- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2020

Impeachment threatens to become a double-edged election issue for Democrats, giving them hopes for gains in the Senate while putting their House majority at risk.

As the impeachment trial opens in the Senate, a handful of Senate Republicans are under pressure to side with Democrats in their fight to include new witnesses and documents in the impeachment trial of President Trump.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the trial could work to his party’s advantage no matter the outcome — Democrats either get the witnesses they want or paint vulnerable Republicans in a bad light ahead of the elections.

“It’s a win-win,” he told The New York Times. “Pursuing witnesses and documents makes us better off, no matter the outcome.”

His comments fanned the frustration of Republicans, who accused Democrats of using impeachment to score political points.

Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado are two moderate Republicans up for reelection who have said they might be willing to hear from more witnesses.

Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, both moderate Republicans, don’t have a reelection campaign looming over their decision but are considering supporting a vote for witnesses.

House Democrats also are looking to push Republican Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona and Joni Ernst of Iowa into supporting an extended trial.

Ms. McSally, Ms. Collins and Mr. Gardner are top targets for the Democrats, who need to gain three or four seats, depending on the vice presidency, to retake the Senate majority from Republicans. All three seats are considered toss-up races.

On the House side, Democratic leaders are pushing for witnesses and additional documents to be added to the trial, which would extend it beyond the two weeks lawmakers expect it to last.

House Democrats also plan to continue with their two-track approach. They want to show voters they can juggle impeachment with legislation at the same time, which also gives cover to the party’s vulnerable swing-district freshmen who need to downplay impeachment and run for reelection on their accomplishments.

The rushed impeachment process that started in October came to a head when the House voted Dec. 18 to impeach President Trump on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Democrats were mostly united in that vote, though they suffered three defections, including the now-Republican Rep. Jefferson Van Drew of New Jersey.

Despite the unity, the vote was a tough position for many of the swing district lawmakers, particularly those from Trump-won districts who won Democrats the majority in 2018. Republican-aligned groups have been aiming to frame the divisive impeachment vote as the hallmark moment of these lawmakers’ first year in office.

But as the drama unfolded during House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s weeks-long delay in delivering the impeachment articles to the Senate, those same vulnerable members toed the party line and tried to move beyond impeachment.

Rep. Andy Kim, whose New Jersey district Trump won by more than 6 percentage points, told The Washington Times during the standoff that his district wasn’t focused on impeachment.

“I’ve just been 100% focused on the Middle East crisis,” he said. “I’m not thinking about that process at all right now.”

To some extent, Democrats are hoping legislative victories will pay off in November, with voters focusing more on core issues such as health care than on impeachment.

“The people want health care, not impeachment,” Illinois Democrat Cheri Bustos, chairwoman of the Democrats’ campaign arm, said on C-SPAN. “Impeachment is not hyper-local and it is not a thing people sit around and talk about day in and day out when they don’t have health insurance and cannot afford to fill their prescription at Walgreens after they leave the doctor’s office.”

To that end, Democrats intend on tackling two core campaign promises when they return from their week-long recess: infrastructure and surprise medical billing.

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