Impeachment Impasse Could Last Weeks
It could take weeks to resolve the impasse between the House and Senate over the procedures to be followed in the Senate trial of President Trump.
Congress is out of town until January 6th, but don’t expect the current impasse between the House and the Senate to be quickly resolved once it does return:
Congress headed toward a long standoff over the parameters of the Senate trial of President Trump as all sides dug in Monday, with Democrats demanding documents and witnesses while Republicans mocked the House’s delay in transmitting the impeachment articles across the Capitol.
Through media appearances, letters and tweets, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) chided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), calling her decision to hold on to the impeachment articles “unfair” and “absurd,” respectively. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, accused White House officials of withholding “highly relevant” documents.
With Congress not slated to return to Washington until Jan. 6, senior officials prepared for a period of several weeks without any resolution.
“We’ll find out when we come back in session where we are,” McConnell told reporters in Louisville.
McConnell also referred Kentucky reporters to comments he made earlier Monday on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends,” accusing Pelosi of holding an “absurd position,” and said she seemed to be trying to tell his chamber how to run a trial.
Since Wednesday’s near-party-line House vote to impeach Trump, Pelosi has declined to formally send the two articles across the Capitol, the first necessary step to begin the trial.
Pelosi wrote in a tweet Monday that the House cannot move forward with choosing impeachment managers for the Senate trial “until we know what sort of trial the Senate will conduct.”
“President Trump blocked his own witnesses and documents from the House, and from the American people, on phony complaints about the House process,” Pelosi tweeted. “What is his excuse now?”
The final outcome of the Senate trial is not in doubt — it would take a two-thirds majority, or at least 67 votes, to convict Trump and remove him from office. A Washington Post analysis shows that 37 Republicans, so far, have announced that they would support Trump and vote to acquit, more than enough to guarantee that outcome.
But Democrats believe they can make it a more difficult vote for Republicans if they can get documents and testimony that have so far been blocked. Schumer has focused on acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton and a pair of budget advisers who played central roles in delaying nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine.
Schumer pressed his case in a letter to Senate colleagues Monday that new documentary evidence needs to be part of the impeachment trial.
In his letter, he said that the House had amassed “a tremendous amount of evidence” in support of impeaching Trump but noted that the president had directed his administration to defy subpoenas for documentary evidence.
“As a result of this directive, the White House, Department of State, Office of Management and Budget and other agencies refused to produce a single document in response to the House’s duly-issued subpoenas,” Schumer wrote.
He said the documents the Senate should seek fall into three categories: “(1) the effort to induce and pressure Ukraine to announce certain political investigations; (2) the withholding of a White House meeting desperately sought by the newly elected President of Ukraine; and (3) the order to hold, and later release, $391 million in military assistance to Ukraine.”
Quite honestly, I am not sure how this impasse will be resolved without one side or the other blinking. Pelosi has taken the position that she will neither name the House Managers who will try the case before the Senate nor send the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate without some clarification and assurances about how the trial will be conducted. Specifically, she’s referring to the desire of Democrats in the House and Senate to be able to call witnesses and present documents that were not part of the inquiries before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Senate Republicans are balking on these requests and basically taking the position that they don’t particularly care if the House delays sending over the Articles of Impeachment.
As I said previously, delaying withholding the Articles of Impeachment is clearly something that the House of Representatives can do. There’s nothing in the Constitution itself that requires the House to immediately send them to the Senate once a final vote has taken place. Moreover, it is clear from the existing Senate rules governing impeachment, which were followed for the impeachments for both 1868 and 1999 of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, provide that the trial in the Senate cannot begin until the upper chamber has received the official Articles of Impeachment, as well as the House Resolution naming the House Managers, from the lower chamber. Senator McConnell has said he would follow these procedures in the Trump impeachment trial, and it would take a majority vote of the Senate to override or rewrite those rules.
All that being said, it’s hard to see what leverage Pelosi really has here. As I’ve observed before, the Senate clearly isn’t eager to start the trial and it’s already clear that the process will ultimately end in acquittal. Additionally, the longer the trial is delayed, the more difficulty it causes for Democratic candidates for President such as Senators Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar, Booker, and Bennet, all of whom will be required to spend two weeks or more off the campaign trail to sit in the Senate as many as six days a week listening to the trial and not really being allowed to make speeches or ask questions on the eve of the beginning of voting in the 2020 campaign. Delaying the matter a few more weeks so it stretches into February clearly would not bother McConnell or any other Senate Republican.
That being said, I am not sure how a move like this will play politically with an American public that remains roughly equally divided on the impeachment and removal issue. On the one hand, the public could side with Democrats who assert that the American people deserve to hear from witnesses who are closest to the President, something that the White House has generally prevented. On the other hand, this could cause the public to just give up on the process entirely and write it all off to a partisan circus in Washington that continues to ignore the needs and concerns of the American public. So far, Pelosi has done a good job of reading public opinion on this matter. The result has been relatively strong support for the actions taken by the House. Overreaching could end up turning into something of a backlash.