Bob Graham knows what an impeachment does to a senator’s life.
When the former senator from Florida was serving in Congress, an average day meant about eight to 10 hours for committee meetings, working on legislation and just dealing with the business of the day.
But when President Bill Clinton was impeached at the end of 1998, Graham’s days shifted dramatically. Gone was any work that wasn’t tied explicitly to the impeachment trial. Graham, 83, describes that time as a “serious responsibility” — days filled with work that was not so easily left at the office.
“I think anybody who has a job that requires a significant amount of intensity to properly carry out doesn’t leave work at the office, it’s there all the time,” Graham told USA TODAY. “That would be particularly true during something as personal as an impeachment trial.”
Senators are the jurors in a president’s impeachment trial, and what Graham dealt with 30 years ago is again front and center with the recent impeachment of President Donald Trump.
But this time around, there’s an additional complicating factor: Five of Trump’s jurors are also running for president.
Sens. Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will have to take precious time away from the 2020 campaign trail to participate in a Senate impeachment trial that by all accounts could last weeks.
Each senator has their own unique challenge impeachment brings. Sanders and Warren have been battling it out among the top tier of candidates for months and are looking to break away from the pack. Klobuchar is riding a wave of interest following a strong debate performance in December and looking to turn that into a groundswell of Iowa support. And Bennett and Booker are both fighting for attention while lagging their counterparts in polling and fundraising.
“Being stuck in Washington is not ideal,” said Matt Bennett, the executive vice president of public affairs for Third Way, a center-left think tank. “The biggest problem is that the first two states (Iowa and New Hampshire) are highly retail in their focus and voters expect to be able to actually see these candidates in person.”
The trial likely will begin sometime in January, a crucial time when candidates are campaigning wall to wall in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. There’s also the final Democratic debate before voting begins, scheduled for Jan. 14 in Iowa.
And if that uncertainty wasn’t enough to cause campaigns heartburn, it’s unclear when exactly the Senate trial will begin. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has withheld sending the articles of impeachment to her Senate counterparts over a lack of information regarding how the trial would be conducted. The details and rules of how a Senate trial would function haven’t even been announced, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying in December he and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “remain at an impasse.”
What the senators’ plans are
For their part, the senator-candidates have all vowed to be in D.C. for the impeachment trial.
“There are some things that are more important than politics, and if we have an impeachment proceeding going on, I will be there,” Warren told reporters last month in Rochester, New Hampshire.
When asked whether she’s worried it will hurt her campaign, Warren responded, “This is not about politics.”
“Impeachment is something I take very seriously. I take no joy in this. But this is about a constitutional oath that every single member of the Senate took to — uphold the Constitution of the United States.”
To keep her message out on the campaign trail when she can’t be, Klobuchar said that she will deploy surrogates to help her campaign while she is in D.C. for her “constitutional duty.”
“I have the most endorsements of electeds and former electeds of any candidate, any of them in Iowa,” she said during an interview on “The View” last month. “And that includes a number of people, including a former Republican legislator who changed parties last spring, because he said he could not stomach it anymore.
“So those people are going to be my surrogates,” she added. “My husband loves to campaign. My daughter loves to campaign; she’s pretty good at it.”
Other candidates said they are still hopeful they can make it to some of the early states.
Booker campaign manager Addisu Demissie told reporters last month that the senator is “considering every possible option,” including red-eye flights and tele-town halls.
“We don’t really know how long it’s going to be, what time of the day it’s going to be, whether he can do stuff in the morning then hop a train or a flight in the afternoon to get there in the evening or vice-versa,” Demissie said. “So we’re staying flexible in that regard.”
Shannon Beckham, national press secretary for Bennet, said the Colorado senator’s “duties, and his responsibility to uphold the Constitution and rule of law, come before any campaign.”
“Every chance he gets, he will be on the campaign trail talking to early state voters,” Beckham added. Bennet, who is focusing more on the New Hampshire primary over the Iowa caucuses, is holding 50 town halls between December and the New Hampshire primary, his campaign said.
Packing in events
Even as 2019 came to a close, candidates were packing in campaign events in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
Sanders’ campaign hosted “Bernie’s Big New Year’s Bash” in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, while Booker hosted several house parties in Iowa on New Years Eve. Klobuchar hosted a New Year’s Eve town hall in Keene, New Hampshire. Warren, who is giving a New Year’s Eve speech in Boston, will begin campaigning in New Hampshire on Jan. 2.
Sanders’ press secretary Sarah Ford confirmed Sanders would participate in the impeachment trial, but declined to give additional details on the Vermont senator’s plan during a trial.
In Iowa, Sanders’ deputy state director Bill Neidhardt said the campaign plans to send “talented and compelling surrogates to Iowa to help us energize our base and appeal to as many caucusgoers as possible.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a star surrogate for Sanders’ campaign, has repeatedly campaigned for Sanders in the early-voting states of Iowa and Nevada. Although she said that she has not heard from the campaign just yet, Ocasio-Corteztold USA TODAY in December that she’s open to campaigning for Sanders during the impeachment trial.
“I’m open to seeing what we can do to shore that up. It’s going to take a lot of candidates off the road,” she said. “I think it’s certainly not something that we haven’t closed ourselves off to.”
Contributing: Shelby Fleig of the Des Moines Register