Nancy Pelosi. Picture: AFP/SAUL LOEB
Nancy Pelosi. Picture: AFP/SAUL LOEB

Washington— US House speaker Nancy Pelosi is running out of leverage in her stand-off over the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, as Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell announced he has enough Republican votes to set rules without committing any new witnesses.

Pelosi’s gambit of delaying sending articles of impeachment to the Senate failed to win any concessions from McConnell on introducing new testimony or evidence at the trial as Republican senators lined up behind their leader.

Despite that, Pelosi told lawmakers in a closed meeting on Tuesday that she isn’t ready to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate until she hears more details about how the trial will be conducted, according to a Democrat in the room. She publicly called on McConnell to release the resolution setting up the Senate trial, so “we can see the arena in which we will be participating”.

While some Democrats, on Tuesday, continued to support Pelosi’s strategy to hold back the articles to get a commitment from Senate Republicans on the trial rules, others suggested the battle was all but over.

Senate Democrat leader Chuck Schumer said Pelosi had “accomplished a great deal already”, and Representative Peter Welch of Vermont, a Democrat on the intelligence committee, said the Senate would be getting the impeachment articles “sooner rather then later”.

Democrat meetings

On Tuesday night, Pelosi said nothing publicly about her plans as she ducked in and out of meetings with other members of the House Democrat leadership. Some of the people she met with said Pelosi gave no hint on timing for sending the impeachment articles. She’s scheduled to meet on Wednesday morning with the rest of the Democrat caucus.

McConnell, who wants to engineer a quick acquittal of the president, in effect declared victory on Tuesday when he announced, after meeting with GOP senators, that there are enough votes among Republicans to set the terms for the impeachment trial without Democrat support. He said he hopes Pelosi will transmit the articles of impeachment this week.

The rules, he said, would be similar to those used for then-president Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial 21 years ago. That would set up about two weeks for arguments by House managers and Trump’s defence, as well as senators’ questions, before addressing the thorny issue of whether to end the trial without any fresh documents or witnesses. Both sides could then call for more testimony but would need 51 senators to agree.

Pelosi said on Tuesday that is was “misleading” for McConnell to say that the format he’s proposing resembles the Clinton trial, since witnesses were deposed in that example. “This process is not only unfair but designed to deprive Senators and the American people of crucial documents and testimony,” Pelosi said in her letter to colleagues.

‘Dramatically different’

Representative Dan Kildee of Michigan said Pelosi told Democrats on Monday that the Clinton case is different because it grew out of the work of an independent counsel and a grand jury that got testimony from the president. “All of the work that was done leading up to impeachment of Clinton was so dramatically different that there is not really an apples to apples comparison,” Kildee said.

Democrats had been counting on the offer by former Trump national security advisor John Bolton to testify if subpoenaed, as well as revelations of e-mails and other evidence since the impeachment vote, to sway at least a few Republican senators to their side.

Rather than waiting to decide in the second half of the trial, Democrats are pressing for upfront commitments to subpoena Bolton, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and others with direct knowledge of Trump’s decision to withhold military aid last year while pressing Ukraine to investigate potential 2020 rival Joe Biden and his son. Democrats also want the Senate to demand Trump cough up a trove of documents he blocked from the House.

“What’s happened in the past four days, with Bolton, has made it more complicated,” Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, said after a meeting with Pelosi. “And we have indications there are others.”

Republican votes

With no expectation that Trump will be convicted and removed from office — something that would require 67 votes — Schumer has instead looked to sway Senate Republicans who will eventually have to face the voters with their records on the impeachment question.

“We are telling our Republican colleagues, you can run but you can’t hide,” Schumer said. “There will be votes on the four witnesses we have asked for. There will be votes on the three sets of documents we have requested. And there may be votes on other witnesses and documents as well.”

But in the end, even the two Republicans viewed as most likely to open to the Democrats’ arguments, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Maine’s Susan Collins, said they backed McConnell’s plan to follow the precedent of Clinton’s impeachment trial. Only one Republican, Mitt Romney of Utah, said he wants to hear from Bolton, and even Romney declined to say whether he would vote with Democrats on issuing a subpoena.

Schumer sought to put the best face on the situation. “The speaker has said all along that she wants to see the arena in which she will be playing when it comes to a trial so she can appoint impeachment managers,” Schumer said, adding that she now knows the playing field.

Scumer also said that Pelosi now knows, too, that McConnell can’t just dismiss the charges, adding that there’s also been a “cascade of evidence” since the impeachment vote that bolsters the case for fresh witnesses and documents. “Now we have a greater feel for where we’re headed.” 

House intelligence chair Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, also said the delay had an important impact by making clear that McConnell “is working in cahoots with the president as part of this cover-up”.

Welch praised Pelosi for her effort but said there are limits to what she can do. “It’s not like this is a coal subsidy,” Welch quipped, in a dig at McConnell, who represents the coal state of Kentucky.

Once Pelosi decides to send the Senate the two articles of impeachment that the House adopted on December 19, she will have to schedule a floor vote on a resolution formally authorising their transmission, as well as the names of House managers who will prosecute the case in the Senate, likely led by judiciary committee chair Jerrold Nadler of New York.

The key votes in the Senate will be on on McConnell’s partisan process resolution at the start of the trial; on requests for witnesses and documents in the second phase of the trial; and, at the end, on acquittal or conviction.

If the trial is delayed much longer, some senators suggested they could move on to other matters, such as the new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, while they wait. Still other Republicans have drafted resolutions hoping to set a deadline for Pelosi to send the articles, but those resolutions aren’t likely to go anywhere. That leaves Senate Republicans largely where they were as they left for the holidays: grumbling and waiting for Pelosi.

Bloomberg

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