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January 22, 2020

Student guide: Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the questions. You can turn on the “CC” (closed-captions) function and read along with the transcript here. STOP the video at 5m:40s for the sake of time. 

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WATCH LIVE:  Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump | January 22

READ: The impeachment trial rules are set. Here’s what happens next 

Summary: The Senate is conducting the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, who last December became the third president in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. The first day of proceedings involved hours of debate over the trial rules Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had proposed. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer’s proposed 11 amendments to the rules, which were all defeated along party lines. Ultimately, some changes were accepted.

[Background: President Donald Trump became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives under the Constitution for high crimes and misdemeanors. The vote split along party lines over the charges of abuse of power that involved Trump enlisting a foreign government to investigate a political opponent ahead of the 2020 election. The House also voted to impeach on a charge that the president obstructed Congress in its investigation. Trump maintains he has done nothing wrong and that the Democrats have been looking for an excuse to impeach him since the 2016 election.]

Discussion questions:

  1. Focus question: Why do the rules of President Trump’s impeachment trial matter?
  2. Why have the trial rules split along party lines (during President Bill Clinton’s  trial, Senators approved the rules 100 to zero)?
  3. Do you think senators should hear from witnesses during the trial? Explain.
  4. If time allows, watch Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., remarks on the Senate floor here. Ask your students if they know what rapper Jeffries quotes at the end? Then watch White House counsel Pat Cipollone speak here. Why does Cipollone defend McConnell’s resolution on the rules? Follow-up: How can you find out how much the Senate is following the impeachment rules that were set during Clinton’s trial?
  5. How do you think the Senate trial will affect Trump’s run for re-election in 2020?
  6. Media literacy: Be sure to check out a couple of other news outlets in order to see more viewpoints (BuzzFeed, Washington Post, Fox News, The Intercept, Wall Street Journal, Democracy Now!) on coverage of the Senate trial.

Extension activities:

Watch the Senate investigation into President Richard M. Nixon during Watergate. Keep in mind that this clip focuses on the Senate committee hearing (Nixon resigned from office and was not impeached and therefore did not have a Senate trial.) only. Take note of the relationship of members of different parties. How is it different than the relationship you see among today’s group of senators? Why do you think NewsHour’s Jim Lehrer discusses the role of the “little guys”?


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