It is one of the most obvious cases in history of presidential wrongdoing. It jumped into rank criminality the minute Trump asked another country’s leader to investigate Joe Biden. Yet Sen. Mitch McConnell describes Nancy Pelosi as full of fear to bring him “so shoddy a case.” Similarly his House GOP counterpart, Kevin McCarthy, describes her as embarrassed to move impeachment forward.
The American public may not know much but they know Pelosi doesn’t operate out of fear or embarrassment. The feeble nature of the GOP’s excuses has elevated the Speaker of the House into a prime role though legally she doesn’t have much influence into the doings of the Senate.
Yet now as her Christmas present to the nation she represents a firm roadblock, since she will not move the articles of impeachment forward or name the House managers (prosecutors) until after New Year’s. She will be accused of playing politics but she is merely pitting Trump, who desperately wants the trial to proceed, against McConnell, who claims he doesn’t care if it never gets to his chambers.
Trump hoped for swift vindication by the Senate. Well, acquittal is still likely given the two-thirds for conviction rule. But swift is gone. And it only takes a simple majority to set the rules of the road. The Republicans hold 53 seats; the Democrats and independents 47.
There is as yet no real delay, so Republicans can’t claim that Pelosi was stalling the desired effort of the House to get Trump out of Dodge before sundown. No, McConnell had always indicated the Senate wouldn’t take up the trial until January. He was lackadaisical from the start. So he now has given Pelosi the entire holiday season to delay putting him in control. And that leaves the president twisting in the wind about when she will do the deed.
All she’s saying to McConnell, after the House invested its blood into its impeachment process, that the representatives have a right to know the outlines of the Senate process. So she’s waiting on him before sending over the articles and picking the managers as the process requires. “When we see what they have, we will know who and how many we will send over,” she said.
She pointedly added in case Mitch didn’t get the message: “I don’t think anybody expected that we would have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.”
The clever lady has imposed some interesting wrinkles on the Senate. Public polls indicate Republican supporters want to see witnesses (they are certainly being pressured in that direction) or else it’s hard to call it a trial. Trump wants to see the Bidens plus Schiff and even Pelosi, though what they have to do with the actual case (except as objects of insults) is unclear.
Sen. Charles Schumer and the Democrats want to see Mulvaney, Bolton and some other direct witnesses, while I and others in the public would like to hear from Pompeo who was on the call and the White House lawyer who weirdly moved the still unreleased recording (Trump mislabels his account as a transcript) to a key-code protected server.
Expect Trump’s actual henchmen to do some twisty legalistic maneuvering to refuse a call to testify at the Senate, which could actually come not just through a vote of the majority but through the presiding justice, Supreme Court chief John Roberts. Unless these henchmen have exculpatory evidence (Pelosi carefully explained to the sometimes illiterate Trump that exculpatory meant evidence that would clear him) they don’t want to testify, and no one thinks they have any such thing. So refusal just underlines the obstruction of justice charge in the articles of impeachment.
It’s a box of poisoned cookies though Mitch thinks he holds the antidote. Traditionally the majority leader sets the rules, but is Roberts’ rules of order only ceremonial? It was in the past, but the chief justice could change things if he insists.
Mitch is in charge only as long as he controls the majority. The senators who have now gone home for the holidays traditionally hear a little bit directly of what people are thinking. If the people are loudly thinking they would like to hear testimony, the pressure on the senators puts pressure on Mitch. He will seek to ignore all that, convincing the impetuous president to listen to him while doing the same dance with the senators.
He may not ditch his master plan, but Pelosi has made sure the decision is no longer his alone. She has set him up for a nightmare holiday season.