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Trump Impeachment Trial Could Further Polarize Nation, Analyst Says

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

House impeachment managers have delivered an article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump to the Senate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMIE RASKIN: Donald John Trump engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors by inciting violence against the government of the United States.

MCCAMMON: That's Congressman Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager. The article of impeachment alleges that the former president incited the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. And today, senators, who act as jurors in an impeachment trial, will be sworn in. But the trial will be delayed for two weeks, giving Trump's legal team more time to prepare and also to allow for Senate business to continue, including the confirmation of President Biden's Cabinet nominees. Polling shows the majority of Americans support the impeachment, but Doug Schoen says it could hurt Democrats. He served as an adviser to Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Michael Bloomberg, and he joins us now. Good morning, Mr. Schoen.

DOUGLAS SCHOEN: Good morning.

MCCAMMON: You wrote in the days before Trump left office that the case for impeaching him and removing him from office was clear and doing so was arguably necessary. So explain why you're wary of an impeachment trial.

SCHOEN: I am wary of an impeachment trial because I'm afraid that it is going to further polarize an already divided nation. It is going to make it more difficult for the Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate to cooperate. And I worry that the politicization initially of the impeachment process, rather than consideration of health care or infrastructure or economic assistance to those in need, will take a back seat to a - look backward retrospectively that will only blame and exacerbate the divisions that we saw during the election.

MCCAMMON: You don't think it's possible for Congress to do both, to do an impeachment and also solve some economic problems?

SCHOEN: I think it is possible, but I think that it will make it more difficult for Congress to do both. And if I had my druthers, we would focus on the economic crisis, the stimulus, the health care crisis and the need to try to bring our society together, rather than having the first thing out of the gate, or one of the first things after confirmations, being something that we know that will drive both congressmen, senators and the American people away from one another.

MCCAMMON: Your views are at odds with the leaders of your party, who've argued that it's necessary to hold Trump accountable for what happened earlier this month. And I have to ask, what kind of precedent would it set, then, to not push for an impeachment under these circumstances?

SCHOEN: Well, I don't think that I am saying that it's not necessary. I'm saying that because it's necessary, the political impact of it, as many have said, could well be deleterious to Democratic chances in 2022 - that the midterm of a presidential administration, particularly a new one, is always a difficult one for the incumbent party, and I believe starting with or coming out of the box initially with impeachment will make it more difficult rather than less difficult to get action on those legislative agenda items you were speaking of earlier.

MCCAMMON: But shouldn't something this serious, of this gravity, be a matter of law rather than of politics?

SCHOEN: Well, it is a matter of law, and in Washington, it is always politics. And I made it clear in my article that the president needed to be held accountable but that the impact of holding the former president accountable could be a series of political implications down the line that would hurt, not help, the cause the Democrats care about most, which is economic, social and health care change.

MCCAMMON: So how? If Trump should be held accountable, as you say, but not through impeachment, what does that look like?

SCHOEN: Well, I would have recommended and did recommend censure. I think we could have very easily gotten two-thirds of the Senate, two-thirds of the House, on a bipartisan basis, especially given Mitch McConnell's attitude that Donald Trump committed impeachable offenses. We could have gotten a quick vote on censure. We could have had a bipartisan majority, potentially of both parties for that, and we could have moved on to the legislative agenda that requires immediate attention.

MCCAMMON: Have you had any discussions with Democratic members of Congress about these concerns? And if so, what are you hearing?

SCHOEN: What I am hearing is a generalized sympathy with the potential impact that impeachment will have but a strong sense that, because of the nature of the president having encouraged insurrection on January 6 and that the result was five people dead at the Capitol, there was a legal, moral and ethical obligation to hold him responsible and also, frankly, a desire among a lot of people to make sure that Donald Trump is barred from ever running for office again, which would be the result of a successful impeachment trial in the Senate.

MCCAMMON: Which brings me to the question, if he is not impeached, how concerned are you that we will see Trump running again in 2024? And does that worry you?

SCHOEN: Well...

MCCAMMON: Obviously, it does.

SCHOEN: It does worry me, and it worries me a great deal. I am worried that he will potentially promote primaries in the Republican Party against those who have disagreed with his position, voted against him. I worry that he is going to make progress on issues like immigration much more difficult than it might otherwise be and that he's going to make bipartisan cooperation of the type that the new Gang of 16 in the Senate is working on on the stimulus much more difficult, both now and in the future going forward. So I don't believe Trump is going away.

MCCAMMON: You've talked about the divisiveness in the country and how much it worries you. Where do you see the country going from here? Can we work together?

SCHOEN: I think we can work together. The polls show that people of all ideologies and parties want it. It's up to our congressional leaders to effectuate that.

MCCAMMON: And are they capable of that?

SCHOEN: They are certainly capable of it. Whether they will do it remains to be seen.

MCCAMMON: Doug Schoen is a political consultant. Thanks so much for your time.

SCHOEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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