A Split-Screen Moment For Trump As Impeachment Trial Begins

President Donald Trump delivers the opening remarks at the World Economic Forum, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Davos, Switzerland.

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

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President Donald Trump delivers the opening remarks at the World Economic Forum, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, in Davos, Switzerland.

The president is speaking at an economic forum as the Senate begins to debate whether to remove him from office.

Speaking at a high-profile economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump declared the United States, falsely, to be in “an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before.”

Just a few hours later, and 4,000 miles away, U.S. lawmakers began an acid debate over the rules for his impeachment trial in the Senate.

The split-screen moment was Trump’s first appearance on the international stage since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., delivered articles of impeachment to the Senate. But if you listened to Trump speak, you could be forgiven for forgetting that. The normally combative, freewheeling president is, at least at the mic, holding his tongue on a process that he has labeled a partisan sham. 

Shortly after leaving a dinner in Switzerland, the president tweeted, “READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!” — a reference to the official summary of a phone call with the president of Ukraine whose revelation jump-started the impeachment investigation in the House. And in brief comments to reporters before and after his speech, he called the matter “a total hoax” and “disgraceful.”

But on stage, Trump kept tightly to prepared remarks on the economy and skipped a question-and-answer session that had been expected to follow. And he ignored shouted questions from reporters about whether the Senate should allow witnesses in the trial. 

“Years of economic stagnation have given way to a roaring geyser of opportunity,” Trump said at the World Economic Forum. “U.S. stock markets have soared by more than 50 percent since my election…Companies are coming back into our country. Many of you, who I know, are coming back in with your plants and your factories.”

He also claimed to have successfully confronted predatory economic behavior from China and boasted about his relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. “Our relationship with China, right now, has probably never been better,” he said. 

Trump is also having a series of bilateral meetings during his two-day stay in the Alps, including with the president of Iraq. The political fall-out from Trump’s decision to strike a leading Iranian general on Iraqi soil continues to roil Baghdad. In Washington, the incident sparked fears of a broader conflict with Iran — fears that, in the midst of the uproar over the impeachment trial, have almost entirely faded from view.

In the Senate, Tuesday’s debate is expected to be largely consumed with process issues. By midday, the Republican majority had offered two last-minute concessions to critics who decried the process as rigged in favor of Trump. 

Under a resolution from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. setting the rules for the trial, each side would have 24 hours spread over three days to present their case — up from two days, something that Democrats and at least one process-minded Republican were concerned would mean the case would be presented in the dark of night. The new resolution also dictates that evidence will be admitted to the Senate record automatically, unless there are objections. The previous version required the Senate to vote evidence into the record. 

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is expected to offer amendments to the McConnell resolution that are not expected to pass; the first would subpoena a series of documents related to the Ukraine scandal at the heart of the impeachment effort. 

The procedural debate was no less bitter for being arcane. 

“If you don’t have a real trial…Mitch McConnell will go down in history as one of the people eroding democracy because he has gone along with President Trump’s coverup hook, line and sinker,” Schumer said on CNN Tuesday morning. 

Pat Cipollone, Trump’s lawyer, accused Democrats of seeking to “steal” both the 2016 and 2020 elections from Trump. He also falsely accused Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who ran the impeachment investigation in the House, of not allowing Republicans to attend closed-door depositions with witnesses in the case. (Republicans from the three committees conducting the investigation were permitted to participate in the depositions, and many did.) 

Impeachment remains a deeply divisive issue with voters. According to a Gallup poll made public Monday, a narrow majority of Americans want their senators to vote against conviction. (51 percent want Trump to remain as president, while 46 percent say they would like to see the Senate convict.) That majority was decided along partisan lines: 93 percent of Republicans oppose conviction, while 84 percent of Democrats approve. Independents and divided 49 percent in favor to 46 percent opposed. 

But the man at the center of one of the most consequential moments in American politics in decades was notably absent — and quiet. Trump largely refrained from discussing domestic politics during his first visit to the forum as president, in 2018, as well. 

He is expected to return from Switzerland on Wednesday. 

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