WASHINGTON – When the Senate embarks on a historic impeachment trial of President Donald Trump Tuesday, the man at the center of the storm plans to be in the Swiss Alps thousands of miles away from the Capitol.
Trump will depart later on Monday for the World Economic Forum in Davos, an annual meeting of world leaders and elite businesses executives that could give the president some distance from the partisan fracas at home.
The president’s trip coincides with a new phase of the trial in which senators will begin hashing out rules that will dictate the course, including how long lawyers will have to make arguments and whether witnesses will testify.
Davos is the latest instance in which Trump will be overseas – or meeting with foreign leaders – during a key phase of the impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry as Trump was attending the United Nations General Assembly last fall. The House Judiciary Committee held its first impeachment hearing in December as Trump was attending a NATO summit in the United Kingdom.
Return to Davos
Trump’s Davos trip marks his first return to the economic forum since 2018. He canceled a visit in 2019 because the swanky meetings fell during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, an impasse that furloughed federal workers and contractors. In the run up to this year’s event, reporters peppered Trump on whether he would follow through with his plans and leave the country during his impeachment trial.
As Republicans navigate the tricky politics of setting the rules for the trial, Trump has offered inconsistent messages on whether he wants a quick dismissal or a longer affair in which senators would hear from witnesses. Trump announced Friday that his legal team would include Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who prosecuted President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.
Global alliance vs. America first
Under normal circumstances Trump might not have gone, speculated Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The fact that Trump is going to Davos – call it station identification – reflects his frustration over impeachment…and his determination to demonstrate he’s alive and very well,” said Miller, a former State Department adviser in both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations.
Created in 1971, the World Economic Forum says its goal is to bring together “the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.” From U2 singer Bono to liberal billionaire George Soros, Davos has often appealed to left-leaning western ideals of international alliances that run counter to Trump’s “America First” approach to foreign policy.
But Trump downplayed those disputes in his appearance in 2018, telling delegates: “Let us resolve to use our power, our resources, and our voices, not just for ourselves, but for our people.” He also used the event to tout the U.S. economy, a theme he is certain to return to again next week.
Foreign policy as domestic strategy
Trump is following in a long line of presidents who have looked abroad amid confrontation at home.
In the fall of 1998, after testifying via video to a grand jury, Clinton took trips to Russia, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Asia and the Middle East. Clinton was ultimately impeached but was acquitted in the Senate trial.
A month before the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings against him, President Richard Nixon traveled to the Middle East, NATO headquarters in Brussels and the Soviet Union.
Trump is trying to emphasize his foreign policy chops as he heads into this year’s election and the Davos forum has the added benefit of being geared toward the economy, which the president has touted as his top accomplishment, said Lauren Wright, a professor who teaches about the presidency at Princeton University.
“While I doubt a single trip oversees will have an impact on Trump’s re-election prospects, it also does not hurt the president to portray himself in a global leadership role whenever possible, especially as he faces an impeachment trial,” Wright said.
Contributing: Bart Jansen