As impeachment trial opens, Trump and Biden keep quiet
The opening of the trial in the US Senate on Tuesday, which could affect the political landscape for years to come, is unprecedented: No president has ever watched his predecessor be tried before Congress.
For Biden, the message is clear: Three weeks after moving into the White House, he is focused on curbing the deadly coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout that has devastated tens of millions of Americans.
And the bizarre scenario should help reinforce the image of a leader who has no time to waste on the squabbling of lawyers or debates about whether the entire process is even constitutional. As the trial gets underway, the White House has scheduled a working meeting for the veteran Democrat and business leaders on how to put the world's largest economy back on track.
Biden will be joined by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and a handful of CEOs from key sectors: Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan Chase), Doug McMillon (Walmart) and Sonia Syngal (The Gap). Since taking office on January 20, the 46th president of the United States has hardly mentioned his predecessor -- and responds in the briefest terms possible to any questions about the Republican.
When asked on Tuesday about the trial, Biden only offered a few words. "Look, I told you before... I have a job," he said. "The Senate has their job and they are about to begin it and I am sure they are going to conduct themselves well. That's all I am going to say about impeachment." For Trump, who has been holed up at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida since leaving Washington on January 20, discretion is also the keyword.
Of course, he's been deprived since the waning days of the presidency of his favourite virtual megaphone -- his Twitter account. But he could have taken advantage of other channels of communication, such as prerecorded video messages, which he used frequently at the fraught end of his term. But staying quiet and letting his attorneys do the talking has clear benefits: While his acquittal seems nearly certain, with a vast majority of Republican senators voting to try to prevent the trial from even happening, any misplaced word from Trump could throw a spanner in the works.
According to Politico, citing his advisors, the 74-year-old former president has understood the value of speaking less frequently, after four years in the office of wall-to-wall media exposure. "He finally realizes less is more," one of them said. Watching the trial from afar at his waterfront club should afford Trump a chance to see just how much sway he still has over the Republican Party. The goal? To rally his troops and take the pulse of the Grand Old Party.
The GOP has several camps: those who are steadfast in their support and wish for him to run in 2024; those ready to turn the page; and the last group -- numerous but low-profile -- ready to move on but too afraid to say it out loud for fear of losing voter support. In the end, it would be to Trump's advantage to wait for his acquittal before resurfacing, as it would allow him to leverage that moment for a fiery return to the political stage as a kingmaker for the 2022 midterm elections.
A year ago, nearly to the day, following his acquittal in his first impeachment trial, he was triumphant. Holding up a copy of The Washington Post with the banner headline "Trump acquitted," he railed against the "vicious" Democrats who had pursued him. He called his appearance in the ceremonial East Room of the White House a "celebration," taking a victory lap and thanking all the Republican lawmakers who backed him. Back at the White House, while Biden is so far taking a low-key approach to the proceedings, no one doubts that his team will be closely watching the trial unfold -- and how public opinion evolves along with it.