Democrats in the House of Representatives rushed headlong into impeaching President Donald Trump, so urgent was the need to protect the Constitution and save the Union.
Then they went home without handing the two articles of impeachment over to the Senate.
After the mostly party-line vote in the House on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters that she might delay the handoff of the articles because she thinks Republicans in the Senate won’t hold a fair trial. After a president is impeached, the House needs to select “managers” to send to the Senate, where the trial will occur to decide whether the president will be removed from office.
“We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” Pelosi said. “And I would hope that that will be soon. … So far we haven’t 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.”
The next day, reporters tried to get Pelosi to explain her actions, but she refused to answer. “I’m not going to answer any more questions on this,” a defiant Pelosi said. Then she took her ball and went home.
Trump weighed in on Pelosi’s move on Friday.
“Nancy Pelosi is looking for a Quid Pro Quo with the Senate. Why aren’t we Impeaching her?” Trump wrote on Twitter before leaving for his Mar-a-Lago resort for the Christmas holidays.
Nancy Pelosi is looking for a Quid Pro Quo with the Senate. Why aren’t we Impeaching her?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 20, 2019
So, where does the whole process stand?
First, Trump may not even have been impeached. That’s what Harvard legal scholar Noah Feldman, one of the Democrats’ top witnesses to appear before a House committee in favor of impeaching the president says.
“Impeachment as contemplated by the Constitution does not consist merely of the vote by the House, but of the process of sending the articles to the Senate for trial,” Feldman wrote in an op-ed. “Both parts are necessary to make an impeachment under the Constitution: The House must actually send the articles and send managers to the Senate to prosecute the impeachment. And the Senate must actually hold a trial,” he wrote, noting that if the House holds the articles, Trump could argue that he was never actually impeached.
So there’s that.
Then’s there’s a standoff in the Senate, too.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) can’t agree on whether new witnesses will be called to testify. Pelosi and Schumer demand new trial witnesses who refused to appear during House committee hearings, including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
“They should have witnesses and documentation,” Pelosi told The Associated Press, even though the House’s role in the impeachment is all but over. “This could be something very beneficial to the country, if the facts are there.”
But Schumer has very little leverage to force the calling of witnesses, as the GOP controls the chamber. And McConnell said the time for talking is over. And Republicans in the Senate appear to be united in opposing the removal of Trump. Democrats would need 22 Republicans to cross the aisle, which at this point seems next to impossible.
This scenario is in play: “McConnell appears ready to impose a framework drawn from the 1999 trial of Bill Clinton, who was acquitted of two articles of impeachment. That trial featured a 100-0 vote on arrangements that established two weeks of presentations and argument before a partisan tally in which Republicans called a limited number of witnesses, including Monica Lewinsky for a videotaped deposition,” The AP reported.
“I continue to believe that the unanimous bipartisan precedent that was good enough for President Clinton ought to be good enough for this president, too. Fair is fair,” McConnell said Thursday.
The Senate leader also blasted Pelosi’s move, saying it’s a sign of “cold feet.”
“We have this fascinating situation where, following House Democrats’ rush to impeachment, following weeks of pronouncements about the urgency of this situation, the prosecutors have now developed cold feet,” he said.
The Senate is set to reconvene on Jan. 6 and the House on Jan. 7.
Maybe by then the path forward will be clear.