Trump plots a flashy series finale for impeachmentJanuary 27, 2020
President Donald Trump is already itching to broadcast the series finale of his impeachment.
In recent days, he and top White House aides have been considering how he should celebrate his presumed acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate and whether he should deliver a rare Oval Office address to mark the occasion, according to three senior administration officials.
Trump has not settled on a specific plan yet, but the internal machinations show the extent to which the president remains focused on the details and optics of his ongoing impeachment trial — from the TV slot in which his lawyers argued his case to the performance of his legal team to the look and feel of a speech or ceremony marking the end of the months-long saga.
“The president is giving a lot of thought to where he goes when he is acquitted and vindicated,” a senior administration official said. “This isn’t a one-and-done moment. This will be a sustained exit from a long dreary impeachment process and a great reset to 2020 — not just the 2020 reelection but the 2020 domestic and international arena.”
“This isn’t a one-and-done moment. This will be a sustained exit from a long dreary impeachment process and a great reset to 2020."
The Trump team began its opening arguments in the Senate trial on Saturday, as Trump’s lawyers tried to sow doubt about the Democrats’ evidence that Trump asked Ukrainian leaders to investigative his political rival. The trial could conclude this week, depending on the mindset and demands of a handful of moderate Republican senators with whom the president’s immediate fate now rests. If they vote with Democrats to call witnesses, then the trial could easily last an additional week and would buttress both the president’s State of the Union address as well as the Iowa caucuses.
White House aides had been hoping to use the State of the Union address to lay out Trump’s agenda for the rest of the year as well as a potential second term, and lately Trump has tried to cast impeachment and the investigations into his conduct as one of his many accomplishments for the country.
“I consider what I've done here, with this whole witch hunt, from day one — with the insurance policy; with the horrible statements made between Strzok and Page; and McCabe; and Comey, who lied to Congress and did so many other bad things,” he said during a press conference at Davos last week. “He lied and he leaked. When I finish, I think that this is going to go down as one of the greatest things I've done for our country. These are bad, corrupt people. These are bad people, and very bad for our country.”
Meanwhile, the White House is doing its best to control and dominate the news cycle this week, with the goal of turning the coverage to Trump’s political advantage. Current and former administration officials like the “counter-programming” approach to drown out negative news.
During the heart of the Senate impeachment trial this week, the White House will host a slew of activities including the presidential signing of USMCA, a major trade deal with Mexico and Canada; a visit from top Israeli leaders; the unveiling of the long-awaited Middle East peace plan; and a campaign rally in New Jersey. That’s just the schedule Monday through Wednesday.
The tactic is seen by aides as one of the most effective tools to make Trump look presidential and busy with governing, while Democrats, they hope, look obsessed with the intricacies of impeachment. One senior administration official said it shows the president has not been driven into a “bunker” and consumed by the minute-by-minute updates from the Senate floor — even if it’s clear from Twitter that he’s following along with the trial developments.
The counter-programming “elevates him above the partisan sniping going on on the Senate side and reminds people of the economic accomplishments and the global scale of his accomplishments like the trade deal or advancing Middle East peace,” said Jason Miller, a former senior communications adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign. “It shows that President Trump is able to do these intricate things that have befuddled political professionals for decades.”
Trump also just loves a good victory lap.
Every campaign rally morphs into a celebration of his presidency and often, a retelling of his November 2016 upset win even as he enters the fourth year of his presidency.
In March 2017, Trump hosted a victory lap in the Rose Garden after the House voted to repeal and replace Obamacare — a celebration that ultimately proved premature since the Senate lacked the votes to kill off the sweeping health care law.
More recently, Trump held a White House ceremony in the East Room of the White House to highlight his and the Senate’s record of filling judicial nominations with over a hundred conservative judges installed on federal district courts, circuit courts and the Supreme Court.
White House aides expect Trump to treat impeachment as a Democratic ploy he managed to beat, and any post-impeachment celebration will likely marry Trump’s love of the victory lap with his penchant for political grievances.
President Bill Clinton also took two victory laps during and after his impeachment proceedings.
After the House vote, he appeared in the Rose Garden alongside top Democratic lawmakers, First Lady Hillary Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to celebrate the fact that he and the Democrats managed to beat back two out of the four articles of impeachment.
Then, after the Senate acquitted him following the trial in February 1999, he made another appearance. Standing alone at a podium in the Rose Garden, he apologized to the American people and acknowledged the “great burden” the impeachment inquiry placed on Congress and Americans.
The Trump White House is very aware of both of these appearances, since aides have studied the Clinton impeachment closely for clues as to how to handle Trump’s own impeachment proceedings.
“Now I ask all Americans, and I hope all Americans, here in Washington and throughout our land, will rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future together,” Clinton said that winter day. “This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America.”