The White House on Thursday appeared self-assured after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE (D-Calif.) made clear a vote to impeach President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE was all but inevitable in the House, with administration officials signaling they relish the looming fight in a Senate trial.
The president and his allies have spent weeks hammering the same narrative about the House impeachment inquiry, dismissing it as a partisan “sham” that failed to produce evidence of wrongdoing.
The White House has refused to turn over documents, blocked witnesses and declined offers to participate. House Democrats have threatened to draft articles of impeachment accusing Trump of obstruction for defying congressional subpoenas.
Those close to the White House say its refusal to participate has worked to Trump’s advantage, pointing to teetering support for impeachment among independents as proof. And they argue that participating in the Judiciary Committee hearings would lend legitimacy to what the White House has derided as a partisan and “illegitimate” process.
“The situation in the House is a foregone conclusion and the process has been stacked against the president — why legitimize that by playing their game? Any success would be marginal and wouldn’t alter the outcome,” said one former White House official.
Another former White House official echoed that sentiment, saying it would be “bad politics” for the White House to participate in the House process because it is controlled by the Democrats.
“The reason why Democrats want the White House to participate is because it legitimizes their hearings,” said the former official. “They understand it helps them if the White House participates in the hearings, but that would be bad politics for the White House.”
There are some risks for the White House. Trump would become just the third U.S. president to be impeached, and the first who would then face voters in a reelection bid.
An hour after Trump essentially dared Democrats to get on with impeachment, Pelosi on Thursday announced committee leaders would begin drafting articles of impeachment related to Trump’s ask of Ukraine to launch investigations into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse clears bill to provide veterans with cost-of-living adjustment On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default To reduce poverty, stop burdening the poor: What Joe Manchin gets wrong about the child tax credit MORE and a debunked theory about the country’s involvement in 2016 election interference.
“The facts are uncontested,” Pelosi said. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security.”
The White House and Trump campaign reacted to Pelosi’s announcement with the same talking points that they believe have helped shape public opinion throughout the past several weeks, accusing Democrats of an abuse of power and calling the impeachment inquiry a “partisan and illegitimate subversion” of the law.
“Impeaching the President has always been their goal, so they should just get on with it so we can have a fair trial in the Senate and expose The Swamp for what it is,” Trump campaign manager Brad ParscaleBrad ParscaleAides tried to get Trump to stop attacking McCain in hopes of clinching Arizona: report MORE said in a statement.
Republicans’ unease over a lack of coherent strategy from the White House has given way in recent weeks to a more coordinated approach focused on hammering Democrats over an unfair process and refusing to concede any allegations of wrongdoing against the president.
Current and former administration officials are confident they’re winning the messaging war, pointing to the lack of GOP defections in the House and a spike in fundraising for the president’s reelection campaign.
Public sentiment on impeachment has remained fractured and largely unchanged in the months since Pelosi announced that there would be a formal inquiry.
Some polls suggested support for impeachment declining among independents after a series of public hearings with government officials who provided damaging testimony about the president and his administration’s dealings with Ukraine.
White House officials believe Democrats — determined to take a House impeachment vote by Christmas and complete the Senate trial before the Iowa caucuses in February — may be rushing through the process more quickly than some members would like.
“Obviously Nancy Pelosi is going to have to figure out if she has the votes. I suspect there are a lot of Democrats right now very uneasy about supporting impeachment,” said Tony Sayegh, one of two White House aides leading messaging efforts on impeachment.
Sayegh said on Fox News that he “would not be surprised” to see Democrats bring a full House vote on impeachment before Christmas. But he did not rule out the possibility that some members in swing districts could get cold feet, citing tenuous public opinion polls.
“Regardless of what they decide, we’re ready for them,” he added.
The White House’s approach is likely to shift in the coming weeks as it turns to what many view as an unavoidable trial in the GOP-controlled Senate, something administration officials view as comfortable terrain.
“If you get to a Senate trial, that will be more familiar to most Americans who understand a judge and jury system,” White House counselor Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayPsaki defends move to oust Trump appointees from military academy boards Defense & National Security: The post-airlift evacuation struggle Conway and Spicer fire back at White House over board resignation requests MORE. “And so if we get to that, that will be very different and I think that’s when the defense goes on offense.”
Legal experts expect White House lawyers to be considerably involved in the trial, and indeed White House counsel Pat Cipollone has already been meeting with Republican senators to discuss procedural rules.
“It seems like that, unlike say President Clinton, President Trump has taken an approach that this is really a political problem and we are going to talk about it with political language and staff it more with political people than legal people,” said Jack Sharman, an attorney who worked on the impeachment of Republican Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.
“That may change though, and I would think it would, in the Senate, assuming that there is an impeachment,” Sharman continued.
Senators have considerable leeway in crafting the rules around a potential trial in the upper chamber, which would be presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
The White House faces a Friday deadline to inform the House Judiciary Committee whether it intends to participate at all in the impeachment proceedings.
Sayegh would not say whether the White House would participate moving forward, but seemed to indicate it would only do so if it were allowed to call House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Hillicon Valley — Hacking goes global Schiff calls on Amazon, Facebook to address spread of vaccine misinformation Spotlight turns to GOP's McCarthy in Jan. 6 probe MORE (D-Calif.) or Joe and Hunter Biden as witnesses, something Democrats are unlikely to allow. Trump has said he would like the Senate to call Schiff and the Bidens, as well as Pelosi, to testify.
A letter sent by White House counsel Pat Cipollone to Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBiden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan Angelina Jolie spotted in Capitol meeting with senators MORE (D-N.Y.) on Sunday declared it “too late to cure the profound procedural deficiencies that have tainted this entire inquiry” but didn’t entirely rule out the White House participating in future hearings.
Gregg Nunziata, a former counsel for the GOP on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the White House’s refusal to take part in the House proceedings has effectively delayed potentially damaging revelations from coming out before a Senate trial.
But he cautioned that sitting out the process entirely carries risks. Looming court decisions involving witness testimony could grant more power to Congress moving forward and compel current and former administration officials to share damaging information at a later date.
“So maybe the strategy has worked in pushing some potential disclosures past the window of impeachment,” Nunziata said. “But it may backfire in the sense that we may see the president and administration forced to disclose information in the heat of a reelection.”