WASHINGTON – Following Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that the House would send impeachment articles to the Senate on Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would start pretrial proceedings as soon as Thursday, signaling the end of the nearly monthlong standoff between the two over the shape of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
McConnell, R-Ky., said preliminary steps this week could include the swearing in of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who will preside over the trial, and senators. A vote to set up the rules and procedures of the trial is expected Tuesday, McConnell said, allowing arguments from House Democrats and the president’s lawyers to get underway after that.
House Democrats came to the decision to move the articles Tuesday in a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol, according to Democratic sources. But Pelosi, D-Calif., had indicated Friday that she was ready to end the showdown.
“The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial,” Pelosi said in a statement.
The House will also have to vote to approve the names of the House lawmakers who will serve as “managers” in the Senate trial. They will essentially act as prosecutors to present the case to senators. Those individuals were not named Tuesday but are widely expected to include Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., who conducted much of the investigation as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, among others.
The trial will determine whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. So far, the 47 Senate Democrats are far short of the 67 votes they would need to convict; no Republican has publicly indicated they might buck their party.
Pelosi had held the articles in hopes of getting more favorable terms for a Senate trial, including a commitment in advance for subpoenas of witnesses and documents. She was hoping to build pressure on McConnell and his Republican colleagues.
But Senate Republicans refused to back down from their plan to punt any decision on witnesses until after the trial gets underway, leaving Democrats with little leverage.
Last week, McConnell announced that he has enough Republican votes to adopt trial rules that don’t immediately allow witnesses. His plan would call for a decision to be made on whether to subpoena witnesses after opening arguments from House Democrats and the president’s lawyers. He noted that a similar process was used during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
Once it became clear that McConnell wouldn’t budge on witnesses, Pelosi demanded that McConnell first release the text of the rules before she would release the articles. McConnell has not done so.
Democrats grew frustrated with Pelosi’s approach, with several Senate Democrats arguing publicly that there was no further leverage to be had by holding the articles. They indicated that they’d rather get on with the trial.
But Pelosi’s allies framed the delay as a win, arguing that the time in limbo allowed the public to see that Senate Republicans are tilting the rules of the impeachment trial to benefit the president.
Other factors could be at play as well. The trial has been delayed long enough that it is quite likely Trump will still not have a Senate vote on his fate before he delivers the State of the Union on Feb. 4. Trump, like Clinton in 1999, would be forced to make the annual address to the Congress under the din of an impeachment without resolution of the Senate trial.
Republicans have also speculated that Pelosi held the articles to hurt Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Iowa caucuses. He, along with the other senators running for president in 2020, will be stuck in Washington for a six-days-a-week trial instead of campaigning for the nation’s first presidential caucus, to be held Feb. 3. Other candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, will have the state to themselves.
“Sen. Sanders actually has a chance to win, but not now that Nancy Pelosi has held these documents,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.