Four Democrats running to challenge United States President Donald Trump in November’s general election have a new headache to deal with – a mandatory obligation that will keep them off the campaign trail for at least two weeks, if not longer.
As sitting US senators, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet are constitutionally obligated to be in Washington, DC, for the duration of Trump’s impeachment trial, which is expected to begin in earnest next week.
That means sitting in silence in the US capital while the others in the race, including frontrunners former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, spend the last few weeks before critical caucuses and primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire out actually campaigning.
Polls in Iowa put Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg within five points of each other – essentially a dead heat. The picture in New Hampshire is not that different, with Biden leading Sanders by less than two points.
Most of the candidates have been cautious about criticising the timing of the impeachment trial, insisting that justice is more important than politics. Reports suggest, however, that some are grumbling privately about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to withhold the articles of impeachment, passed by the House in December, from the Senate until this week.
Before he dropped out of the race earlier this week, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was the most open among the Democrats about how much the impeachment timing would have hurt him. A “big, big blow” is how he described it to the Associated Press earlier this month.
“If this trial lasts two weeks, that is literally dozens of events we won’t be able to do,” Booker said at the time.
The trial in the Senate is to fully get under way as early as Tuesday and to continue six days a week – Sundays exempted – until it is concluded. On Tuesday, Republican senators hinted that it would continue well past the Iowa caucuses on February 3.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who controls the Senate calendar, could conceivably allow the process to drag out even further just to make life difficult for the Democratic opposition.
Asked about whether the diversion would be a problem for her in Iowa at the seventh Democratic debate in Des Moines Tuesday night, Warren repeated what she has said before – that some things are more important than politics, and the impeachment of a sitting president is one of those things.
“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America,” she said. “It says that no one is above the law [and] that includes the president of the United States. If we have an impeachment trial, I will be there because it is my responsibility.”