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The next Democratic debate is on a collision course with impeachment

Everything you need to know about the next Democratic debate.

Candidates take the stage at the November 2019 Democratic debate in Atlanta, Georgia.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Prepare for a deluge of Democratic debates in 2020 as we barrel toward the presidential primaries, starting with one in Iowa this month.

The next Democratic debate will be held on Tuesday, January 14, at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, starting at 9 pm ET. CNN and the Des Moines Register will host the debate, which will be the seventh showdown the party’s primary candidates have had this election cycle.

After that, you can expect at least three more debates before the year even enters its third month: one in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Friday, February 7, the next in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Wednesday, February 19, and another in Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday, February 25.

(The pattern here: The debates are all just days ahead of the caucuses and primaries in the respective dates they’re being held.)

The Democratic National Committee has gradually increased the qualifications throughout this cycle, and the threshold for January will be the highest yet: Candidates will have to get at least 5 percent support in four DNC-approved national polls or 7 percent support in two early primary voting state polls, and they must have at least 225,000 donors.

For the December debate, candidates had to get at least 4 percent support in at least four national polls or 6 percent support in two single-state polls in early voting states. On top of that, they had to have received donations from at least 200,000.

The criteria have garnered some grumbling among some contenders who didn’t make the cut. Ahead of the December debate, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who failed to make the stage, spearheaded a letter signed by other major candidates asking the DNC to reconsider its requirements and ask candidates to either meet the polling or the donor standard. The DNC appears to have no plans to make that change.

At the moment, it appears that former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, and billionaire activist Tom Steyer have all made the cut in both polling and donations. If things stay as is, that would mean seven current candidates would be left off the stage:

It’s worth noting that Bloomberg has had no plans of trying to make the debate stage from the start — he’s funding his own campaign entirely and isn’t trying to get any individual donors.

The January debate wildcard: impeachment

Perhaps the biggest question mark in next week’s debate isn’t who will be on the stage but rather what else will be happening at the same time: impeachment.

The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump in December. This month, the Senate trial to decide whether or not to convict the president and remove him from office will take place. And that has big implications for the senators running for president who will have to sit in on the trial instead of out on the campaign, as Vox’s Li Zhou explained:

[The timing] would keep several Democratic presidential contenders trapped in Washington with the Iowa caucus just weeks away.

The trial itself is expected to run for six days a week when it’s in session. In a shift from other hearings the Senate holds, lawmakers will be barred from speaking at it, though they will be able to submit written questions to the House managers and defense counsel.

Five Senate Democrats are currently running for president: Bennet, Booker, Klobuchar, Sanders, and Warren.

A DNC official told CNN that the committee will try to work with the campaigns to make sure the impeachment trial doesn’t keep them off the debate stage. “If a conflict with an impeachment trial is unavoidable, the DNC will evaluate its options and work with all the candidates to accommodate them,” the official said.

To put it plainly, there are a lot of unknowns heading into this year’s debates.