- During the first day of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, senators focused mostly on the question of whether it was unconstitutional to try a president who had already left office.
- House impeachment managers tried to appeal to the senators’ emotions in their opening statements and showed a graphic 13-minute video of the insurrection, intercut with Trump’s remarks throughout the day.
- By contrast, Republican senators criticized Trump’s defense lawyer for using his opening remarks to deliver a confusing, unfocused speech that appeared to be largely off-the-cuff and ignored the constitutional question at hand.
- Senators ultimately ended the four-hour debate in a 56-44 vote agreeing that the trial proceeding is constitutional.
Senate Votes on Constitutionality Question
Former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial kicked off Tuesday with several hours of debate between the prosecution and defense over whether or not it was constitutional to try a president who had already left office.
The debate ultimately ended in a 56-44 vote that it was constitutional. The same five Republicans that broke party lines on a similar resolution last month again voted with Democrats, though this time they were also joined by a sixth Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La).
The overall outcome of that vote was expected, and the more notable parts of the day did not come from the arguments each team made, but rather how they presented them and the reactions they got from the Senate jury.
Democrats Appeal To Emotion
Leading up to the trial, Democrats said that the best evidence they had was already on the public record: that the insurrection and Trump’s incitement of it all happened in real time on national TV, and that the senators on the jury were witnesses.
As a result, their strategy has been focused on an appeal to emotion. House manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md) opened the trial with a stirring and graphic 13-minute video that he said showed the timeline of events both inside and outside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The video presented a violent visual record of the insurrection, including explicit, disturbing rhetoric and rally cries used by Trump’s supporters. The footage was intercut with Trump’s remarks at the rally before the attack and comments he made throughout the day.
According to pool reporters present, some senators looked away while the video played. Raskin later closed by recounting his own experience that day in an emotional speech. He argued that even though Trump is no longer in office, a president should be responsible for their speech from their first day in office to their last.
“A January exception is an invitation to our founders’ worst nightmare,” he said.
Trump Team Delivers Perplexing Opening
By contrast, the opening remarks delivered by Trump’s attorney, Bruce Castor Jr., were criticized by both Democrats and Republicans as meandering and confusing.
During his nearly hour-long speech, Castor took the senators down a winding path that largely ignored the constitutional question at hand and did not appear to end in a cohesive argument. Much of the speech appeared to be off the top of his head, and at times his remarks even seemed to undermine his own case.
“I’ll be quite frank with you. We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the house manager’s presentation was well done,” he said at one point.
Notably, Castor also acknowledged a few times that voters had chosen a new president and that Trump had in fact lost the election.
Trump’s other defense lawyer, David Schoen, later took the stand and attempted to remedy Castor’s blunder. He also made several arguments against the constitutionality of trying a former president, claimed the move was just a partisan ploy, and asserted that Trump’s speech was protected under the First Amendment.
What To Look for on Day 2
While the first day was focused on the constitutionality question, the remainder of the trial will be centered around whether or not Trump incited the attack.
The House managers are expected to continue their appeal to emotion and hammer home the point that Trump was responsible. Raskin has also said he will show previously unseen security footage.
As for team Trump, it is largely unclear how they will use their time moving forward. So far, most of their arguments outlined both before and during the trial have mainly focused on the now-settled claim that it is unconstitutional.
It is possible the defense will continue to make that argument, but they will at least be pushed to address the heart of the accusations head-on. At the same time, it seems all but ensured that there will not be enough Republicans who will vote to convict Trump, so it is very possible his team will just go through the motions without really trying because the outcome is already secured.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.
Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.
In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.
Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.
Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee.
That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.
After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.
Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.
Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts
The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.
It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same.
The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively — are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.
Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.
As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.
Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.
Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily
The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.
The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.
After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.
The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday.
The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.
“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.
The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession.
Major Hurdles Remain
While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.
Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain.
Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.
Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.
Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.
Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.
In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul.
As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported.
It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent
California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.
Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.
Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.
“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.
Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.
Others May Follow
The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.
Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.
“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.
“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”
The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.