With the U.S. House of Representatives set to vote on Thursday
on next steps in the impeachment probe, lawmakers there
anticipate the investigation could wrap up by year's end or
early 2020, at which point the process will move to the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has said a
trial requiring the presence of the full Senate could take place
six days a week. That would keep the six Democratic presidential
candidates who serve in the chamber off the campaign trail right
before the first nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire
on Feb. 3 and Feb. 11, respectively.
But the timing might not be all bad news. Some Democratic
strategists said the White House contenders could benefit from
their prominent perch as voters are largely transfixed by the
"While the impeachment trial might place some limitations on
candidate travel for those who are in the Senate, it also is
likely that primary voters and most Americans will be tuned in
and watching the trial so senators will be getting a lot of
media attention," said Jim Demers, a longtime Democratic
consultant in New Hampshire who supports Senator Cory Booker's
The last time the Senate held an impeachment trial, of President
Bill Clinton in 1998, it lasted five weeks.
The current impeachment inquiry by the Democratic-led House of
Representatives is focused on Trump's request during a July 25
telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that
he investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic
political rival, and his son Hunter Biden, who had served on the
board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Federal law prohibits candidates from accepting foreign help in
The trial could come at an especially crucial time for Senators
Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
They are battling former Vice President Joe Biden to emerge as
the clear front-runner for the nomination, and both senators are
positioned to finish near the top in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Senate Republicans view the trial as a potential stumbling block
that could bolster other Democratic contenders such as Biden,
who will be free to campaign while his rivals have to remain in
Washington, one Republican aide told Reuters.
A trial also could complicate the already-struggling
presidential bids of Senators Booker, Michael Bennet, Kamala
Harris and Amy Klobuchar, who will need the critical stretch
before the nominating contests to continue raising money and
introducing themselves to voters.
"It's bad timing for those senators," said Jeff Link, a
Democratic strategist in Iowa who advised Barack Obama's 2008
presidential campaign. "They all need to find a way to break
through the noise and communicate from the trial."
Asked last week how a trial would affect his campaigning in
early states, Booker replied, "I donít know, and this is going
to be very strong words: I donít care.
"I only have one choice: to do my job, politics be damned,Ē
A 'HUGE PLATFORM'
Because senators will act as a de-facto jury in an impeachment
trial, they will remain mostly silent while on the Senate floor.
But nothing will prevent them from speaking to the media when
the chamber is not in session.
Jim Manley, once a top aide to former Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid, said that will give the candidates a "huge platform"
during the proceedings.
"You can find ways to raise your visibility, whether it's taking
questions in the Capitol or going on TV at night," Manley said.
"It's going to be wall-to-wall coverage. They're not going to be
suffering from a lack of options to stay visible."
Those options will include so-called "earned media," which gets
the candidates on televisions across the country without their
campaigns having to spend money on advertising.
While campaigns are typically won on the local level, Peter Daou,
a Democratic strategist who advised Hillary Clinton's 2008
presidential campaign, said being part of a "very historic
moment" would help the candidates.
"Overall, the message it sends to voters is a net positive for
them,Ē Daou said.
Link said Warren's strong organization in Iowa may allow her to
better withstand an extended absence from the trail.
Warren told reporters in New Hampshire this week that "some
things are more important than politics. I took an oath to
uphold the Constitution of the United States, and that's what
this impeachment is all about."
Other campaigns are considering alternative ways to stay
connected with voters.
Booker's team may hold "weekends of action" focused on
early-voting states with phone and texting banks. They are also
considering having Booker video conference into house parties
and record messages for supporters, a campaign aide said.
Candidates may also tap family members, other elected officials
or high-profile supporters to campaign in their stead in the
weeks ahead of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
"Plenty of people that will be able to fill in for me, including
my husband," Klobuchar told CNN earlier this month.
"I have a constitutional duty, but I can do two things at once,"
she added. "There is more than one way to reach out to people."
(Reporting by Amanda Becker and James Oliphant; additional
reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Joseph AxEditing
by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Osterman)
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