A simple twist of fate: Kamala Harris may preside over Trump trial

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(This story originally appeared in on Jan 14, 2021)

WASHINGTON: At a time he was riding high politically in 2020, US President Donald Trump, unchallenged in the Republican Party and sole candidate for a second White House term, taunted Kamala Harris for dropping out of the Democratic nomination race, with a snarky “We’ll miss you!” tweet. “Don’t worry, Mr. President. I’ll see you at your trial,” Harris shot back.

Well, turns out the wheel of karma could stop exactly there. Following Trump’s impeachment in the US House of Representatives, the indictment will now be sent to US Senate which has the power to hold a trial and convict the President.

Since Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said he will allow the matter to come before the Senate only after Trump demits office on January 20, he will be facilitating Kamala Harris, who would have been sworn in as vice-president, presiding over a Senate deadlocked at 50-50 when two newly-elected Democrats from Georgia are sworn in.

Although precedent calls for the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court to preside over the trial (he did during Trump’s first impeachment), some analysts are saying the vice-president, as the constitutionally designated President of the Senate, could also be in the chair. Even otherwise, she will have a tie-breaking vote in a chamber locked at 50-50.

The current Chief Justice John Roberts, although a conservative, is distrusted by Trump and his MAGA flock after a series of rulings in the apex court where he went with the liberal justices. But Harris presiding over the trial will be an even more fearsome prospect.

During Trump’s first impeachment trial, she had famously said, “When the framers wrote the Constitution, they didn’t think someone like me would serve as a United States Senator. But, they did envision someone like Donald Trump being President of the United States…”

Next only to Kamala Harris, the star of the Senate show will be Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who will hold Trump’s fate in his hands. For four years a Trump surrogate in the Senate, McConnell has now turned against the defeated President and indicated he may consider voting to convict Trump.

“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he told the Senate flock that he leads.

To convict Trump, 17 of the 50 Republicans in the new Senate would have to join the 50 Democrats to meet the necessary two-thirds threshold. But some analysts have pointed out that outcome depends on those “present and voting,” so if several Republicans absent themselves, Trump will be toast. As things stand, at least five Republican Senators are expected to vote to convict Trump if the matter comes to the Senate. Ten Republican Congressmen voted to impeach him in the House.

While McConnell will lose his Senate Majority Leader status after January 20 when the new Democratic Senators are sworn in, and will therefore not have privilege of patronage that he currently wields, Trump will continue to be relevant depending on the support he will have from his base.

Twenty of the 50 Republican Senators will be up for re-election in 2022, and many are fearful that they will be “primaried” i.e defeated in inner-party election — as threatened by Trump and his sons if they do not support the defeated President. In fact, some Congressmen are said to have expressed fear for their lives in not going against Trump in the House.

But 30 other GOP Senators will up for re-election only in 2024 and 2026 (Senators have a six year term and a third of the chamber is up for re-election every two years), and some of them are hoping Trump will be history by then.

The epic drama that is unfolding recalls a prescient warning delivered by the singer-songwriter Nobel laureate Bob Dylan in his song The Times They Are a-Changin’:
Come senators, congressmen/Please heed the call/ Don’t stand in the doorway/ Don’t block up the hall/ For he that gets hurt/ Will be he who has stalled/ The battle outside ragin’/ Will soon shake your windows/ And rattle your walls/ For the times they are a-changin’.



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