Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is taking extraordinary steps to keep what’s sure to be a sticky impeachment trial for GOP senators out of the public eye. He’s already roped off certain areas to pen up reporters so they can’t wander the halls and ask the very questions GOP senators are loath to answer. Journalists will also pass through a newly added metal detector before taking their media seats in the chamber in case they try to “bug the chamber with surveillance equipment,” reports the Washington Post. It’s all under the guise of “security” that’s supposedly intended to protect senators, but credentialed reporters have effectively been designated a security threat.
Naturally, no digital devices such as cell phones or computers or cameras will be allowed in the Senate chamber to record the historical spectacle in real-time. That’s standard practice in both the upper and lower chambers, but the House suspended the rule during the impeachment proceedings so journalists could better capture the moment.
But McConnell and his caucus could also simply kill the only camera allowed in the chamber during some of the most important parts of the trial. As the New York Times writes, “Lawmakers could pull the C-Span plug and go into closed session at critical moments of debate over the conduct of the trial and the fate of the president.”
It’s a procedure that was sometimes employed during the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, but the circumstances of that trial were quite different. While Senate Republicans controlled the chamber, they weren’t in any position to abuse their power or further anger the public as Clinton’s approval had already soared and the GOP was taking a political beating. In addition, Republicans didn’t gain anything by shielding Clinton from the negative publicity that would naturally arise from a trial they were constitutionally required to hold in the view of many legal scholars.
This time around, Republicans have every incentive to use the mechanism to limit public view of a trial that could easily become a stain on the GOP caucus heading into November.
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