Sen. Brian Schatz, the Democrat from Hawaii, is well-known for a jokey Twitter feed popular with the #Resistance. When I talked to him last night as he was walking into the Senate on the eve of the first impeachment hearings in 21 years, he was in a more serious mood.
Recently, Schatz has immersed himself in impeachment history to prepare for his role as a juror in the likely Senate trial of Donald Trump that may occur in January or February. The briefing binder he gets from his staff is usually stuffed with materials on policy and legislation. Now, he said, it’s 60 percent about impeachment.
His reading has only strengthened his conviction that Democrats, in the middle of deciding their presidential nominee and a year away from an election in which voters are to decide Trump’s fate, were correct to begin impeachment proceedings. Rereading Federalist 65 and Federalist 66, was especially reaffirming.
“Alexander Hamilton appears to be describing Donald Trump exactly when contemplating the need for impeachment,” Schatz told me.
There are others who aren’t so sure — particularly when it comes to the political risk of conducting an impeachment process in the middle of the Democratic presidential primaries. At the center of the Ukraine scandal is a conspiracy theory about the party’s frontrunner that, while repeatedly debunked, will inevitably gain more attention over the next three months. The House, most everyone assumes, will vote to impeach Trump. Then, the Senate trial will force six Democratic candidates — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Michael Bennet — off the campaign trail just weeks before Iowans gather for their caucuses. And at the end of it all, the most likely outcome is that Trump will be acquitted and claim a broad exoneration for anything he’s ever been accused of.
Schatz thinks it’s worth it. He recalled the Friday last September when Trump’s Ukraine machinations first became clear, and even the most reluctant Democrats suddenly and enthusiastically embraced impeachment. “A bunch of members of the House and Senate independently came to the same conclusion, which is that this is what impeachment is for,” he said. “They were not getting a polling briefing and they did not have time to call their kitchen cabinet back home. This was a matter of principle — that if impeachment was not to be used in this instance it was rendered useless forever. And the moment we disregarded the politics, the politics started to work better for us.”
Schatz is joined in his confidence by many Democratic House colleagues, especially those on the three investigating committees. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California has the unique perspective of someone who ran for president this year and also sits on the Intelligence Committee that has led the Ukraine investigation.