It’s the fourth quarter. The game is close. And you are benched.
That could sum up the frustrations of four senators — two of them front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination — who will be duty bound to leave the campaign trail next week to sit in judgment of President Trump.
The Senate impeachment trial is expected to begin as early as Jan. 24, just two weeks before the all-important Iowa caucuses.
With members of the Senate serving as official jurors who will determine Mr. Trump’s guilt or innocence, three participants in Tuesday’s debate, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren must head back to Washington in the midst of the Iowa campaign.
That will leave little time for campaigning in Iowa.
Ms. Warren, who is regarded as one of the top four contenders in the Iowa race, has voiced her concern over leaving the campaign trail. Asked during Tuesday’s debate how big a problem her absence from the campaign trail will be, she vowed to return to Washington.
“Some things are more important than politics,” she responded to a question from Wolf Blitzer, one of three moderators at the CNN/Des Moines Register debate. “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. It says that no one is above the law.”
Ms. Warren, who represents Massachusetts, also suggested that the Democrats should benefit from the televised impeachment hearings. “Understand this, with that impeachment trial is going to show once again to the American people and something we should all be talking about is the corruption of the administration.”
Ms. Klobuchar, the senior senator of Minnesota, also referenced what she called her “constitutional duty” to take part, but she questioned the fairness of a hearing that will not include witnesses.
“They may as well give him a crown and a scepter. They may as well make him king,” Ms. Klobuchar said, adding that American voters do not want to be ruled by a king.
During a rally in Iowa last week, Mr. Sanders, a leading contender as well, complained about the interruption, but also emphasized duty.
“Between you and me I’d rather be here in Iowa, but I have a constitutional responsibility, which I accept as a United States senator, to be a juror in Trump’s impeachment trial,” he said. “So I’ll be there.”
(A fourth senator who is still in the presidential race but did not qualify for Tuesday’s debate, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, will also have to return to Washington.)
The timing is so inopportune for the campaigning senators that Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, hinted on Monday that a delay by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in transmitting the articles of impeachment was a gift to those leading candidates who are not in the Senate — former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Buttigieg may remain on the campaign trail, potentially giving their campaigns extra momentum.
“Having your competitors stuck in Washington, literally in their seat, while you’re hitting the campaign trail? Well, that seems like a pretty good advantage to me,” Mr. Cornyn said on the Senate floor.
Mr. Biden, though, pointed out during the debate that his family had also suffered as a result of the allegations that led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment.
The impeachment hearings could be a double-edged sword, focusing attention on the charges against Mr. Trump, but potentially also claims against his son, Hunter Biden.
“They’ve gone after my surviving son, gone after me, and told lies that your networks won’t even tell on TV because they’re flat out lies,” Mr. Biden said.