Five lingering questions as impeachment heads to Senate
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday ended weeks of speculation surrounding the Democrats’ impeachment effort, announcing the House would vote as early as next week to send a pair of articles to the Senate.
The move is indication that the Speaker, who’d delayed the transmission of the articles in an effort to win procedural concessions from Senate GOP leaders, is ready to launch the trial in the upper chamber despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) refusal to accept her demands.
Yet there are plenty of lingering questions about how the esoteric process will unfold over the next several weeks, as both sides vie for an upper hand in the high-stakes debate over the propriety of President Trump’s handling of foreign policy in Ukraine.
Here are five outstanding questions as the articles move from the House to the Senate.
When, exactly, will the trial begin?
While Pelosi on Friday expressed a new willingness to send the Senate the two impeachment resolutions — one charging Trump with abuse of power, the other with obstruction of Congress — she stopped short of scheduling a vote to do so.
Instead, she said she’s “asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) to be prepared to bring” a procedural measure to the floor “next week” to designate the still unnamed impeachment managers and dispatch the articles to the upper chamber. That resolution could technically be passed in a flash, by unanimous consent, but House Republicans are expected to force a more formal roll-call vote to highlight support from vulnerable Democrats.
Before the decision to vote is finalized, Pelosi said she’ll seek input from rank-and-file Democrats “on how we proceed further” — a meeting of the caucus that’s scheduled for Tuesday morning in the Capitol.
That consultation is largely a formality, as Democrats have been virtually unanimous in supporting Pelosi’s top-down impeachment strategy since the process launched in September. And their expected approval sets the stage for a floor vote as soon Tuesday, launching the Senate trial as early as Wednesday.
Still, no vote has been scheduled — and likely won’t be until after Tuesday’s meeting.
What will rules shaping the trial will look like?
Pelosi’s decision to send the articles to the Senate next week came after tussling with McConnell over what the rules shaping the trial will be.
Pelosi withheld sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate to try to win concessions with McConnell on the trial’s rules, but ultimately signaled Friday she would relent.
McConnell has said that he will follow the standard from President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, in which the Senate first votes on the resolution laying out the trial and then later on a second resolution on calling in witnesses — something the GOP leader has made clear he does not want to do.
Pelosi has said she wants to see the resolution shaping the rules for the Senate trial before finalizing her team, with sources saying this will likely factor into her decision to pick members with more prosecutorial experience, or those with more constitutional and appellate experience.
Senate rules require lawmakers in the upper chamber to participate in presidential impeachment trials, meaning they won’t be able to skip the trial for the trail, particularly in Iowa where voters will be caucusing in just weeks.
The 1999 impeachment trial resolution gave the House managers a maximum of 24 hours to make their case. The president and his defense team were then granted the same window to respond to the charges. Afterward, senators were permitted to question the parties “for a period of time not to exceed 16 hours.”
After that initial phase, each side under the 1999 rules was allowed “to make a motion to subpoena witnesses and/or to present any evidence not in the record,” which was then subject to a full Senate vote.
During the Clinton trial, the Senate voted on a second resolution along party lines to subpoena three witnesses for closed-door depositions, all of whom had previously testified in the initial investigation.
How did the delay affect the process politically?
The political ramifications of the Speaker’s decision to delay is still playing out, and it is unclear how her gamble will impact the process.
During the delay, Pelosi gained some new ammunition.
Former national security adviser John Bolton’s surprise announcement on Monday that he would be willing to testify if the GOP-controlled Senate subpoenaed his testimony triggered a tidal wave of Democrats calling on Republicans not to turn a blind eye to a first-hand witness.
Perhaps more significantly, his statement prompted several Republicans to voice support about hearing from Bolton, and perhaps other witnesses.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate with an independent streak, revealed Friday in an interview with the the Bangor Daily News that she is working with a “fairly small” group of Republican senators to ensure that an initial resolution on the impeachment trial rules allows for witnesses.
“I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on how to proceed with the trial that will allow the opportunity for both the House and the president’s counsel if they choose to do so,” Collins said, adding that her colleagues in the upper chamber should be “completely open to calling witnesses.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who has emerged as one of the president’s outspoken GOP critics, said last week that he wants to “be able to hear from John Bolton,” though he did not take a stance on what process should be taken to make that happen.
Democrats need only four GOP defectors to secure the appearance of new witnesses.
But there is another wild card in play.
Trump on Friday threatened to exert executive privilege over Bolton’s testimony if he was ultimately compelled to testify, citing the need to protect future presidents.
“I think you have to for the sake of the office,” he told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham.
Which lawmakers will manage the process?
House Democrats are eagerly waiting to hear who will land the high-profile roles as impeachment managers — the members appointed by Pelosi to act as prosecutors in the case to remove Trump before the Senate.
Pelosi has kept the matter close to her chest, keeping very few individuals in the loop.
Sources say she wants to see the resolution shaping the rules for the Senate trial before finalizing her team. The rules could factor into her decision to pick members with more prosecutorial experience, or those with more constitutional and appellate experience.
Some lawmakers are almost certain to be managers.
Nadler and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) are widely expected to be tapped, as both led the charge during the House impeachment inquiry. Democrats have also speculated that staff on both panels will be involved in the process of picking managers.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Caucus who is himself thought to be in consideration, described Nadler and Schiff as “logical choices … to lead the effort.” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a former constitutional law professor, is viewed as a likely contender as well.
Pelosi has yet to specify how many managers she’ll name, let alone their identities. And the prestige surrounding the position has triggered a clamor of interest from lawmakers on and off the key panels.
“The whole place wants to be a manager,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who heads the Oversight Committee.
Across the aisle, Republicans are lobbying with equal intensity to be a part of Trump’s defense team, with some of his top House allies — including Reps. Doug Collins (Ga.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), John Ratcliffe (Texas) and Mike Johnson (La.) — said to be likely candidates.
How will this impact senators running for president?
A handful of Democratic senators running for president will face a real crisis during the impeachment trial.
Senate rules require the lawmakers to participate in presidential impeachment trials, meaning they won’t be able to skip the trail to go to Iowa, where voters will be caucusing in just weeks.
The Senate trial is expected to move at a grueling place once it launches, with the chamber in session six days a week, minus Sundays, starting at 1 p.m.
There are five senators currently running for the Democratic presidential nomination — Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). Their campaigning will be squeezed once the impeachment trial begins.
It remains to be seen how much precious campaign time will be lost ahead of the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses, as McConnell has yet to announce the length of the trial. Historically, one of the top three candidates in Iowa usually make it onto the presidential ballot, hence the saying “three tickets out of Iowa.”
Pelosi’s decision to delay the trial until Wednesday, at the earliest, lends the Senate candidates at least one bit of freedom, allowing them to participate in the next primary debate on Tuesday night.