Senate Democrats Face Their Own Risks Over Impeachment

WASHINGTON — For Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who is seeking a third term next year in a traditional swing state, a vote on whether to oust President Donald Trump months before they both face voters would be difficult under any circumstances.

It is all the more daunting for Shaheen because she might have to do so while facing the closest thing to the president himself: Corey Lewandowski, the combative former Trump campaign manager who hails from New Hampshire and has threatened to challenge her.

“It should be a tough vote for everybody because we should take this issue seriously,” Shaheen said of a vote to impeach the president. “People ought to be looking at how real the allegations are, whether they are impeachable offenses and whether the president engaged in them.”

While much attention has been focused on how Senate Republicans will cope with an impeachment trial, the prospect presents its own challenges for Democrats in their uphill fight to win back the Senate majority.

A handful of senators running for reelection — notably Doug Jones, D-Ala. — could suffer a backlash for voting to remove a president popular with many in their states. If the impeachment trial is seen as an unfair partisan exercise or an overreach, it could hurt rising Democratic chances to topple incumbents in places like Iowa and North Carolina.

And if the party splintered over articles of impeachment approved by the House, it would undercut the Democratic message that Trump is guilty of an abuse of power that Republicans are ignoring. It would also make it even harder to assemble a symbolic majority against the president, let alone the two-thirds supermajority required to remove him.

“There is political risk for Senate Democrats as well as Senate Republicans,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections and a nonpartisan analyst of congressional races. “A lot will depend on what is the case, what is the situation when it gets to the Senate, and how did the House handle it.”

Senate Democratic strategists say their incumbents and challengers are in a much better political position than embattled Republicans like Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine and Martha McSally of Arizona. Their votes could either alienate independent voters they may need to win in a difficult year or anger the Republican base. Operatives also say it is far too soon to weigh the consequences of the vote for Democrats given that the House is still in the early stages of its own impeachment review and no articles have even been made public.

Still, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, is taking steps to assist his colleagues in preparing for an impeachment trial. The leader’s office has gathered material — including information from past impeachment battles, historical facts and developments in the current case — in a digital hub available to Democratic offices. Senators have continued to discuss the state of play in their private lunches and are also meeting in smaller groups to plot strategy.

Schumer, in conference calls last month and in conversations with colleagues, has also offered messaging advice. The basic thrust is that Democrats should support the House effort, call for the House investigation to continue unimpeded so all of the facts can emerge, emphasize the seriousness of the coming trial, avoid prejudging the case, and press Republicans to take up sidelined legislation while the Senate awaits House action.

“Nobody is happy about the fact that the House is examining the potential impeachment of the president,” Schumer said this week, heeding his own counsel. “It has always been a sad and somber process. But there is no excuse for jumping to conclusions.”

Republicans believe the Democrat most threatened by impeachment is Jones, who is confronting a very difficult environment in Alabama — a Trump stronghold where he will need Republican support if he is to prevail. Jones has called the emerging details of Trump’s actions toward Ukraine “disturbing” but has said he will await more information.

“Our job is to carefully analyze and review the facts,” he said in a recent floor speech.

Republicans also hope that impeachment will squeeze Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who is running for a second term in a state Trump narrowly won in 2016. Peters, too, has emphasized the need for thorough fact-finding.

In addition to possible pressure on incumbent Democrats, Republicans say that voter resentment over impeachment and a trial of the president could help incumbents in battleground states hold on to their seats. One of those incumbents, McSally of Arizona, earlier told Politico that the Democratic impeachment drive was a “kamikaze mission” that would allow Republicans to hold the Senate.

Even for more moderate Democrats in safer seats, a vote to oust the president will not be automatic, some analysts believe.

“I think every Senate Democrat will look at it through their own lens,” said Jonathan Kott, a former adviser to Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., who is heading a group working to protect moderate congressional Democrats. “The ones who are lawyers and on Judiciary will look at it through a law and order lens. The ones who were there for the Clinton impeachment will take a more historic and precedent approach to impeachment. But all will take it seriously, and it is in no way a slam dunk.”

Democrats say there is a strong likelihood that neither Manchin nor Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., would vote to convict Trump, meaning at least 22 Republicans would then have to defect to reach the 67-vote threshold for removal from office.

It would also require at least six Republicans to produce a majority vote, a symbolic hurdle that some Democrats say would send a strong signal about the president’s conduct. In the 1999 Senate trial of President Bill Clinton, no article of impeachment won a majority, although there was a 50-50 tie on the article alleging obstruction of justice.

As for Lewandowski, he told reporters in New Hampshire this week that he would decide by the end of the year if he would run, and that part of his calculation would be whether he and the president believed he could be more helpful fighting impeachment as a candidate or as an outside advocate.

Should the House approve articles of impeachment against Trump in the coming weeks, as is expected, Shaheen will not have that choice. She will be involved in any impeachment trial both as a senator and a candidate, and will ultimately have to take a stance.

“I will base my judgment on what is in the articles and what the evidence is that has come out,” she said. “But I’m not going to do that now.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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