The vote broke along party lines, but it happened: President Donald Trump was impeached this week.
No matter what happens in the Senate, Trump will always be remembered as the third president to receive the House’s sternest rebuke. And, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult Poll, a majority of voters said they approve of the move.
It was a historic moment that was on everyone’s mind. It overshadowed the passage in the House of one of the administration’s highest priorities — a replacement for NAFTA — and came up within the first few minutes of Thursday’s PBS NewsHour/POLITICO debate.
We asked our team of reporters covering the Trump presidency and impeachment to reflect on Wednesday’s vote and make predictions for a looming Senate trial.
For the history books, what will you remember from this past week?
Kyle Cheney, Congress reporter: I’ll always remember the dead feeling inside the House chamber in the hours leading up to the impeachment vote. There was a lifeless, checking-the-box feeling to the six-hour debate. Not only did we know the outcome, we knew the precise vote count with the exception of the lone “present” vote. There was no suspense, no sudden epiphany on either side of the aisle — in short, it was the polar opposite of the Clinton impeachment, which veterans of the era like John Bresnahan and Susan Glasser tell me included far more uncertainty and intensity in its final moments.
Anita Kumar, White House reporter: For me, it was that unbelievable split screen moment — the House begins voting on impeachment in Washington just as Trump take the stage at a campaign rally in Michigan. He became only the third president to be impeached while headlining one of his Make America Great Again rallies in front of thousands of adoring fans. Trump rambled on for two hours about everything from the economy and trade to dim light bulbs and toilet water pressure. But he also addressed the historic moment TV networks were simultaneously showing. “It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached,” he told the crowd. “The country is doing better than ever before, we did nothing wrong, and we have tremendous support in the Republican Party.”
Natasha Bertrand, national security correspondent: I thought Majority Leader Steny Hoyer gave a very memorable closing argument on Wednesday. And waking up to the IMPEACHED headlines splashed across the country’s newspapers was obviously historic. But I agree with Anita — it was somewhat surreal to hear Trump talking about the Space Force, nuclear submarines, and a pilot that looked like Tom Cruise just as the House secured the votes to impeach him.
Darren Samuelsohn, senior reporter: I’ll remember the scene inside the House chamber too: The Republicans clustered throughout the day in a bunch of seats around Doug Collins while he managed the debate and Nancy Pelosi sitting near the back for much of the proceedings, signing what looked to be a stack of holiday cards. The debate itself was predictable as was the outcome of the vote. But there was still something to the energy in the room. It was still a presidential impeachment — something that hadn’t happened in my 20 years covering Washington, and who knows if we will ever see another.
What should we make of the Pelosi strategy of holding back the impeachment articles?
Kyle: This is uncharted constitutional terrain, and Pelosi seems to be exploiting it to ratchet up pressure on the Senate to promise a fair trial. The simplest takeaway is that there are virtually no rules in impeachment because the Constitution prescribes very few and the three previous impeachment efforts were so markedly distinct that it’s hard to draw precedent from any of them. Pelosi knows this, and Democrats think they’re about to be railroaded in the Senate without even the opportunity to present a case worthy of a courtroom, so the sense seems to be why not play hardball in this constitutional gray area?
Anita: Pelosi is presumably holding on to the articles to push for McConnell for a trial more to Democrats liking in the Senate. But her delay has gotten under Trump’s skin, according to some Republicans close to him. He has been calling people to ask why Pelosi has postponed and what he can do about it. (Answer: Not much.) That’s because he sees a Senate trial as a way he can vindicate himself and embarrass Democrats.He’s convinced if Americans hear from the whistleblower, among others, at the trial they will see he didn’t pressure Ukraine and he will be exonerated, not just acquitted in a partisan procedure. Pelosi’s postponement puts his attempt out of reach — at least temporarily..
Natasha: Pelosi downplayed the move in an interview with POLITICO on Thursday, but it’s hard to predict how this will play out. A brief delay, while Pelosi decides who will be the impeachment managers as the Senate works out the rules for the proceedings, would not be unprecedented (see: the Clinton impeachment trial). But one top Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn, told CNN on Thursday that he would support waiting “as long as it takes” to send the articles until Republican Senate leaders set terms that Democrats perceive as fair. Trump and his lawyers, meanwhile, are reportedly exploring whether the delay means Trump technically hasn’t been impeached at all.
Darren: I sense Pelosi is maximizing the banner headline effects from the impeachment vote and letting it wash around a bit in the country’s psyche — not to mention tormenting Trump and his allies by leaving it hanging whether there will even be a Senate trial. There’s of course House-Senate power dynamics at play here. And there are all manner of outcomes when this is said and done but Pelosi has now effectively let the story line of Wednesday’s vote linger through the holiday break. Trump of course knows how to change a narrative and I can’t even begin to count the ways he might do that through the early part of January. But Congress will be back in town soon enough after a welcome break there are still many more chapters to be written on this story.
Who do you think will be the most effective House impeachment manager(s)?
Kyle: Adam Schiff has been Democrats’ best impeachment messenger from the outset. However the House constructs its team of managers, he’ll be at the center making the case on the facts of the Ukraine investigation. The one drawback is he’s become such a reviled figure to Republicans, whose disdain for him often seems more personal than political, that no matter the points he makes, he’ll be viewed through a sharply partisan prism.
Darren: Assuming there is a Senate trial (and that now is an ‘if’ given the latest brinkmanship), I imagine we’ll be seeing a good bit not just of Schiff but also some of the faces from the Judiciary Committee beyond Chairman Jerry Nadler. Florida Rep. Ted Deutch struck me as someone during the House hearings who articulated the impeachment case well. Another Floridian to watch (OK, maybe I’m showing my native Sunshine State bias here), is Rep. Val Demings, who leaned on her own law enforcement background during the hearings as a former Orlando police chief.
Natasha: Rep. Eric Swalwell’s rounds of witness questioning have gone viral more than once, and the former prosecutor has said he approached the impeachment process like a trial. He’s also one of the few members who sits on both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, so would be one logical choice for an impeachment manager.
There will be a lot of powerful people on the Senate floor during the trial. Who are you most looking forward to hearing from?
Darren: Hard to know who exactly the Trump team puts up but this very well could be the first time we hear anything out of the mouth in public from White House counsel Pat Cipollone. Does he embody the political spirit of his boss and use the kind of firey language we’ve seen in some of his letters to Congress? Or does he take a more lawyerly approach to the trial and work to beat back conviction on the merits of the case? We reported earlier this week the president was looking to have some House GOP members help make his case on the floor too. If that happens we’ll probably get the bonus of seeing Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan — not actually a lawyer, but still a very effective advocate — wearing a suit jacket again.
Anita: Chief Justice John Roberts. He’s charged with overseeing an extremely partisan trial. Some, though, have called his role ceremonial because senators determine their own rules and act as jurors. It’s actually Robert’s day job that may play an even bigger role in the Trump presidency. As Darren writes, the Supreme Court will rule on cases that will determine whether he has to turn over financial records to Congress and whether the president is immune from local and state criminal investigations.
What’s your latest Senate vote prediction?
Kyle: McConnell is actually fighting a two front battle to set up a preferred trial. He’s resisting Pelosi’s pressure to demand a bipartisan process, and he’s resisting Trump’s pressure to call a raft of witnesses to mount a defense and go after his political enemies. Calling witnesses would allow Democrats to do the same, perhaps unlocking new revelations that could be harmful to Trump’s case. If McConnell gets his preferred trial, it’s hard to imagine more than one or two defectors. If there is a trial with witnesses, however, it’s too dangerous to make any predictions about how the politics, and evidence, could swing.
Anita: After Pelosi’s delay, are we sure there will be a trial? More than likely there will be one — albeit a quick trial that will end with Trump remaining in office. I’ll leave the number crunching to others but Trump and McConnell will likely put enormous pressure on Republican senators, including Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney, to stay in line behind the president. Trump allies I spoke to this week told me one of the things the president was happy about this week — on otherwise frustrating week — is that every Republican in the House voted against impeachment while Democrats lost four votes, including Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who switched parties and professed his undying support for Trump.
Darren: My read still has a Senate vote hovering somewhere between 47 to 50 in favor of conviction, but with too many caveats in there to count. It very much feels like the swing votes are going to keep their powder dry as long as they can, especially given the added uncertainty Pelosi has brought to the question of whether a trial will even happen. That probably means the likes of Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins or Ben Sasse making any big news on this front doesn’t happen until after the new year when Congress comes back to town — and even then I can see all of them hanging back until the trial is nearing its end. And now for my usual plug to check out POLITICO’s handy chart that is keeping tabs on this exact question and will be regularly updated as things progress.