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Trump's Impeachment Trial Could Hurt Sen. Jones' Reelection Bid


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to send impeachment articles to the Senate today setting up President Trump's trial. As with the House vote, the Senate's decision on whether to remove the President from office is expected to break along party lines. But the trial complicates the reelection chances for one particularly vulnerable Democrat, and that's Senator Doug Jones of Alabama. NPR's Debbie Elliott spoke with Jones and also Alabama voters about his predicament.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Mobile, Ala., voters Ann Davis and Suzanne Schwartz come from the same generation but different political persuasions.

ANN DAVIS: I've always considered myself a Republican, but now I call myself a Trumpster.

SUZANNE SCHWARTZ: I was a raging liberal in my younger days. I have moderated my views over the years. I do consider myself a moderate Democrat.

ELLIOTT: While their politics differ, they share a frustration when it comes to impeachment. Again, Suzanne Schwartz followed by Ann Davis.

SCHWARTZ: I'm concerned about the process. It's very political.

DAVIS: It's like no one speaks the truth anymore, and I think the process is so messed up.

ELLIOTT: Davis doesn't even want the Senate to hold a trial, while Schwartz is eager to hear more evidence. This is part of the challenge for Doug Jones in Alabama, where, like the rest of the country, sentiment on impeachment is closely aligned with party politics. He's up for reelection in a state where Donald Trump has one of his highest approval ratings in the country. Schwartz, who voted for Jones, says the president's popularity here shouldn't matter.

SCHWARTZ: He has to make up his mind. If, upon hearing the evidence, he believes that Mr. Trump should be impeached, that he will vote that way. And, of course, dispersions will be cast upon him because he is a Democrat and a vulnerable one.

ELLIOTT: Some political pundits have labeled Doug Jones the Senate Democrat most likely to break party lines and vote against removing Trump from office. It's a notion Jones rejects.

DOUG JONES: My stand is not a Democratic stance or a Republican stance. I mean, what's frustrating about this is everyone is looking at this in those political terms - whether you're going to vote with Republicans or defect from Democrats or whatever. That is just inappropriate.

ELLIOTT: Jones says no senator should be voting based on how it will affect their political career. He's calling for the Senate to hear from witnesses, including former National Security Advisor John Bolton. As for how he might vote, Jones says he's withholding judgment until the trial.

JONES: There is evidence to suggest that he used the power of the presidency over a country that is subservient to the United States to help further his political campaign. Now, whether or not there is enough evidence to warrant removal from office remains to be seen for me right now.

BRADLEY BYRNE: This is a tough race for Doug, and this impeachment vote doesn't make it any easier for him.

ELLIOTT: That's Alabama Congressman Bradley Byrne, one of the Republicans vying to challenge Jones, a field that includes former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, seeking his old Senate seat back. Byrne says Jones is in a no-win situation.

BYRNE: If he votes for impeachment, he's going to make a lot of people, a lot of voters in Alabama, angry, but if he votes against removing the President from office, then he's got the base of his own party who'll be mad at him. It's a tough spot to be in.

ELLIOTT: Jones beat Republican Roy Moore in a 2017 special election dominated by allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore, the twice-ousted former Alabama chief justice. The Democrat Jones won, in part, with support from Republicans - people like Andrea Powers, a lawyer from suburban Birmingham, who also voted for Donald Trump. She's watching how Jones handles impeachment.

ANDREA POWERS: I wish he would vote with what the evidence shows, period. This should not be a partisan vote.

ELLIOTT: Powers says she was disappointed that Jones stuck with the Democratic Party line during the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She agrees with Jones' call for testimony and a full vetting of the evidence against Trump. Powers says she hopes Jones will resist political pressure from either side, because she doesn't believe that will really help him.

POWERS: I'm not sure, if he stood up and kissed Donald Trump full on the mouth and said, I've got his back, he's my boy, that that would get Doug Jones reelected.

ELLIOTT: Jones also risks alienating national Democratic donors and supporters back home, like Darron Patterson of Mobile.

DARRON PATTERSON: I did not like the fact that he said that he might not vote for impeachment if the facts weren't there, and it wasn't what he said, it was the way he said it. And I thought that that was just walking on a line that he didn't need to walk.

ELLIOTT: Patterson says he thinks there's ample evidence that Trump went too far and should be removed from office, and he doesn't think Jones should shy away from that finding. Don't sell out to keep your job, he says. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Mobile, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.