A year ago, in Trump’s initial impeachment trial, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) spoke for almost nine hours by himself. Schiff and the other six managers were given up to 24 hours for their opening statement, and over three days, they spoke for almost 23 hours.
While Democrats praised the Schiff-led team of 2020 managers, Republicans grated at the long speeches about complex allegations that Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aide to Ukraine in 2019 while demanding its new leaders provide politically damaging material against Vice President Joe Biden ahead of the presidential election.
“Oh, they were so much better,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said Friday of the new set of managers. “The first impeachment, you got a sense they were repeating the same thing over and over again, with the person who lived in that particular time zone, getting their chance to be on C-SPAN for the people within their time zone.”
Cassidy flipped his position after Tuesday’s initial four-hour debate over the constitutional question of whether an ex-president can stand trial in the Senate, siding with the managers, led by Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), after casting an initial procedural vote in Trump’s favor.
Cassidy told reporters, after Tuesday’s vote, that he based his decision entirely on the solid presentation by Raskin’s team and the disjointed initial presentation from Trump’s defense team.
It gave the managers a jolt of momentum with at least six Republicans who voted to advance to the trial of the former president. They already had a bigger base of GOP support than last year’s managers, who only got one Republican, Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), to vote to convict Trump and just two GOP votes on calling more witnesses.
Part of this is just the nature of this case — an attack on the Capitol against the very lawmakers tasked with conducting the House impeachment and the Senate trial — being easier to explain than the complex Ukrainian deal.
“It was a less complicated case to make. I think they were very good. I think both of them were very good,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said, saying the hours of video of the attack— available from the rioters’ own social media feeds and Capitol security cameras — made for a more compelling case. “It’s like apples and oranges.”
The Raskin team remains unlikely to get anything close to the 17 Republicans it would need for a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict Trump, just as the team led last year by Schiff and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) fell short. The Senate is divided 50-50 by party.
But this year’s team did try to learn from their predecessors, according to a Democratic adviser requesting anonymity to talk about their internal deliberations. They focused on having more succinct presentations with more rotation of speakers and sought to avoid repeating testimony that had already been addressed.
Last year, Schiff and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) combined to speak more than half of the opening presentation, leaving the other five managers to divide up the other 11 hours of time.
In this opening statement, Raskin spoke for just one hour and 31 minutes total, according to C-SPAN’s data.
That was less than 17 percent of the total Democratic presentation, creating a steady flow of new speakers and dividing the speaking time much more evenly.
The results were obvious, even among Republicans who have been hostile toward holding the trial and remain unlikely to vote to convict.
“They were better. They were very well prepared and it was a very, I thought, very effective presentation of their case,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Friday.
In a late January interview, before the trial began, Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) said that he sought the advice of Schiff and Jeffries as he prepared for the trial. At 36, Neguse is the youngest impeachment manager ever, barely into his second term.
This team of managers includes several other fresh faces who were given extensive speaking times: relative newcomers such as Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), also in her second term, and Del. Stacey Plaskett (D), who served as a district attorney in the Bronx before winning her seat from the Virgin Islands in 2014.
These Democrats do not have the type of partisan profile that would have instantly raised the room temperature when Republicans heard them speak.
This time around, House Democrats avoided falling into the somewhat predictable Republican outrage trap. During the 2020 trial Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, accused Republicans of engaging in a “coverup” to protect Trump.
Trump’s lawyers lashed out and eventually Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., overseeing that trial, admonished both legal teams for intemperate language. Then, in the final hour of his marathon presentation, Schiff referenced an anonymous GOP aide saying “your head will be on a pike” if Republicans voted against Trump.
Raskin carefully avoided those issues. At the close of Wednesday’s otherwise very effective outline of the case, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) accused Democrats of misrepresenting his description of a phone call.
Raskin quickly agreed to strike that comment from the record, noting that it was a minor detail and not worth fighting over. On Friday, during the question-and-answer session of the two legal teams, Raskin grew upset over what he called an “inaccurate” statement by Trump’s legal team.
Then he noted that it was also “irrelevant” and just moved on to make a more important point to his case.
This year’s set of managers also were fully rooted inside the House Judiciary Committee. That panel rehired Barry Berke and Joshua Matz, two of the counsels who helped lead the 2020 trial.
This avoided some of the internal clashes between Schiff, who is chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Nadler, the Judiciary chairman, that were evident last year, right down to moments where they debated who got to speak.
“Schiff would get up, and then Nadler would get up, and Schiff would sit down, and it was clear that it was not well worked out,” Cassidy said Friday.
Still, sometimes the best course was understanding when to finish, as Raskin’s team did early Thursday at a time when senators, particularly Republicans, were beginning to lose their attention span.
“As I looked around at the chamber,” Shaheen said, “it looked like people were not following as closely as they have the day before because the day before was so emotional.”