Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday February 11, 2021
White House says Biden is too busy to pay much attention to Trump impeachment trial
The historic second impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump was already draining the oxygen from the air of political Washington on Monday, one day before it began. But one important viewer is making a point of saying he won’t tune in.
President Biden will be too busy this week to catch much of his predecessor’s Senate impeachment trial, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. He’ll be focused on pushing his pandemic relief package, visiting the National Institutes of Health, touching base at the Pentagon and tackling his other duties at a time of crisis, the White House says.
On Monday, Biden declined to comment on what is arguably a central question facing the country — how and whether his predecessor should be held to account for his role in encouraging a mob that sought to overturn his election loss.
“Let the Senate work that out,” Biden replied when asked by reporters.
“He has a full schedule this week,” Psaki said when asked about Biden’s plans as the Senate trial unfolds amid what is likely to be bitter partisan acrimony. “I don’t expect that he’s going to be, you know, posturing or commenting on this through the course of the week.”
But it is unclear if the White House will, or even can, be as removed from this political drama, as Biden and his aides suggest. 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.
Besides siphoning off the attention of the public and lawmakers, the trial, which is expected to last until at least the middle of next week, could delay Biden’s agenda and the confirmation of top appointees. Vice President Harris could be summoned to cast tiebreaking votes on procedural issues.
More broadly, Biden has spoken for two years of “restoring the soul of America” and moving beyond the Trump era. Yet in making it clear he will distance himself from the Senate trial, Biden is removing himself from the highest-profile effort to grapple with Trump’s legacy.
“The closest comparison, but it’s not direct, is Ford trying to figure out what to do with Nixon,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian who has written about impeachment. “Ford needed to find a way to turn the page.”
Then-president Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, ensuring he would not face criminal charges for the wrongdoing of the Watergate scandal, arguing that the country needed to move past a bitterly divisive period.
“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,” said Naftali, the former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “And I worry that, through an understandable concern about the pandemic, Joe Biden may be turning the corner too quickly.”
Trump was impeached for allegedly inciting an insurrection, a charge that stems from his encouragement of a mob that assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6, forcing Congress to suspend the process of tallying the electoral college votes that showed Biden to be the victor in the November election.
Biden has said his focus is on tackling the crises facing the country, including the pandemic and the economic collapse, which are disrupting — and sometimes ending — the lives of millions of Americans. (Washington Post)