Far from the spotlight, how presidential candidates spent the impeachment hearing

As a House committee heard testimony about the 45th president, 2020 contenders labored to get their messages out about why they should be the 46th.
Image: Elizabeth Warren Files For NH Primary, Holds Town Hall
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks to supporters after filing to be on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary at the State House in Concord on Wednesday. Sarah Rice / Getty Images

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By Dareh Gregorian

Elizabeth Warren was campaigning in New Hampshire, Joe Biden was meeting with union members in Washington, and Andrew Yang appeared on a popular radio show in New York — but their candidacies were caught in the shadow of the public impeachment hearing.

Warren was in Concord on Wednesday, where she filed to officially get on the ballot in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. Her supporters were enthusiastic, chanting "Liz is good, Liz is great, she’s fighting for the Granite State!" as she made her way to the Secretary of State's office to fill out the paperwork.

"I'm officially in!" she exclaimed, before answering reporters' questions about what was happening almost 500 miles away in Washington, where diplomats Bill Taylor and George Kent were testifying in the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump.

Warren said she had not yet been able to catch up on the testimony, but was prepared to put her constitutional obligations as a senator over her presidential campaign if the House impeaches the president. That's when the Senate would hold an impeachment trial, something that would keep Warren and fellow senators Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Michael Bennett largely off the campaign trial.

The split-screen day — 2020 candidates on the campaign trail, nationally televised impeachment proceedings back at the Capitol — gave the presidential contenders their first good look at the news tsunami they will be contending with for weeks and potentially months, even as voting in the early states draws near. And it shows how the large field of White House hopefuls will be forced to compete for attention as the effort to remove the president picks up steam.

That point was made central when the House Democrats scheduled testimony from key impeachment witnesses, including Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., next Wednesday — the same day as the Democratic debate in Atlanta, sponsored by MSNBC and The Washington Post.

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One of Trump's Republican rivals, Bill Weld, was also in Concord on Wednesday filing to get his name on the ballot — and answering questions about the happenings in D.C. Weld said "impeachment is not my issue," but if the evidence is damning enough it could "fuel" the "candidacy of people like myself."

"I have a certain amount to say about the position of Mr. Trump, who I think richly deserves both impeachment by the U.S. House and removal by the U.S. Senate and, in my view, that's their duty under the Constitution," Weld said. "So I think the proceedings in Washington will be an integral part of the discussion and what happens going forward."

Yang appeared on the nationally syndicated "The Breakfast Club" radio show in New York. In an interview taped Tuesday, he answered questions about the possibility of Mike Bloomberg getting in the race — "It's frankly good for people like me because I do better when it’s a fragmented field" — and about Wednesday's hearing.

Yang said he's in favor of impeachment but also realistic about the outcome.

"It's going to flounder in the Senate and then (Trump) is going to declare victory. And every moment we're talking about impeaching Donald Trump or Donald Trump in any context, we are not creating a positive vision for the country for Americans to get excited about," Yang said. "So if we go into this election, and it's all about Donald Trump, we’re going to lose again."

Julián Castro, fresh off a three-day stint in Iowa, released a plan to bolster special education and help Americans with disabilities shortly before his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, questioned Taylor and Kent at the hearing.

Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, spoke out about the impeachment hearing on Twitter, saying, "I called for Donald Trump's impeachment in April because it was as clear then as it is now: he broke the law, and must be held accountable."

Twitter was also the forum other candidates turned to, including billionaire activist Tom Steyer, an early proponent of impeachment who ran television ads to get Congress to act. He urged Americans to tune into the hearings. "Don't miss history as it unfolds," he wrote.

Others — including Harris, Booker, Klobuchar and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — used the medium to indicate they were keeping an eye on the developments in the House.

Harris tweeted out a snippet of Taylor's bombshell testimony that one of his staffers overheard Trump ask Sondland about Ukraine and "the investigations" into the Bidens and the 2016 U.S. presidential election and that after the call Sondland told the staffer that "Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden" than about Ukraine.

"It's extortion. It's an impeachable offense," Harris tweeted.

Some other candidates, including Sanders, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, were mum online about the hearings.

Former Vice President Joe Biden — who Republicans mention frequently in their questioning of the witnesses on Wednesday — declined to comment about the hearing when he was approached by reporters leaving a meeting with members of the electrical workers union in Washington.

He took to Twitter later in day, complaining about Trump's meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday in what appeared to be a veiled reference to the president's pushing Ukraine to investigate him and his son.

"First Trump gave a green light to Erdogan to ethnically cleanse Kurds who helped us defeat ISIS. Now he welcomes Erdogan with open arms and sweetheart deals. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, once again, Trump's personal interests, not US interests, are driving his policy," Biden tweeted.

Deepa Shivaram, Suzanne Gamboa, Julia Jester and Amanda Golden contributed.