Jan 26, 2020

Impeachment: Then & now

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We are living in a measurably different political and media landscape than when the Senate acquitted President Bill Clinton of impeachment charges in 1999.

The big picture: These dynamics are setting the pace as President Trump’s legal team speeds through arguments to seek a fast acquittal.

  • “We didn't have to contend with social media, cable news and the deep partisan divide to the extent it exists today," Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader in 1999, tells Axios.

Why it matters: What happens may shape how Americans view future impeachments.

  • The White House team kept Saturday’s arguments around two hours — after Trump vented about poor weekend TV ratings.

Some other ways Trump's 2020 impeachment backdrop differed from Clinton's in 1999:

Political power:

Then: Democratic president, Republican Senate, Republican House.

Now: Republican president, Republican Senate, Democratic House.

Setting the rules:

Then: Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Minority Leader Daschle negotiated ground rules for the trial.

  • "We worked together closely during the entire impeachment period. That set the tone and allowed us to complete our work successfully," Daschle told Axios by email, calling their relationship “excellent.”
  • The Senate approved the rules 100-0.

Now: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer briefly met before the start of the trial, but talks failed once McConnell knew he had the votes to pass his resolution without Democrats.

  • "McConnell decided early on that he wanted no part of making this bipartisan," a person close to Schumer told Axios. "And that made it quite difficult for him to negotiate."
  • The rules were approved along party lines, with a vote of 53-47.
White House defense:

Then: Former Sen. Dale Bumpers represented Clinton: “You pick your own adjective to describe the president's conduct. Here are some that I would use: indefensible, outrageous, unforgivable, shameless. I promise you the president would not contest any of those or any others.”

  • The White House legal team turned over 90,000 documents, and key witnesses and Clinton himself testified before the trial.

Now: White House counsel Pat Cipollone told Senators on Saturday it would be “a completely irresponsible abuse of power” to convict Trump. Trump has long insisted his call with Ukrainian President Zelensky — around which the articles of impeachment are built — was “perfect.”

  • The White House repeatedly ignored requests for documents, asserted executive privilege to block key witnesses and Trump has not testified.
Senate partisanship:

Then: Vice President Al Gore broke ties in the Senate four times over eight years.

Now: Three years into the Trump presidency, Vice President Mike Pence has had to break ties 13 times.

  • The Senate of the 116th Congress has had no 100-0 votes thus far.
  • There were 167 attempted cloture votes in 2017–2018.
  • The average Democrat in Congress has become more liberal and the average Republican more conservative since 1999, as shown by Vote View data.

What to watch: Per Daschle: “How the Senate conducts itself, how the President will act upon his inevitable acquittal, and how it will affect future respect for the rule of law are questions about which all Americans should be concerned."

Go deeper

Trump impeachment trial recap, day 10: Vote to call witnesses fails

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gives the thumbs up as he leaves the Senate chamber after adjourning for the night during the impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Drew Angerer / Staff/Getty Images

The Senate voted Friday to move forward with Trump's impeachment trial without calling for additional witnesses or evidence, an expected result after two key Republicans decided to vote against it.

The state of play: The Senate voted to reconvene Monday at 11 a.m. ET with a final vote Wednesday at 4 p.m., after the Senate goes on recess for the weekend. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's last-ditch effort to get witnesses — forcing amendments to subpoena John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney and other officials — were shot down.

Trump impeachment trial recap, day 11: Closing arguments conclude

Rep. Adam Schiff at closing arguments. Photo: Senate Television via Getty Images

House managers and President Trump's defense team presented their closing arguments on Monday during the 11th day of the president's Senate impeachment trial.

The state of the play: The four hours of closing arguments were more for show than meant to change any minds, as Trump is all but certain to be acquitted on Wednesday.

The daily highlights from Trump's Senate impeachment trial

Photo: Getty Images

The Senate impeachment trial of President Trump is set to wrap up on Wednesday with a final on whether or not to remove him from office.

The big picture: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got the speedy, no-witness trial he wanted. Republicans officially have the votes to acquit Trump, according to a Politico analysis of public statements.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 5, 2020 - Politics & Policy