But it’s also a bit of a quixotic bid, because House Democrats are considering delaying an impeachment trial that Senate Republicans don’t really want to hold in the first place.
Here’s what happened and the political calculus that may be surrounding this latest twist.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) went to the microphones late Wednesday night and left open the possibility that she’d hit pause on the step in the impeachment process in which the articles of impeachment are physically delivered from the House side of the Capitol to the Senate side.
Constitutional experts told me the articles generally get handed over to the Senate in a ceremonious process almost immediately after impeachment and read out loud on the Senate floor.
But The Post’s Mike DeBonis reported Wednesday that some three dozen House Democrats want Pelosi to hold those articles up, which would keep the Senate trial from starting — since you can’t hold an impeachment trial without the articles of impeachment.
It’s a way for House Democrats to try to influence what happens next in a process controlled by Senate Republicans, and a process that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has all but said will be crafted to Trump’s favor.
Democrats want to create leverage to force McConnell to allow testimony from members of Trump’s inner circle, like acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. Trump blocked Mulvaney from complying with a congressional subpoena to testify in the House’s impeachment investigation.
“We’ll make a decision as a group as we always have as we go along,” Pelosi said when asked by reporters about this push by some of her more liberal members. She then dangled out the idea that if the trial was deemed “fair” by her, she would be inclined to appoint House managers (lawmakers who act as impeachment prosecutors) and send over the articles of impeachment.
McConnell, for his part, has already stated what he expects the outcome of the trial to be. “My hope is that there won’t be a single Republican who votes for either of these articles of impeachment,” McConnell said on Fox News last week.
However, this could pressure Republicans to open up a Senate trial to Trump’s top aides. Public opinion is on Pelosi’s side, since having those people testify is something that even 2 in 3 Republicans support, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Pelosi knows full well that Trump badly wants this trial to clear his name. He sees a process controlled by Senate Republicans as a better chance for him to control the narrative, after months of House Democrats leading the impeachment push.
Pelosi also knows that Trump and McConnell disagree on the best way to do that, even though McConnell made a big deal last week of saying he and Trump and White House lawyers are working hand in hand on this trial.
Trump wants to call witnesses that he believes will clear his name and others like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) or the anonymous whistleblower in an effort to undermine the credibility of the impeachment. McConnell wants no witnesses.
McConnell needs Democratic buy-in to hold witnesses, so he likely is calculating that if he opens the door to Trump’s witnesses, it will also invite in people Trump may not want to testify. (Another witness Senate Democrats want, former national security adviser John Bolton, has indicated he wants to talk about what he knows of Trump and Ukraine but has also abided by Trump’s ban on talking to the House about it.)
There’s nothing that explicitly says the Senate impeachment trial has to be as fair as a criminal trial. Senators are supposed to take an oath of impartiality, but the Founders didn’t give impeachment to the courts to decide. It’s up to Congress, which is an inherently political place, to do it.
Public opinion is on Pelosi’s side to open up a Senate trial, and maybe Trump’s, too. That’s why Pelosi is considering holding up the articles of impeachment and the start of the Senate trial. It’s a bit of an odd gamble, but it’s the only leverage House Democrats have right now.