Good morning! It’s Wednesday, February 10, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 636 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,364 days away. Thanks for waking up to politics!
In today’s newsletter: A recap of what went down in Day One of the second Trump impeachment trial. I’ll be breaking down each day of the trial in the newsletter all week — if you have a friend or family member who you think might want to stay up to date, forward them this email and tell them to subscribe at wakeuptopolitics.com!
TRIAL RECAP: DAY ONE
The Senate voted to move forward with the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, after hearing arguments from the defense and protection on whether the proceedings were constitutional. Here’s what you need to know:
Democrats make an emotional case. The House impeachment managers ticked through a number of constitutionality arguments on Tuesday, citing historical precedents and quotes from a range of legal experts. But at the heart of the Democrats’ case was an emotional appeal to senators, focused on reminding senators of the January 6 riot at the Capitol that Trump stands accused of inciting.
The managers opened with a 13-minute video montage recounting the horrors of the Capitol attack, interspersed with Trump’s own tweets and remarks urging on his supporters throughout the day. According to the Washington Post, “almost every senatorial eye in the chamber was glued to the screens” during the cinematic presentation, as the jurors relived the attack that they all experienced.
“If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said of the former president’s behavior before and during the riot that left a Capitol Police officer and four others dead.
Raskin’s fellow managers, Reps. Joe Neguse (D-CO) and David Cicilline (D-RI), also took to the floor to urge senators to declare the trial constitutional. The managers accused Trump’s defense team of wanting to create a “January exception” for presidential behavior, arguing that if former presidents are immune from impeachment, they can do virtually anything in their final months in office. They also pointed to the impeachment trials of Sen. William Blount in 1797 and Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876; both took place after the two men left office.
“Presidents can’t inflame insurrection in their final weeks and then walk away like nothing happened,” Neguse argued. “And yet that is the rule that President Trump asks you to adopt.”
But when Raskin returned to the dais to offer the managers’ closing arguments, emotion was placed front and center once again. The Maryland Democrat tearfully recounted bringing his daughter to the Capitol on January 6, one day after burying his 25-year-old son. “All around me people were calling their wives and their husbands, their loved ones, to say goodbye,” he remembered.
Raskin added that he later apologized to his daughter and promised that her next visit to the Capitol wouldn’t be so perilous. “Dad, I don’t want to come back to the Capitol,” she replied.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, becomes emotional during his closing remarks. (Senate Television via AP)
Trump’s team has an uneven opening. When Bruce Castor, one of Trump’s lead defense attorneys, took to the floor after Raskin, even he had positive things to say about the Democrats’ opening. “I thought they were brilliant speakers,” he said, revealing that “we changed what we were going to do on account that we thought the House managers’ presentation was well done.”
But instead of responding to the managers’ arguments point by point, Castor launched into a rambling opening that frequently seemed to meander away from the topic at hand. At times, his remarks morphed into something of a tribute to the senators themselves, expounding on the history of the Roman Senate and praising the jurors as a “diverse group” of ”patriots.”
At other points, according to CNN, senators “appeared to be confused” by Castor’s specifically name-checking some of their colleagues. Castor went on an extended riff about Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) and his home state, which he called “quite a judicial thinking place.” Sasse appeared “befuddled,” according to a pool report.
When Castor handed things over to his co-counsel, David Schoen, the defense team began to launch something of a more coherent argument. Schoen accused the Democrats of fostering division by pushing forward with the impeachment process, which he also said had been conducted too quickly in the House.
“They say you need this trial before the nation can heal, that the nation cannot heal without it,” Schoen said. “I say, our nation cannot possibly heal with it. With this trial, you will open up new and bigger wounds across the nation.”
Schoen also accused Democrats of depriving Trump of his right to due process by holding such a speedy process, and argued that impeaching former officials would lead to a slippery slope. “Under their unsupportable constitutional theory... every civil officer who has served is at risk of impeachment,” Schoen declared.
Former Pennsylvania solicitor general Bruce Castor, the first of former President Trump’s defense attorneys to speak on Tuesday. (Senate Television via AP)
A divided Senate sides with the managers. The early reviews for the Trump defense team were not positive, from Democrats and Republicans alike. “I don’t think the [defense] lawyers did the most effective job,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, going on to praise Raskin’s presentation as “impressive.”
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) also said Raskin did a “superior job” and that Trump’s team was “not very well prepared.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said he thought Castor “just rambled on and on and on.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said she was “stunned” at Castor’s performance. “I couldn’t figure out where he was going,” she added.
But despite their criticisms of his presentation, the vast majority of Republican senators sided with Castor when it was time to vote on the trial’s constitutionality. The vote was 56 to 44, with all 50 Democrats and six Republicans — Bill Cassidy (LA), Susan Collins (ME), Murkowski, Mitt Romney (UT), Ben Sasse (NE), and Pat Toomey (PA) — joining forces to affirm that the trial should move forward.
Of the six, only Cassidy had changed his mind from a similar vote last month when he said the trial was unconstitutional. “The House managers made a compelling, cogent case and the president’s team did not,” he explained to reporters.
The Louisianan added: “If I’m an impartial juror and one side is doing a great job and the other side is doing a terrible job on the issue at hand, as an impartial juror I’m going to vote for the side that did a good job.”
According to multiple news reports, Trump himself agreed with that assessment. Trump was “enraged” by his attorneys’ performance, according to the New York Times. A person familiar with his reaction told the Times that on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the angriest, Trump “was an eight” after watching the trial’s opening day.
An aerial view of the House managers walking to the Senate before the trial began on Tuesday. (Will McNamee/Getty Images/Bloomberg)
Q: What are VP Harris’ duties when she isn’t accompanying the president at briefings, meetings, visits, or swearing in Cabinet members? — Karen Bradway of Lost Nation, Iowa
A: Constitutionally, the vice president has only two duties: to preside over the Senate (which the VP rarely actually does) and have a pulse (so they can succeed to the presidency if need be). Beyond that, it’s up to the president what and how much they want to delegate to their number two. Historically, that has meant some vice presidents have been left with some less-than-prestigious tasks: as former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller summed up his role, “I go to funerals. I go to earthquakes.”
But President Biden has expressed a determination to empower Harris on a policy level, just as President Obama delegated Iraq policy and oversight of the 2009 stimulus package to Biden when he was VP. However, as the New York Times recently pointed out, Harris has yet to receive a specific policy portfolio.
Instead, as Karen mentioned, her role has mostly taken the form of accompanying the president wherever he goes: she’s been by his side at practically every speech he’s given or signing ceremony he’s held. (That pattern will hold true today as well.) Biden’s team has gone to great lengths to elevate Harris and project the image of her being right with him at nearly every turn, suggesting that she may act more as an all-encompassing adviser than as the coordinator of a specific issue set.
Harris also has one more critical duty that I haven’t mentioned yet: as president of the Senate, she can break ties in the upper chamber. That’s true of every VP, but not all of them exercise the power frequently. (Biden, for example, never broke a tie in eight years as vice president.) But Harris is entering office with a rare 50-50 Senate, meaning she will frequently take center stage as the tie-breaker. In fact, she has already broken her first tie, casting her vote after 5 a.m. last Friday to ensure the passage of a budget resolution that will fast-track Biden’s stimulus proposal.
Vice President Harris stands behind President Biden as he signs an executive order in his first week in office. (Evan Vucci/AP)
On Tuesday, as John Fetterman — the 6’8” lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania — announced his campaign for Senate, I asked you to name the tallest U.S. senator in history.
The answer: Luther Strange, who represented Alabama in the Senate from February 2017 to January 2018 after being appointed to Jeff Sessions’ seat when Sessions became Attorney General.
Strange, a former Tulane basketball player, was 6’9” when he joined the Senate. Runners-up include former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson (6’7”), former West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller (6’6½”), and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley (6’5”). But they are all shorter than the all-time tallest member of Congress: former Maryland Rep. Tom McMillen, who was 6’11”.
Thanks to everyone who played along for this week’s trivia challenge. The randomly-selected winner of the free WUTP face mask is... Keith McDuffie of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! Congratulations, Keith!
Luther Strange (6’9”) with his Senate predecessor, Jeff Sessions (5’5”). (Photo via Strange’s Facebook page)
The tally for Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough’s confirmation vote was misstated in Tuesday’s newsletter. The vote was 87-7. My apologies for the error and thanks to the readers who pointed it out.
President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. In the afternoon, he will visit the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. At 2 p.m., he will meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other senior military and civilian leaders. At 2:50 p.m., Biden and Austin will deliver remarks to Defense Department personnel. At 3:30 p.m., they will tour the “African Americans in Service Corridor” at the Pentagon.
Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for the President’s Daily Brief and his visit to the Pentagon. At 5:30 p.m., Harris will hold a listening session with the African American Mayors Association to discuss the coronavirus relief package. White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients and White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force chair Marcella Nunez-Smith will also attend the listening session.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:30 p.m.
U.S. public health officials will hold a press briefing at 11 a.m.
The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. and resume the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Following the prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, the House impeachment managers will have up to eight hours to make their arguments.
- The Senate Budget Committee will hold a confirmation hearing at 10 a.m. to consider the nomination of Neera Tanden to be Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The House is not in session.
- The House Ways and Means Committee will meet at 10 a.m. to mark up its sections of the coronavirus relief package.
- The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will meet at 11 a.m. to mark up its sections of the coronavirus relief package.
- The House Financial Services Committee will meet at 12 p.m. to mark up its sections of the coronavirus relief package.
- The House Agriculture Committee will meet at 2 p.m. to mark up its sections of the coronavirus relief package.
- The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on cybersecurity at 2 p.m. Witnesses will include former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs and former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon, who were both ousted from their roles during the Trump administration.
The Supreme Court is not in session.