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Learning from their mistakes, Democrats close their 2nd case against Trump
Learning from their mistakes, Democrats close their 2nd case against Trump
House impeachment managers rested their case on Thursday, with a plea from lead manager Rep. Jamie Raskin for the Senate to rely on common sense in assessing whether to find former President Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6.
Trump’s lawyers are expected to begin and end their arguments on Friday, setting the trial up for a finish on Saturday or Sunday after closing arguments and a vote by the Senate. A two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, is required to convict Trump and bar him from holding any future office, and while it appears that some Republicans are likely to vote with Democrats and find Trump guilty, it is believed that their numbers will fall short of the 17 needed to meet that threshold.
But Raskin, D-Md., stressed that one of the meanings of “common sense” was “the sense that we all have in common as a community.”
That reference to community, in the final moments of Raskin’s presentation to close out two days of arguments, said a lot. Everything feels different this impeachment, because Democrats have taken a very different approach than the last one.
The first time Trump was impeached, the Senate trial was a highly partisan affair, and Republicans were visibly angered at different times by the Democratic house managers.
This trial is taking place in a vastly different context. An election is not around the corner, but rather just passed. And emotions are still raw — among everyone, Republicans and Democrats — from the violent assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters just over a month ago.
The House impeachment managers have seized on this reality. They have emphasized the bipartisan nature of the threat posed by the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, and have stressed that the danger has not subsided.
“Senators, you were here. You saw this with your own eyes. You faced that danger,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.
“They could have killed all of us,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who was actually quoting Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., from the day after the attack.
“This must be our wake up call … because the threat is not over,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said.
The Democrats have made the trial about a common identity under threat from an outside force, rather than pointing the finger at the many Republican lawmakers in the Senate who at first opposed Trump in 2015 and 2016, but have since capitulated and helped him take over the party. Rather than indicting the Republican senators who promoted Trump’s lies about a stolen election, such as Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, there were many mentions of “we” and “us.”
On several occasions, the impeachment managers praised former Vice President Mike Pence for his courage and patriotism in upholding his constitutional duty to certify the election results, and emphasized the way that Trump directed a mob to target him with threats on his life on Jan. 6.
After the Capitol was cleared of rioters, Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., said, “I remember us finishing our task at four in the morning, and as I walked off the floor, I was so grateful — so grateful — for the opportunity to thank the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, for his actions, for standing before us and asking us to follow our oath and our faith and our duty.”
Pence’s example also served as a reminder that anyone who stood in Trump’s way has been targeted with harassment, intimidation and even violence, regardless of prior loyalty.
“The president wasn’t just coming for one or two people or Democrats like me. He was coming for you, for Democratic and Republican senators. He was coming for all of us, just as the mob did at his direction,” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said.
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., drove this point home by using the example of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has said publicly that he voted for Trump and donated money to his campaign. But when Raffensperger refused to bow to Trump’s pressure to corrupt his state’s election results — despite death threats against him and his family — Trump called Raffensburger an “enemy of the people,” a phrase used in history by genocidal dictators.
“Let that sink in,” Dean said. “A Republican public servant doing his job, whose family had just received death threats, and the president of the United States labeled him ‘an enemy of the people.’”
Raskin, on Thursday, used the example of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, who was the target of an alleged kidnapping plot by militia members. He detailed Trump’s verbal assaults on her and Trump’s jokes at a rally in Michigan about the way he could influence his supporters to take action.
Trump has shown no remorse for anything he did and has called his actions on Jan. 6 and the months leading up to it “totally appropriate.” Raskin argued that this was yet more proof that Trump, should he be allowed to run for office again, would continue to incite his supporters against his opponents.
“If we don't draw the line here, what’s next? What makes you think the nightmare with Donald Trump and his … violent mobs is over? If we let him get away with it, and then it comes to your state capitol, or comes back here again, what are we going to say?” Raskin said. “My dear colleagues, is there any political leader in this room who believes that if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?”
“Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?” he asked.
And Lieu warned the Senators that convicting Trump wouldn’t just prevent him from holding office. It would prevent him from even running for office again. Because, of course, Trump wreaked the havoc of the last few months after an election in which he lost.
“I’m afraid he’s going to run again and lose, because he could do this again,” Lieu said.
But the Democratic managers also appealed to a sense of hopeful idealism in the GOP psyche, despite the many signs — such as some Republican senators meeting with Trump’s lawyers on Thursday to advise them on legal strategy — that many Republicans have no intention of judging the case on the merits.
After his tribute to Pence on Wednesday, Neguse related that the next day he called his father and told him that “the proudest moment, by far, of serving in Congress, for me, was going back on to the floor with each of you to finish the work that we had started.”
“I am humbled to be back with you today. And just as on January 6, when we overcame that attack on our Capitol, on our country, I am hopeful that at this trial, we can use our resolve and our resilience to, again, uphold our democracy by faithfully applying the law, vindicating the Constitution, and holding President Trump accountable for his actions,” he said.
This was one of the most vibrant and clear calls to unity during the first three days of the trial so far, but there were echoes of it everywhere in the way the Democrats approached their task.
“This has been the most bipartisan impeachment in American history,” Raskin said, referring to the 10 House Republicans who joined Democrats in voting to impeach Trump last month. “And we hope it will continue to be so in the days ahead.”
Democrats have learned from the first impeachment, in which Senate Republicans took umbrage at the way lead manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and his team made their case. Schiff, although respected for his intelligence, had already become a polarizing figure long before the trial began, and Republicans saw him as preening and hyper-partisan.
Republicans resented the sense that they were props in a performance for TV cameras, rather than Schiff’s intended audience, even if many of them had already signaled before the trial began that their minds were made up and they were not persuadable.
A Democratic source familiar with the impeachment team’s preparations said that “the managers and the lawyers working for them were all very aware of the complaints levied against the previous impeachment team’s presentation.”
This time, Raskin and his team have set a different tone. He’s a constitutional lawyer whose faults tend to be delving too deeply into the finer points of the law, more so than sharpening rhetorical jabs on cable TV.
“Raskin is talking to the Senate. Schiff was talking to MSNBC,” one Senate Republican aide told Yahoo News.
Another senior GOP Senate aide told Yahoo News that “Raskin isn’t talking down to senators.”
“And unfortunately he has a far more compelling case. This one tugs at your heartstrings in ways that a phone call with Ukraine can’t,” the aide said, referencing the issue at the heart of the last impeachment.
The current impeachment is dealing with “something senators know and felt. It’s not some abstract thing.”
Raskin’s opening presentation on Tuesday drew praise from Senate Republicans, who were impressed with his precision, grateful that he was efficient and did not prolong his arguments. Many of them were also moved by his restrained retelling of his son’s recent death, and how he feared for the lives of his daughter and son-in-law on Jan. 6, as they hid inside the Capitol from a mob of violent Trump supporters.
“They came in well prepared. I’m at odds with them on where to go with the impeachment trial but I thought the quality of their presentation was impressive,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told Yahoo News about Raskin and his co-managers. “I think it was stylistically very different [from last year].”
“I have to compliment the impeachment managers just in terms of their presentation preparation. I thought it was excellent. I don't agree with everything. But I think they set the standard pretty high,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told CNN’s Manu Raju.
There were other attempts to persuade the GOP rather than to castigate them. Neguse, in his opening remarks on Tuesday, countered constitutional arguments from Trump’s lawyers by noting that they didn’t “square with history, originalism, textualism” — the hallmark foundational concepts in conservative legal thought.
Raskin argued that the impeachment was not motivated in any way by partisanship or ideology. “It makes no difference what the ideological content of the mob was,” he said. And he noted that numerous conservatives had been among the 144 legal scholars who signed a letter saying it was constitutional for the Senate to hold a trial for a former president.
The deference exhibited by the Democratic managers to the Senate extended to their use of time. Last year, House managers used almost all of their 24 hours over three days to make their case, and their arguments became redundant. Republicans cited this as an example of the Democrats playing to the TV cameras rather than speaking to the audience in the chamber.
Raskin, as he brought his case to a close on Thursday afternoon, boasted of the “disciplined and focused” work of his managers that allowed them to finish four-and-a-half hours early. After all, he had noted on Tuesday that “nothing could be more bipartisan than the desire to recess.”
Castro, on Thursday afternoon, spoke to the senators about the damage done by Trump to America’s reputation around the world. Hostile foreign governments, Castro said, are mocking and ridiculing America, and dismissing the ability of the U.S. to show global leadership on behalf of democratic freedoms.
“We get to define ourselves by how we respond to the attack of January 6,” Castro said. “The world is watching to see whether we are who we say we are. … This is why we have a Constitution. … The rule of law doesn’t just stand up for itself.”
“There’s a lot of courage in this room, a lot of courage that has been demonstrated in the lives of people in this room,” Castro said. He noted that some senators had put their reputations and safety on the line to stand up for civil rights, and others had “risked their lives in service for our country in uniform, in fighting in the jungles of Vietnam and controlling the mountains of Afghanistan.”
“You have served our country because you are willing to sacrifice to defend our nation as we know it, and as the world knows it,” Castro said. “And although most of you have traded in your uniform for public service, your country needs you one more time.”