Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren
Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren listen to a moderator question (Courtesy of ABC News)

Any­one fol­low­ing the news in the Unit­ed States might be for­giv­en for think­ing the 2020 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has been put on hold: almost every head­line, opin­ion piece and pod­cast for the past two weeks has become laser-focused on the unfold­ing impeach­ment inquiry tak­ing place on Capi­tol Hill.

How­ev­er, despite appear­ances, the con­test for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion is still going strong. The next tele­vised debate is about to hap­pen, and can­di­dates are scram­bling to qual­i­fy for next month’s debate.

It is a tricky thing to cam­paign for pres­i­dent when all of the media oxy­gen has been sucked from the room by the open­ing rounds of an impeach­ment bat­tle. (Bernie Sanders might actu­al­ly be grate­ful for the tim­ing of the impeach­ment inquiry – it has like­ly negat­ed crit­i­cal cov­er­age of his seri­ous health scare.)

Trump’s impeach­ment could, how­ev­er, prove to be a ben­e­fit for some of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. The sto­ry might be utter­ly dom­i­nat­ing the mass medi­a’s polit­i­cal cov­er­age, but if any can­di­date can become involved in the sto­ry, they will be putting them­selves under the biggest spot­light in the nation.

To some extent, this has already hap­pened for one candidate.

The House­’s impeach­ment inquiry was launched to inves­ti­gate Trump’s bla­tant and crim­i­nal attempts to under­mine the polit­i­cal career of the man he sees as his biggest threat in 2020: for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden.

Joe Biden campaigning
Joe Biden is at the cen­ter of Trump’s Ukraine blun­ders (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Trump’s attempts to under­mine Biden and the sub­se­quent inves­ti­ga­tions are a boon to the Biden cam­paign. His lead of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry has looked increas­ing­ly shaky in recent weeks, as Sen­a­tor Eliz­a­beth War­ren has crept up on him in both nation­al polling and polls in sig­nif­i­cant ear­ly states such as Iowa.

Now though, Biden’s most pow­er­ful argu­ment – that he is the most “elec­table” can­di­date to take on Don­ald Trump in 2020 – has been rein­forced by Trump’s attempts to get the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment to tar­get him.

Of almost twen­ty Democ­rats run­ning for Pres­i­dent, Biden was appar­ent­ly the one that has Trump wor­ried enough to dri­ve him to com­mit impeach­able offens­es. An increas­ing­ly angry Biden recent­ly called for Trump to be impeached.

Trump and his sup­port­ers have been des­per­ate to paint the call to Ukraine’s Pres­i­dent Zelen­skiy that sparked the impeach­ment inquiry as a noble attempt to root out cor­rup­tion linked to Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Their accu­sa­tions – that Biden used his influ­ence as Obama’s Vice Pres­i­dent to pres­sure Ukraine in 2015 and help his son’s busi­ness inter­ests – have been repeat­ed­ly proven false (“a bunch of malarkey,” as Biden might put it).

How­ev­er, while Joe Biden nav­i­gat­ed his son’s inter­ests with legal pro­pri­ety as Vice Pres­i­dent, it is unde­ni­able that Hunter has used his fam­i­ly name to prof­it his busi­ness inter­ests. This behav­ior may smack of nepo­tism to ded­i­cat­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic activists, most of whom are already sick­ened by the (far more extreme) nepo­tism dis­played by the Trump fam­i­ly. An increased spot­light on the Biden fam­i­ly will mean the for­mer Vice President’s team will have to tread carefully.

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has pre­vi­ous­ly impeached just two pres­i­dents (John­son, Clin­ton) and come close to impeach­ing a third (Nixon).

The Nixon impeach­ment inquiry, which was cut off by Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion, offers a tem­plate that Democ­rats are uti­liz­ing to guide their work.

The inquiry is cur­rent­ly in the inves­ti­ga­to­ry phase. The com­mit­tees of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are in charge of this stage of the pro­ceed­ings, with Intel­li­gence Chair Adam Schiff (now a fre­quent foil of Trump) serv­ing as point. Once evi­dence has been secured, the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee will decide whether to draw up arti­cles of impeach­ment, and the whole House will vote on the articles.

The fact that impeach­ment begins in the House might have been a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for the U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives who are cur­rent­ly run­ning for Pres­i­dent. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Tul­si Gab­bard, Tim Ryan and John Delaney, none of them are on the major com­mit­tees inves­ti­gat­ing Trump’s con­duct.

That means that they won’t ben­e­fit from the exten­sive air­time that the com­mit­tee inves­ti­ga­tors get from big media out­lets like CNN or MSNBC.

California’s Eric Swal­well, inci­den­tal­ly, was the first Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date to drop out of the race, but now he finds him­self front and cen­ter in the inquiry, as a mem­ber of both the House Judi­cia­ry and the House Intel­li­gence Committees.

Julián and Joaquin Castro at the LBJ Library
Joaquin Cas­tro, right, sits on key House Com­mit­tees (Pho­to: Lau­ren Ger­son, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

One Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date who might be able to increase their name recog­ni­tion (in a round­about way) through the House impeach­ment process is for­mer H.U.D. Sec­re­tary Julián Cas­tro. Cas­tro does not cur­rent­ly hold elect­ed office, but his iden­ti­cal twin broth­er Joaquin rep­re­sents Texas’ 20th Dis­trict, and sits on com­mit­tees for both For­eign Affairs and Intelligence.

As Joaquin is also Julián’s cam­paign chair­man, he may try to use the spot­light of impeach­ment to advance his brother’s pres­i­den­tial campaign.

Tom Steyer addresses 2019 California Democratic Party state convention
Tom Stey­er achieved nation­al fame through the Need to Impeach cam­paign (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Anoth­er poten­tial ben­e­fi­cia­ry from the impeach­ment inquiry is Cal­i­for­nia bil­lion­aire Tom Stey­er. Stey­er rose to nation­al promi­nence in late 2017, when he front­ed (and poured mil­lions of his per­son­al for­tune into) the ‘Need to Impeach’ cam­paign, an online peti­tion designed to pres­sure law­mak­ers into impeach­ing Don­ald Trump. Stey­er (who Trump has attacked per­son­al­ly on Twit­ter) can now make the argu­ment that his polit­i­cal ideas have been vin­di­cat­ed, and that Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers like Nan­cy Pelosi are fol­low­ing his lead on the issue of impeachment.

If Don­ald Trump is impeached by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, the next step would be a tri­al in the Sen­ate. Sev­er­al of the can­di­dates cur­rent­ly run­ning for Pres­i­dent are sit­ting U.S. sen­a­tors: Eliz­a­beth War­ren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Har­ris, Cory Book­er, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet.

Although these can­di­dates will be present at the tri­al as sen­a­tors, there will be lit­tle oppor­tu­ni­ty for them to grab the spot­light; the Sen­ate sits as a jury, while appoint­ed mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives pros­e­cute the case against the Pres­i­dent. The sit­u­a­tion is quite unlike the Sen­ate com­mit­tee hear­ings that we are famil­iar with, where Sen­a­tors are allowed to ver­bal­ly grill witnesses.

Accord­ing to legal schol­ar Frank Bow­man of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri, in a Sen­ate tri­al sen­a­tors are allowed to sub­mit ques­tions to the legal teams through the Chief Jus­tice, but “direct oral questions…would be unusu­al.” This robs the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in the Sen­ate (five of whom are expe­ri­enced lawyers) of the chance to show off their intel­li­gence and ver­bal tough­ness to the Amer­i­can people.

How­ev­er, the Sen­a­tors would still get to be in the room.

Sev­er­al of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates have no way of par­tic­i­pat­ing direct­ly in the impeach­ment inquiry – either because they are not in Con­gress despite serv­ing in elect­ed office (for exam­ple, May­or Pete Buttigieg) or they do not cur­rent­ly hold elect­ed office (Andrew Yang or Beto O’Rourke). These can­di­dates have a hard road ahead of them – with no sign of the impeach­ment cov­er­age dying down, shift­ing the nation­al spot­light onto their pres­i­den­tial ambi­tions will be dif­fi­cult indeed.

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