Hours before the debate on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would vote to send its impeachment charges against Donald Trump to the Senate the following day.
This clash of news cycles was inevitable albeit less disruptive than initially feared. (The Democratic National Committee was prepared to move the debate if a Senate trial was already underway.)
Still, according to the timeline offered by Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday, the ensuing impeachment trial is likely to play out at a critical moment as the candidates make their closing arguments before voting begins on 3 February.
The upcoming Senate trial, expected to begin next Tuesday, creates uncertainty for the senators running for president. Three of the candidates on stage – senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar – will be pulled off the campaign trail for days or possibly weeks to sit for the Senate’s impeachment trial. They are not allowed to speak during the trial, eliminating the chance for a courtroom showdown between a presidential hopeful and the president’s team.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden, the field’s frontrunner, has been a central figure in the impeachment scandal. The charges against Trump stem from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, who worked on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president. Despite no evidence of wrongdoing, Republicans are demanding Hunter Biden testify before the Senate.
Compounding the situation, the New York Times reported that the Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, was “successfully” hacked by Russia, an effort that mirrors the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Biden has said these efforts are an indication that not only Trump but Russia, too, is afraid to run against him.