MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The four Democratic senators running for president might normally be campaigning in Iowa today ahead of caucuses there on February 3. Instead, they were here in Washington, where they were sworn in for the impeachment trial of President Trump.
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JOHN ROBERTS: Will all senators now stand and remain standing and raise their right hand?
KELLY: For four of the senators raising their right hands - that would be Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet - the impeachment trial really couldn't come at a worse time. They will be in the Senate chamber for up to six days a week.
NPR's Scott Detrow is here in the studio to talk about what that might mean for their campaigns. Hey, Scott.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey there.
KELLY: So impeachment or no, these are all sitting senators. The Senate is in session more often than not. How big of a difference might this really make?
DETROW: It is a huge difference. This is really an unprecedented situation in a presidential campaign. Presidential candidates are often very happy to miss votes, and that is especially true the closer to the actual voting a campaign gets. And we are now less than three weeks from the Iowa caucuses.
DETROW: But two things - first of all, Senate rules require every senator to be in the chamber for an impeachment trial. And on top of that, even if it wasn't mandatory, it would be pretty bad politics to skip a big constitutional duty like that. So the candidates are just going to have to take time off the campaign trail.
Now, today, somebody asked Senator Bernie Sanders whether he's worried that this would hurt his campaign, and he was characteristically blunt about it.
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BERNIE SANDERS: Yeah, I am. I would rather be in Iowa today. There's a caucus there in 2 1/2 weeks. I'd rather be in New Hampshire and in Nevada and so forth.
DETROW: But Sanders said he does have a constitutional duty, so he's going to fulfill it in Washington. Senator Elizabeth Warren has said similar things and often added that she thinks that some things are more important than politics. And this trial was one of those things.
KELLY: So if they've got to be here in Washington, how are they and their campaigns thinking about handling this?
DETROW: So the Warren campaign has stressed that they'll be sending a lot of surrogates out to these early states. Other campaigns will be doing something similar. All of these candidates at this point have high- or semi-high-profile surrogates who can go out and stump for them. Of course, they'll likely be doing a lot of TV interviews in the breaks of the trial, after the trial each day. That's exactly what Sanders did today. As soon as the swearing in was ended, he was talking to reporters.
It's definitely a challenge, though, especially for someone like Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is trailing Warren and Sanders and the other front-runners. She needs to gain ground, and you do that in Iowa by holding event after event after event.
In fact, this trial is one of the reasons that New Jersey Senator Cory Booker gave for suspending his campaign earlier this week, saying he just couldn't do the campaigning he needed to do in Iowa because he'll be tied up with the trial.
KELLY: Just how happy are you about the timing of the Senate trial if you are, say, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg or former Vice President Joe Biden?
DETROW: I think they're pretty happy about it. They are free to campaign as much as they want in Iowa. That's exactly what they'll be doing next week with events scheduled. This is a really close race right now. Those four top candidates are all within a few points of each other, according to most polls. And Biden and Buttigieg are happy they can devote all of their attention to winning this caucus and primaries.
KELLY: And meanwhile, does it go without saying that all of the aspects of a campaign in which the candidate doesn't actually have to be physically present - they go on. I mean, you mentioned surrogates will be out there. TV ads can still run and so forth.
DETROW: Absolutely. That's all still going to be happening. But Iowa in particular - people expect you to be there doing those person-to-person events. There's a lot of undecided caucusgoers in Iowa. More than half, according to the last Iowa poll, could change their mind or haven't made their minds up yet. And they're expecting to see candidates. Back when this first started to look like a possibility, I talked to strategist David Axelrod about how much he thinks this could affect the race.
DAVID AXELROD: If you're hoping for magic in Iowa, you got to be there to make the magic.
DETROW: He was, of course, an adviser on Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. And Obama won Iowa mostly 'cause he spent a lot of time there.
KELLY: NPR'S Scott Detrow, who is all over this presidential campaign for us. Good to see you. Thanks, Scott.
DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.