firm plans at this moment, but it’s an intriguing possibility. I don’t even know if they even allow average people on the Capitol grounds yet.
A bunch of questions and issues that are swirling around Impeachment 2.0:
- Is it really constitutional? Will the Supreme Court have an opportunity to rule on that question?
- Is it advantageous to Trump to have the trial and prevail rather than circumvent the trial (without exoneration) through a decision of the Supreme Court?
- Isn’t the outcome preordained at this stage? Why bother?
- Do both sides benefit equally by going through the motions of a trial even with a preordained outcome?
- What constitutes an impeachable offense?
- Will the House managers be able to simply paint all Trump claims about the election with a single broad brush as baseless and unsubstantiated, or will they be forced to argue against each such claim in detail? Will Trump’s team have the opportunity to air all of their election claims in detail, possibly arguing that the House managers haven’t proven them false per se? Will any of these claims be relevant to the impeachment charge? Are Trump’s election claims key to the House managers’ case, or just an incidental sideshow?
- Will Trump’s First Amendment claims be considered relevant?
- How many Republicans will defect? Two, four, six eight, ten?
- What are the legal elements of incitement which must be proven?
- What are the legal elements of insurrection which must be proven?
- Will the fact that the FBI investigation is ongoing and not yet complete have an impact on the impeachment trial? How much of the speculation and unproven allegations from the ongoing investigation can be used as evidence in the impeachment trial.
- Is the FBI currently investigating any purported incitement by Trump? If so, how might that impact the trial? If not, should that fact have an impact on the trial? Will any evidence or information about any investigation of Trump by the FBI be introduced at the trial?
- What standard of proof is required for incitement or insurrection?
- To what extent are witnesses needed? Shouldn’t a video of the Trump rally on January 6th be sufficient to demonstrate the purported incitement by Trump?
- Will it matter if it can be proven that various aspects of the assault on the Capitol were planned and coordinated without Trump’s direct involvement well before the rally on January 6th?
- What might be the consequences of a not-guilty verdict? Both within Congress and in the 2022 election. For both sides. Who wins more by having the trial?
I’ll refrain from weighing in on any of those questions.
Of course there are all manner of legal experts and political scientists to weigh in on all sides of these questions.
It is also worth noting that there is a tradition in America that all cases are tried in two courts — a court of law, and the court of public opinion. Arguably, the latter can often be seen as more consequential.
For more on my writing in general: My Five Main Areas of Focus