WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is refusing to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate until she gets more information about how the trial will be run.
The House voted to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress Wednesday, but Pelosi is not obligated to immediately send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate and she said Thursday she will not do so — nor will she appoint impeachment managers (House members who will serve as prosecutors) — until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell clarifies what the trial will look like. This means the articles of impeachment could sit in limbo through the holiday break or even longer.
“The next thing for us will be when we see the process that is set forth in the Senate. Then we'll know the number of managers that we may have to go forward and who we would choose,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference Thursday.
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It was a slight walk-back of comments the speaker made immediately following the vote late Wednesday night.
“We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” she said Wednesday night. “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.”
It’s not clear whether this is a temporary delay or if Pelosi is siding with some members of her caucus who want to hold back the articles indefinitely until they get assurances that the Senate will hold a fair trial that includes hearing from new witnesses.
Those pushing for holding on to the articles say the point isn’t so much about putting pressure on McConnell but putting pressure on Trump by withholding the acquittal he seeks.
“What do you think is going to happen if these sit there for a month or two months? Trump will go crazy,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer. “That six-page letter, I mean he’s coming unhinged. He cannot contain himself."
Senate Republicans are already pouncing on the plan, questioning why Democrats said they had to move quickly toward impeaching the president in the House, but now seem to feel no urgency to send it to the Senate. McConnell on Thursday morning suggested Democrats weren’t sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate because they are not confident in their case.
“The prosecutors are getting cold feet in front of the entire country and second-guessing whether they even want to go to trial,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “They said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process but now they’re content to sit on their hands. It is comical.”
McConnell later told BuzzFeed News, "If the Speaker wants to hold on to them, that's fine with us."
Blumenauer argued that time is on the Democrats’ side because waiting on the trial buys more time for court rulings that could lead to the House obtaining Trump’s tax returns or former national security adviser John Bolton agreeing to testify.
Last week McConnell went on Fox News and declared that he is coordinating the scope of the trial with Trump’s lawyers.
“Everything I do during this I’m coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this,” he said.
This week McConnell told reporters, “I am not an impartial juror. This is a political process … I expect we will have a largely partisan outcome. I am not impartial at all.”
This elicited outrage from Democrats because Senate rules dating back to 1868 state that senators must vow to be impartial jurors. Sen. Sherrod Brown called McConnell’s statements “morally outrageous” and said that “he’s sold his soul to Trump.”
The number two House Democrat, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, also seemed open to the idea of delaying sending the articles, telling Politico that some House Democrats have approached him with an op-ed written by constitutional lawyer Laurence Tribe pushing for a delay.
“People have read that article, discussed it. People have come up to me, discussed it,” he said. “We will talk about it in some point in time. It’s within the speaker’s purview, obviously; she’ll make that decision. And I also think she’ll do it in discussions with McConnell and [Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer.”
But Republicans are ridiculing the move. President Trump tweeted Thursday that Pelosi’s “phony impeachment HOAX is so pathetic she is afraid to present it to the Senate.”
House Republicans were quick to point out that Democrats had stressed the urgency of concluding impeachment proceedings to prevent foreign interference in the 2020 election. Rep. Doug Collins said Pelosi’s move exposed these statements as political. “Clear and present danger! Constant threat! Got to do it!” he said sarcastically.
Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko said holding up the articles of impeachment deflates Pelosi’s claims that there is a huge threat to national security.
“That’s the whole reason that they, she said, rushed it through and now she’s gonna hold it. OK, that makes no sense to me,” said Lesko.
Republican Sen. James Lankford told BuzzFeed News Wednesday night that Democrats could withhold the articles of impeachment “all the way through the year, as far as I care. That's fine with me. They're the one that's in the hurry.”
“For them to stand up and say, this is essential for us to do this because the president's a clear threat, and so we have to do it as fast as possible, and then suddenly hold it at the end to try to get some kind of leverage or spot to be able to gain some advantage seems really weird to me. So either they're in a rush to be able to get it because the president's a clear danger in their perspective, or they weren't being serious when they said that,” Lankford added.
McConnell told reporters he would meet with Schumer Thursday to begin negotiations on what the Senate trial would look like.
Emma Loop contributed to this story.