So why hold the trial? “We have to make sure that we answer the most serious constitutional crime ever committed by a president, or we send a very dangerous signal,” Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead House impeachment manager, told me. “We can’t have a new presumption that every president in the last few weeks of office has a free chance to incite an insurrection or coup or armed rebellion against the republic. That’s a really dangerous precedent to set.”
Read: Jamie Raskin lost his son. Then he fled a mob.
The Democrats have drawn on lessons gained from the impeachment trial a year ago. They have made this one more condensed, more straightforward, more visceral. They have aired chilling footage of the mob ransacking the Capitol and methodically shown how Trump spent months grooming his followers to believe he couldn’t lose a fair election.
The White House also had no wish to see the trial strung out over three weeks as was the case a year ago.“If it were like the first one, that would be a distraction from the president’s agenda,” Wade Randlett, a longtime Biden fundraiser, told me, stressing that he was speaking only for himself. “That one was long and complicated, but this will be open-and-closed. It will be like binge-watching a show on Netflix, and then it's over.”
Recognizing that the Senate trial would be getting coverage beyond their control, White House aides designed a schedule to showcase a president who is the un-Trump. On Monday, the day before the trial began, Biden sat in front of the presidential seal and took a virtual tour of a vaccination center in suburban Phoenix, Arizona. On Tuesday, he met with prominent business leaders to talk about his $1.9 trillion economic recovery proposal. On Wednesday, he showed up at the Pentagon, and yesterday he visited the National Institutes of Health and discussed ramping up vaccinations with Anthony Fauci and others. The contrast was clear: one president undermining democracy, another upholding it; one looking after the country’s interests, another protecting his own.
Will anyone notice? Trump’s impeachment isn’t a split screen; it’s the only screen. Cable television is giving it hours of uninterrupted coverage, and official Washington appears to be riveted. Anticipating this, the White House ensured that voters in a key swing state would get an alternative to round-the-clock Trump chyrons. One White House aide points to at least half a dozen stories in local news outlets devoted to Biden’s online appearance in Arizona, a state that he narrowly flipped in the November election.
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“We knew that impeachment would take up a lot of bandwidth on cable news this week, and so we’re working to use other means of communication to connect with regular people,” the aide told me, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’ve been intentional about his schedule.”