Pelosi says she will send impeachment articles once McConnell discloses Senate rules

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she will send articles of impeachment to the Senate “soon,” but still wants to see definitive details from the Senate on how it will conduct the trial.

“Under the Senate rules of 1986, what is allowed for the presentation from the House is one person to speak,” Pelosi told reporters. “So are those the terms? Is that what we should be ready for? Or is there something else that they have in mind?

“All we want to know is, what are the rules? It doesn’t have to mean that we agree to the rules or we have to like the rules. We just want to know what they are,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said.

The Democratic leader’s comment signaled a possible small movement forward in her ongoing standoff with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. She also indicated that she might be ready to send articles to the Senate in the near future.

“I’m not holding them indefinitely. I’ll send them over when I’m ready. That will probably be soon,” she said.

McConnell, meanwhile, told Senate Republicans Thursday that he expected Pelosi to send over the articles of impeachment as soon as Friday, Politico reported.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, ahead of a House vote on a war powers resolution and amid the stalemate surrounding the impeachment of President Trump, speaks during her weekly news conference at the Capitol. (Photo: Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Pelosi’s comments may be an attempt to undermine McConnell’s complaint that the speaker of the House is trying to dictate to the Senate how its trial will go.

“Their turn is over. They’ve done enough damage. It’s the Senate’s turn now to render sober judgment,” McConnell said in a speech last week on the Senate floor.

Pelosi withheld sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate after the House voted to impeach President Trump on Dec. 19, saying she wanted assurances from the Republican leader that he would agree to have witnesses in the Senate trial.

McConnell has been noncommittal about witnesses and said Tuesday that he has enough votes from his 53-member Republican majority to start a trial without resolving that question beforehand.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

A McConnell spokesman said there is no mystery about how the Senate trial will be run under Republican rules, because McConnell has consistently said he wants to have a process based on the 1999 Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. In that trial, the House had 24 hours over three days to make its case but could not introduce any new evidence, and the White House had 24 hours to respond. Senators then had 16 hours, or two days, to ask questions, in writing and submitted to U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the presiding officer at the time. More than one House manager was allowed to speak for the prosecution.

For Pelosi, mere assurances from McConnell are unlikely to be enough. But if McConnell were to provide clear written guidance of what rules he plans to have his Republican senators approve, Pelosi’s comments on Thursday indicate that might be enough to end the stalemate.

If Pelosi does relent, it would come on the heels of growing impatience even among Democratic lawmakers that she end her holdout, as the Senate trial looks increasingly likely to disrupt the ability of leading Democratic presidential candidates to campaign in Iowa ahead of the Feb. 3 caucuses.

A number of Senate Democrats told Politico on Wednesday that they believed Pelosi should send the articles to the Senate. “I respect the fact that she is concerned about the fact about whether or not there will be a fair trial. But I do think it is time to get on with it,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said.

Photo: Tom Brenner /Reuters

Some of those same lawmakers, most prominently Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Thursday morning walked back their comments pressuring Pelosi to move.

Nonetheless, it gave Republicans fodder with which to hit Pelosi.

“Lawmakers in Speaker Pelosi’s own party have no idea what she’s doing,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Whenever Pelosi does decide to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, the full House will have to hold another vote to do so, in order to approve the House managers who will prosecute the case in the Senate, to authorize funding for the costs of the trial and to formally transmit the articles to the Senate, a Pelosi aide said.

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