NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, October 13th, 2019

As impeachment coverage takes over the news, can Democratic candidates benefit?

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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