President Biden and his aides have made it very clear he has no intention of commenting on, or even paying much attention to, former President Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial, which begins Tuesday. When reporters asked Biden how and whether Trump should be held accountable for his role in the Jan. 6 violent siege of the U.S. Capitol, he replied, “We’ll let the Senate work that out.” Politico summed up Biden’s Trump impeachment strategy as: “Sit back and STFU.”
Biden allies explained to Politico and The Washington Post that the White House sees no upside, political or practical, in weighing in on Trump’s impeachment. Biden is focused — and wants to be seen focusing — on taming the COVID-19 pandemic, notably pushing through his $1.9 billion coronavirus stimulus bill.
Ignoring the Senate trial also echoes how Biden’s team dealt with what Politico calls “Trumpian distractions” on the campaign trail, and, the Post notes, it “creates contrast with Trump, who at times appeared to weigh in on every controversy facing the country” and frequently watched TV during work hours. Besides, it’s unlikely anything Biden says would tip the scales toward conviction, which requires 17 Senate Republicans to break with the former president. More broadly, Biden has indicated he wants to move past the Trump era.
Still, “it is unclear if the White House will, or even can, be as removed from this political drama, as Biden and his aides suggest,” the Post reports. “No sitting president has ever had to contend with the impeachment trial of his predecessor unfolding during his own presidency, let alone in the crucial opening weeks that often present the best opening for getting things done.”
The closest any president has come to that quandary is Gerald Ford, who replaced President Richard Nixon after he resigned rather than face impeachment and likely removal from office, Timothy Naftali, a historian who has written about impeachment and served as director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Museum and Library, told the Post. “Ford needed to find a way to turn the page.”
“I understand why Gerald Ford did what he did. But I think there was a cost to turning the corner as quickly as he did,” Naftali added. “And I worry that, through an understandable concern about the pandemic, Joe Biden may be turning the corner too quickly.”
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