Pelosi faces decision on articles of impeachment
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is likely to decide in the coming days whether to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate as the upper chamber remains in a stalemate over how to conduct a trial.
Both sides have dug in more than two weeks after the House passed the articles of impeachment against President Trump over his dealings with Ukraine and his efforts to undermine lawmakers’ inquiry.
Pelosi withheld the articles to gain leverage in the debate over the trial’s rules, but there’s little sign the maneuver is putting any pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
At least two key moderate Republicans have expressed concerns about McConnell’s coordination with the White House on impeachment strategy, but none have made any specific demands.
While Pelosi and McConnell both kept low profiles over the holidays, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), has held multiple press conferences from New York to call for testimony from key witnesses and production of documents from the Trump administration.
The effort appears to be an attempt to put pressure on McConnell, and to set up the argument that Republicans are organizing a sham trial in the Senate.
Schumer this week seized upon a New York Times report detailing how top officials knew of the hold on the military aid to Ukraine. Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper tried but failed to convince Trump in a previously undisclosed Oval Office meeting that releasing the aid was in America’s national security interest.
Schumer called the New York Times report a “game changer.”
“This story makes the choice even clearer: Will the Senate hold a fair trial, or will it enable a cover-up?” Schumer said at a Monday press conference. “President Trump, if you are so confident you did nothing wrong: why won’t you let your men testify? What are Sen. McConnell and President Trump afraid of if all the facts come out?”
Schumer also hailed new emails published by Just Security on Thursday that showed Defense Department officials’ alarm over the hold on the nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine as a “devastating blow.” One email from late August showed Michael Duffey, associate director of national security at the Office of Management and Budget, telling the acting Pentagon comptroller: “Clear direction from POTUS to hold.”
Schumer is pressing for testimony from four witnesses who declined to appear in the House impeachment inquiry: acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, senior Mulvaney adviser Robert Blair, former national security adviser John Bolton and Duffey.
Lawmakers predicted that the impeachment process will fully kick back into gear next week when both chambers of Congress come back into session. But so far both parties have spent recent days holding ever more tightly to their positions.
Rank-and-file Democrats are supportive of Pelosi’s strategy, but holding the articles indefinitely could pose risks for moderates who don’t want the impeachment process to drag on deep into an election year.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a freshman who represents a district that Trump carried in 2016, said before the recess that holding the articles temporarily seemed reasonable.
“I think that it can’t drag on forever,” Slotkin told reporters in the Capitol. “But I think it’s all right to ask for the process and what it will actually look like when it hits the Senate.”
Pelosi’s decision has got under the skin of Trump, who has repeatedly criticized it over the holidays from his Mar-a-Lago estate.
“Remember when Pelosi was screaming that President Trump is a danger to our nation and we must move quickly,” Trump wrote in a Dec. 31 tweet criticizing Pelosi as reversing her call for impeachment to be conducted in a timely fashion.
“They produced no case so now she doesn’t want to go to the Senate. She’s all lies. Most overrated person I know!”
Democrats will want to show that they’ve achieved something by holding the articles.
“Simply saying that it’s urgent and moving in the House based on that urgency and then handing it over to a Senate that will simply dismiss this and not really deal with it in a fair and open fashion doesn’t address the urgency of the situation,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said on CNN’s “New Day.”
Others predicted that there will be more movement next week when lawmakers return to Washington.
“I suspect the first week of January you’ll see all of this ironed out. And then Speaker Pelosi will be in an appropriate position to be able to say, OK, here’s what we’re looking for. Here’s the kind of managers that will be best suited for those kinds of witnesses and the documents and the questions that are inevitably going to be asked,” Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said on “CNN Newsroom.”
Then there’s the fact that the first presidential primary contest is now only a month away. Many Democrats said throughout the impeachment inquiry that they hoped for the process to wrap up by the Iowa presidential caucuses on Feb. 3.
Five candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have a personal stake in that as well: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) will be kept off the campaign trail during the impeachment trial.
McConnell, who is up for reelection next year and is seeking to protect the GOP’s majority in the Senate, will be watching what his colleagues say closely.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said last week that she was “disturbed” about McConnell’s pledge to maintain coordination with the White House over the trial.
“To me, it means that we have to take that step back from being hand in glove with the defense, and so I heard what Leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process,” Murkowski told KTUU.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who faces a reelection context next year in a state where Trump lost thee of the four electoral votes to Democrat Hillary Clinton, said that senators should not “prejudge” the evidence and appeared to criticize McConnell as well while also taking a shot at Warren.
“I have heard Democrats like Elizabeth Warren saying that the president should be impeached, found guilty and removed from office. I’ve heard the Senate majority leader saying that he’s taking his cues from the White House. There are senators on both sides of the aisle, who, to me, are not giving the appearance of and the reality of judging that’s in an impartial way,” Collins told Maine Public Radio.
Collins also said that she was “open” to witnesses, but appeared to back McConnell’s idea that a decision on who should testify should wait until after both sides present opening arguments.
But one member of Senate GOP leadership predicted that the impeachment trial would be “pretty predictable” and happen “quickly.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told Missouri radio station KSSZ that he expected that the trial would be finished by the time Trump comes to Capitol Hill to deliver his State of the Union address on Feb. 4.
“My guess is we’ll be done with this by the time the president comes,” Blunt said.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.