Pelosi calls for fair Senate trial, does not reject withholding articles of impeachment
WASHINGTON — Just minutes after impeaching President Trump, and just steps from where that historic vote took place, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised House Democrats for upholding their constitutional duty and called on the Senate, and its Republican leaders, to do the same.
Standing with six party leaders beneath a portrait of George Washington in an ornate Capitol room, Pelosi praised the “moral courage” of House Democrats, who used their majority in that chamber to affirm two articles of impeachment against Trump, one for abusing power and another for obstructing a congressional investigation. She called it a “great day” for the U.S. Constitution, though also a sad one for the nation.
Careful not to appear jubilant on the House floor as the articles of impeachment were ratified, the Democratic leaders used their press conference to further argue that Congress had done nothing more than exercise its authority to check the executive branch.
“We have done as the framers would have us do,” said Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the House Intelligence Committee chairman and a leader of the impeachment inquiry.
Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the House Judiciary Committee chairman and another prominent figure in the impeachment effort, put the matter even more bluntly: “A president must not be allowed to become a dictator.”
The next step in the impeachment inquiry is for the two articles to be referred to the Senate, which will then hold a trial, with all 100 senators acting as the jury. That chamber is controlled by Republicans, albeit narrowly.
Still, the Senate’s majority party will set the trial’s ground rules, just as Democrats have set the rules for the House stage of the impeachment inquiry. Worrying that Senate Republicans will in effect try to nullify the work House Democrats have done, some proponents of the impeachment effort have urged in recent days that House Democrats not send those articles until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agrees to what Democrats could credibly regard as a fair trial.
McConnell has openly said that he is “coordinating” trial planning with the office of White House counsel Pat Cipollone. He has, for example, declared that the trial would have no witnesses. House impeachment witnesses proved roundly damaging to Trump’s version of events.
McConnell said in a tweet that he would speak about Trump’s impeachment in a Senate floor address on Thursday morning.
Speaking at the press conference following the impeachment vote, the Democratic leaders did not say they would withhold articles of impeachment, but they also left that possibility open. Were they to do so, Trump would find himself in an uncomfortable legal limbo, impeached by the House but not acquitted by the Senate.
Schiff said the “trial should be fair to the president, yes, but should be fair also to the American people.” Schiff elaborated by saying that it was imperative to hear from witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, who was reportedly critical of the Ukraine pressure campaign that is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, who in a disastrous October press conference seemed to confirm Democratic suspicions instead of dispel them.
Schiff also called for the release of documents from the State Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Political appointees at both the State Department and the budget office were involved in the alleged effort to pressure new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing investigations that could help Trump’s reelection prospects.
Pelosi sounded notes identical to Schiff’s. “So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us,” she said. She implied that she would not name impeachment managers, who prosecute the case before the Senate, until McConnell comes up with a satisfactory trial framework.
But in the end, the House speaker was more interested in talking about her chamber, the House, than she was in speculating about the Senate, even if the handoff of the impeachment articles is bound to prove one of the more sensitive moments of the entire impeachment process.
“We have done what we have set out to do,” Pelosi said.
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