Pelosi, McConnell Dig In on Standoff Over Impeachment Trial

Daniel Flatley, Erik Wasson and Steven T. Dennis
Pelosi, McConnell Dig In on Standoff Over Impeachment Trial

(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell deepened their impasse over the terms of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Thursday, as Congress left Washington for the holidays without settling when and how it would take place.

Pelosi surprised many House Democrats Wednesday night after the House impeached Trump when she said she would delay transmitting the articles of impeachment and naming the impeachment managers -- who will argue the House’s case -- until the Senate lays out its procedures for the trial.

“When we see what they have, we’ll know who and how many we will send over,” Pelosi said at a news conference Thursday. Pelosi cast the timing as a procedural matter and cited the Senate’s ability to come up with a bipartisan trial plan after President Bill Clinton was impeached.

McConnell said he’d be happy to adopt the same rules used in Clinton’s trial and scoffed at the idea that Pelosi could pressure the Senate.

“I’m not sure what leverage there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. If Democrats never send over the articles of impeachment, he said, that’s “fine with me.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who met with both Pelosi and McConnell Thursday, has been pressing the Kentucky Republican to agree to let Democrats call as witnesses four Trump administration officials who the president blocked from participating in the House impeachment inquiry.

“Is the president’s case so weak that none of the president’s men can defend him under oath?” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Schumer said he and the speaker are “on the same page. We both want a fair trial.”

McConnell and other GOP senators have been indicating they want a quick trial, with arguments presented by the House managers and Trump’s counsel, without witnesses.

McConnell, Trump and their Republican allies taunted Pelosi over the delay. McConnell said on the Senate floor that Pelosi and House Democrats “may be too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate.” Trump tweeted as Pelosi spoke Thursday morning, saying that “Pelosi feels her phony impeachment HOAX is so pathetic she is afraid to present it to the Senate.”

The House had always planned to wait until after the Senate’s Thursday vote on spending bills before notifying the Senate of impeachment, a step that would force the Senate to drop all other business and take up an impeachment trial. Pelosi didn’t specify what conditions or terms she wanted to see in the Senate trial procedures.

It’s unclear how long Pelosi is willing to hold back the formal impeachment notification from the Senate or the naming of Democratic lawmakers who will represent the House in the Senate trial.

The House will need to pass a resolution naming the impeachment managers and appropriating money for the process before the Senate can begin its trial. Lawmakers left for the holidays Thursday without voting on the resolution.

Although 10 minutes of floor debate is required before adopting the resolution, the House could take this procedural step while lawmakers are away if no member objects, according to a senior Democratic aid. Or it could wait until members return in the first full week of January, the aide said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told reporters he doubts the articles would be held for long, but McConnell needs to provide a fair proceeding in accordance with the oath senators take at the start of the trial.

“Given what Senator McConnell has said about how he is going to be working hand-in-glove with the White House defense counsel, I don’t see how he can take that oath,” he said.

The idea of a delay surfaced from rank-and-file Democrats on Wednesday, who began discussing it with Democratic leaders as the day went on.

“At this point her decision to withhold sending them over is meritorious,” Democratic Representative Jackie Speier said Thursday. “I think this gives the House leverage to make sure this isn’t a kangaroo court.”

McConnell called the House impeachment process rushed and shoddy.

“If the speaker ever gets her house in order, that mess will be dumped in the Senate’s lap,” he said on the Senate floor. “If the nation accepts this, presidential impeachments may cease being a once-in-a-generation event.”

In response, Schumer accused McConnell of hypocrisy for accusing House Democrats of being motivated by partisan rage, when majority leader himself promised a speedy trial and declared he will not be impartial.

McConnell “is planning the most rushed, least thorough” impeachment trial in American history, Schumer said.

--With assistance from Billy House.

To contact the reporters on this story: Daniel Flatley in Washington at dflatley1@bloomberg.net;Erik Wasson in Washington at ewasson@bloomberg.net;Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Laurie Asséo

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.