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Trump’s split-screen presidency takes stark form in impeachment

Impeachment is shadowing President Trump, whether he’s meeting with economic leaders in Switzerland or college football stars at the White House.

Trump has kept busy over the last two weeks, but impeachment has still seeped into his day-to-day activities. He was asked about the Senate trial, which commenced in full on Tuesday, upon his arrival at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and during meetings with foreign leaders.

The president was relatively measured in his remarks about impeachment during the gathering, perhaps reflecting a level of comfort now that the trial has moved to the GOP-controlled Senate. But his periodic tweets and oft-repeated complaints about impeachment make clear the subject is never far from his mind.

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Still, Trump appears to be getting the trial he wanted in the upper chamber, with his attorneys offering an aggressive defense of the president on Tuesday and the Senate proposing rules his lawyers have endorsed. 

The president has maintained a relatively full schedule of travel and official events as the Senate trial commences, allowing the White House to portray him as focused on business while Democrats in Congress pursue impeachment.

Trump is in Switzerland meeting with business and political leaders through Wednesday. He will deliver remarks at a Republican National Committee (RNC) gathering in Florida on Thursday, and the president will unveil a proposal to revitalize struggling communities on Friday.

One former Trump campaign official called it the “split-screen presidency in its most stark form.”

Instead of lingering on impeachment, Trump spent his first day in Switzerland projecting confidence about newly-brokered trade agreements and U.S. economic gains under his administration.

“We’ve regained our stride, we discovered our spirit and reawakened the powerful machinery of American enterprise,” Trump told the gathering. “America is thriving, America is flourishing, and yes, America is winning again like never before.” 

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But Trump has always struggled to compartmentalize throughout his presidency, and impeachment has been no different. He tweets frequently about the proceedings, gets asked often about the latest developments wherever he goes and rails against what he sees as a “hoax” without being prompted. 

“We’re achieving what no administration has ever achieved before,” Trump said in a speech to the American Farm Bureau on Sunday. “And what do I get out of it? Tell me. I get impeached! That’s what I get out of it. By these radical left lunatics, I get impeached.”

Trump invited the national champion LSU football team to take photos in the Oval Office during a reception last week before pivoting to a quip about impeachment.

“We’ll take pictures behind the Resolute Desk. It’s been there a long time. A lot of presidents — some good, some not so good,” he said. “But you got a good one now, even though they’re trying to impeach the son of a bitch.  Can you believe that?”

When asked last week about impeachment during an announcement on prayer guidance in public schools, Trump complained that the “phase one” trade deal with China and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) had become “second stories” to his impeachment. 

Trump appeared to be in good spirits on Tuesday even as his Senate trial kicked into high gear. The global elites who typically attend the forum have warmed to Trump as he has defied predictions of a global recession, and the president used his speech to rattle off various economic achievements and reject “the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse.”

Asked about impeachment at a later bilateral meeting Tuesday with the EU commission president, Trump said it would go “nowhere because nothing happened.”

“That whole thing is a total hoax, so I’m sure it is going to work out fine,” the president said. 

After the day’s events wound down on Tuesday, the president tweeted a frustrated reference to his July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president at the center of the impeachment case: “READ THE TRANSCRIPTS!”

Later, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump’s personal attorney Jay Sekulow delivered their first remarks in defense of the president during Tuesday’s proceedings in the Senate. 

Their arguments mirrored Trump’s rhetoric, as they criticized House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and claimed incorrectly that former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation found no obstruction by the president. Trump’s attorneys also cast Democrats’ case as incredibly weak and accused them of engaging in a partisan and unfair process. 

“Talk about the Framers’ worst nightmare,” Cipollone said in remarks from the Senate floor. “It’s a partisan impeachment they’ve delivered to your doorstep in an election year.” 

The impeachment proceedings have tested Trump’s relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which has had its highs and lows. Trump famously vented at the top Senate Republican during the first year of his presidency for not repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. 

But impeachment has brought unity to the GOP, something Trump has repeatedly remarked upon.

McConnell under pressure on Tuesday agreed to a procedural change likely to extend a trial that Trump wants as short as possible, but the president’s team gave its blessing.

“We support this resolution. It is a fair way to proceed with this trial,” Cipollone said Tuesday. “It is long past time to start this proceeding, and we are here today to do it.” 

Cipollone and other officials engaged with Senate leaders for several weeks leading up to the trial to discuss procedural rules.

“You want to work to arrive at an optimal structure for the president that to the maximum extent possible protects his rights, privileges and abilities for his lawyers to make the case as he sees fit,” a senior administration official said.

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That cooperation has led to allegations from Democrats that McConnell is running a rigged trial. Democratic senators spent Tuesday railing against proposed rules that would allow the Senate to more quickly dismiss the charges or vote to acquit without hearing from witnesses, before McConnell altered the proposed rules.

“The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump for President Trump,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.

Trump’s ability to remain in line with McConnell and keep from lashing out will be tested as the process picks up this week. House impeachment managers — including prominent Trump foils Schiff and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) — will make their case on the Senate floor for 24 hours over the next three days.

Asked in a recent Fox News interview whether she would urge Trump to refrain from weighing in in real time, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said she would leave the president to his own devices.

“I would never encourage the president to do anything,” she said. “His gut instincts are incredible.”

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