More than three weeks after the House passed articles of impeachment against President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided to start the process of appointing managers and sending the articles to the Senate for trial. In a letter to colleagues Friday, Pelosi did not say precisely when that will happen, but it appears it will be sometime next week.
The speaker got nothing in return for her decision to end the holdout. Back on Dec. 18, the night the House impeached the president, Pelosi said she would not send the articles until she received some assurance that the Senate trial would be “fair.”
“We cannot name managers until we see the process on the Senate side,” Pelosi said. “So far, we have not seen anything that looks fair to us, so, hopefully, it will be fair, and when we see what that is, we’ll send our managers.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly told Pelosi that she would have no say in the structure of the Senate trial. “There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure,” McConnell tweeted Wednesday. “We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment. The House Democrats’ turn is over.”
McConnell has said Republicans have enough votes to begin the Senate trial along the lines of the 1999 impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Under that plan, after both sides have presented their case and after the Senate has discussed the matter, lawmakers would then take up the question of whether or not to call witnesses.
Pelosi and Senate Democrats have demanded witnesses. McConnell and many other Republicans would prefer none, but there is a small group of GOP senators whose votes could be decisive who want to explore the possibility of calling witnesses. But that will happen within the context of McConnell’s plan without any assurances to Pelosi.
For days, some leading Democrats have prepared the way for Pelosi’s surrender. The speaker’s gambit “has helped our case,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday. Schumer listed two reasons he considered the Pelosi ploy a success.
“One, Mitch McConnell couldn’t do what some thought he might want to do: right before Christmas or after Christmas, just dismiss,” Schumer said. “And, second, in the last two weeks, there’s been a cascade of evidence that bolsters the case, strongly bolsters the case, for witnesses and documents.”
Neither argument had much merit. No matter what “some thought,” McConnell was not going to execute a maneuver to dismiss the impeachment during the holiday when no one was watching. That was not going to happen.
Second, the “cascade of evidence” that Schumer referred to is mostly documents either leaked or released in response to activist groups’ Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents also came out before a Senate trial would have begun had Pelosi not withheld the articles. So, the idea that she somehow caused that to happen seems implausible.
Still, the revelations gave Pelosi a thin reed on which to claim success. “While the House was able to obtain compelling evidence of impeachable conduct, which is enough for removal, new information has emerged,” she wrote, explaining her reason to end the holdout.
Therefore, Pelosi told colleagues, “I have asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to be prepared to bring to the floor next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate. I will be consulting with you at our Tuesday House Democratic Caucus meeting on how we proceed further.”
So, next week, perhaps, impeachment will go forward. Pelosi will have delayed things by a week or two. Democrats will make the case they were going to make, and Republicans will make the case they were going to make.
“I believe she finally ran out of options and realized there was no political gain anymore,” Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said in a text exchange Friday. “The case never changed, and the outcome has not been altered, but it appears to have allowed them to talk more about it and try to influence public opinion away from the show in the House and the inevitable result in the Senate.”
Collins’s words hinted that Pelosi had other motives for the holdout. No, she didn’t get any say over the structure of the Senate trial. No, the holdout was not responsible for the emergence of new evidence. No, there is no assurance that the trial will be “fair.” But Pelosi did grab headlines. And she may believe that she kept Republicans off balance and rattled the president. Maybe she did, although she certainly did not rattle McConnell.
Of course, Pelosi could not have said any of that on Dec. 18. After so much talk about the grave constitutional responsibility of impeachment, about her prayerfulness, about the urgency of acting immediately to remove the president, after all that, Pelosi could not have said, “We’re going to mess with Trump for a while. See you next year.”
Now, the holdout is apparently coming to an end. A trial will begin. Pelosi will undoubtedly keep trying to mess with the president. But the trial will be out of her hands.