Senate Republicans held firm behind McConnell’s strategy of holding up the precedent of President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial as a model for Trump’s trial — just the third in history — and otherwise rebuffing Democrats’ calls for new testimony and document subpoenas.
In the Clinton trial, senators made no decision on calling witnesses or seeking further evidence until after the House had presented its case for removal and the president’s defense team rebutted it. McConnell on Tuesday declared he had the votes to proceed with a trial on those terms, leaving Pelosi at a strategic dead end.
Pelosi lambasted McConnell in her letter Friday for showing “disregard for the American people’s interest for a fair trial” and called his tactics “a clear indication of the fear that he and President Trump have regarding the facts of the president’s violations for which he was impeached.”
But she then signaled that the holdout she orchestrated after the House passed the two articles Dec. 18 — one for abuse of power, the other for obstruction of Congress, both in response to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine allegedly to help his reelection bid — was coming to an end.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), she wrote, is “prepared to bring to the floor next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate,” following a Tuesday morning House Democratic Caucus meeting.
A spokesman, Drew Hammill, subsequently clarified that the “articles will go over next week.”
Trump, in an interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, said Pelosi “should have sent them a long time ago. It just belittles the process.”
At the Capitol on Friday, McConnell offered a terse comment: “About time.”
Other Republicans were more voluble in condemning what they called a strategic misstep by the speaker — one that undermined months of Democratic messaging that cast Trump as a threat to national security because of his alleged effort to use nearly $400 million in Ukrainian military aid as a bargaining chip to force that nation’s leaders to investigate his political foes.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), a top defender of Trump, said Democrats argued for months that “this had to be done, there was an urgent need to remove the president from office, and it steps all over that message to then stall for so long afterwards.” The gambit, he said, probably only frustrated independent voters who want to see Congress work with the president.
“Short term, long term, history isn’t going to be kind to them,” he said. “The speaker gets credit for being smarter than this, and this is just a straight-up miscalculation.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-
Iowa) slammed Pelosi in a statement for creating “unnecessary chaos with this pointless delay” that may have further delayed congressional ratification of the bipartisan U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement — though Senate rules and divisions among lawmakers are more clearly to blame for the deal’s holdup.
“From the beginning, it’s been unclear what the goal of this hurry-up-and-wait tactic was or what the country stood to gain,” Grassley said. “We now know the answer was nothing.”
In her letter defending her actions, Pelosi argued that polls show an overwhelming number of Americans favor a trial with witnesses and documents after months of Trump defying Congress’s multiple requests for both.
While McConnell did not reach a deal with Democrats on witnesses, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told the Bangor Daily News that she was working with a “small group of Republicans” to ensure witnesses at the trial.
“I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on how to proceed with the trial that will allow the opportunity for witnesses for both the House managers and the president’s counsel if they choose to do so,” she said in a subsequent statement. “It is important that both sides be treated fairly.”
Just four Republicans breaking with their party and joining Democrats on a vote for witnesses could result in testimony.
Despite Pelosi’s announcement, key details of how precisely the impeachment saga will move from the House to the Senate remain in flux. Pelosi’s statement, citing the Tuesday caucus meeting, suggested the House would not vote until later in the week, leaving the possibility that the Senate might not start the trial before it breaks for a long weekend ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Beyond the date of transmission, launching the Senate trial could take several days, due to the formalities of passing the resolution establishing the parameters for the trial, swearing in senators as jurors, and notifying the president of the charges against him. Several lawmakers and congressional aides speculated that the trial will not start in earnest until the following week.
That schedule could have fringe benefits for Democrats, who want to force a Senate vote next week on a war powers measure aimed at constraining Trump’s military options with Iran. It also means the five Democratic senators who are presidential candidates will be able to participate in Tuesday night’s televised debate in Des Moines, though a trial will force them to remain in Washington in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) said his Democratic caucus is “ready for the trial to begin and will do everything we can to see that the truth comes out.”
As Democrats in both chambers began to signal this week that they were ready to end the holdout and move on with the trial, Pelosi kept her counsel close — to the point that even senior deputies did not know precisely what she had in mind until moments before she made her announcement.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) refused to answer questions about the gambit into Friday morning. As reporters peppered him with questions about Pelosi’s plans as he walked onto the House floor for the week’s final votes, he flashed a look of exasperation.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You’ll have to ask her.”
While Republicans gloated, Pelosi and other Democrats argued that the extended holdout helped their case for Trump’s removal, citing the emergence of additional evidence of Trump’s misconduct — including emails obtained through private public-records requests that showed an official from the White House budget office directed the Pentagon to “hold off” on sending the military aid less than two hours after Trump’s controversial July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In perhaps the most tantalizing development, former national security adviser John Bolton said Monday that he would be willing to testify at a Senate trial if subpoenaed, though Trump signaled Thursday he would assert executive privilege to block any testimony.
While there is no indication those developments were prompted by Pelosi’s holdout, multiple Democrats credited her, at the very least, with sending the message to the public that Senate Republicans are not preparing a fair trial for Trump.
“I think that she was smart,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “It’s started a discussion on the importance of witnesses and what a trial should look like, and we’ve also heard John Bolton is interested in testifying if he’s subpoenaed. So there’s been some value in waiting.”
While some Democrats were privately antsy about a prolonged holdout — a few publicly so — many more this week said they had faith in Pelosi’s strategy and played down the notion that the delay has hurt Democrats politically.
“A year from now, none of you are going to remember whether we sent the articles on Jan. 9 or Jan. 18 or Jan. 25,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) told reporters. “You will remember how this ends. That’s what’s important.”