Michael Bennet doesn’t see Democrats’ approach leading to a Republican course-change as President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, defined by a deep partisan divide, heads into its second week in the U.S. Senate.
“I think they feel discouraged by the president’s behavior but they’re also, I think, locked into a partisan moment here,” the Democratic U.S. senator from Colorado said of some of his Republican colleagues. “And I don’t know if that’s going to change.”
Bennet thinks that reporting in The New York Times on Sunday that former national security adviser John Bolton’s unpublished book includes a passage about Trump directing him to stop military aid to Ukraine until that country agreed to investigate the president’s rivals could alter that trajectory. But that shift will require that Senate Republicans allow Bolton to testify, and Bennet doesn’t think that’s likely to occur.
“If you have any self respect I don’t know how you could not vote to do that,” Bennet told The Colorado Sun.
The trial now heads into a phase where senators can ask questions of Trump’s legal team and the House Democrats’ seven impeachment managers, including U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat.
Under rules laid out by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, the chamber is expected to vote on whether to hear from witnesses or to continue without them and subpoena documents. The Associated Press reported on Tuesday afternoon that McConnell told Senate Republicans he does not yet have the votes to block witnesses in the trial.
Bennet, who is also running in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, spoke with The Sun on Tuesday about how he thinks the trial is going, if Americans are still paying attention, whether Democrats will end up helping the GOP, and how the proceedings have impacted his close relationship with Colorado’s Republican U.S. Sen Cory Gardner.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. Questions are in boldface.
How do you think things have gone thus far and where is the trial headed? Do you think it will be more of the same partisan split?
I think the first vote we took on the impeachment rules was a really crucial vote. When the Senate passed the McConnell rules, which prevent our hearing from witnesses or getting access to documents until after the trial is basically concluded and maybe never, I think that was a huge mistake to begin with. And an attempt by McConnell to basically cover up Donald Trump’s wrongdoing. So now we are in a position that people are going to have to revisit that question.
Now that, predictably, there’s more evidence that’s available in the form of the Bolton disclosures, we’ll vote again to see whether there now is an appetite on the Republican side to have witnesses and to have documents. I would say, so far, I don’t think there’s been a shift.
So you think there is the potential with this Bolton news to realign where the trial has been and where it’s going?
It’s possible. I wouldn’t count on it when Mitch McConnell is involved. But it’s possible.
You have a close relationship with some Republican senators. What are you hearing from them? What are they telling you privately?
Privately, I think they feel discouraged by the president’s behavior but they’re also, I think, locked into a partisan moment here. And I don’t know if that’s going to change.
There are people who aren’t paying attention to the impeachment trial because they feel like the outcome is predetermined.
I think we’re seeing more and more of that in our politics — a view that the outcomes are predetermined. And if that is the view that we take, then that creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. The outcomes become predetermined. This place will never change without the public demanding it change. It’s a big concern I have about our democracy.
I think the people who have been undermining our exercise in self governance by making it difficult for this place to accomplish very much in a sense it’s their dream come true that people start to tune out and stop paying attention.
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Do you think that the American people are still paying attention? If they’re not, then how do you get more people to tune in?
I think our job is to get to the bottom of what happened here. That’s what we got to figure out. Frankly, I cannot fathom how you could vote to not have John Bolton come testify in front of the Senate. If you have any self respect I don’t know how you could not vote to do that because the information is going to come out anyways. You certainly are going to want to have voted to include his testimony before you make a decision whether to acquit or convict the president of the United States.
In the short term, what we have to do is to continue to push on that and to communicate to the American people why it’s really important.
Do you think there’s a risk that Democrats run of emboldening Trump’s base through this?
I think there’s always a risk but we’ve got an obligation to figure out what happened and that’s what we are trying to do.
How has impeachment changed your relationship with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner? Have things become more fraught because of your distaste for the way he’s handled this?
I don’t think so. We just haven’t talked about it.
Don’t you two normally have conversations?
We do, but we haven’t about this. We haven’t talked about this.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t know.
There have been reports that the impeachment trial has been damaging for the four senators who are running for president, keeping them off the campaign trail. How has that affected your bid?
It doesn’t seem to be damaging U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. His poll numbers keep getting better. Actually mine have been getting slightly better too. There’s just nothing I can do about it. Once this is done, I’ll get back on the trail.