The decision by Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic House leadership to depart from Washington without resolving whether the Senate trial of the president will even happen is a blunder of potentially serious proportions. It totally undermines everything the Democrats have done narratively for the past several months, embracing their role as defenders of the Constitution against a clear and present danger to its tenets. Instead, impeachment now looks more like an example of that ancient term: a partisan traveshamockery.
Pelosi’s supporters who are hard core Democratic donors and partisans may like this move, since it denies the president the surety of what is almost assuredly going to be a bipartisan vote to acquit him on both charges in the Senate. These are the same people who wanted to extend the process by forcing Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton to testify via the courts, who hold out hope to this day that the Southern District of New York will turn up something on Rudy Giuliani that will make for even more articles of impeachment. They want impeachment now, impeachment tomorrow, impeachment forever – asterisks all the way down.
But for the approximately 30 members who stood with Pelosi to make this tough vote, they don’t want impeachment to extend further into the new year – they want it over as quickly as possible. The narrative argument they can make is obvious: “yes, we voted for impeachment, we had to do it because of the Constitution, but the very next day we proved we could work with the president on trade, and we’ll work with him on prescription drug prices and other issues moving forward.” That’s how they got elected in the first place, after all – and defending those members is what Pelosi has concentrated on. It’s why she didn’t want to do this in the first place.
The idea that Pelosi would hold on to these articles isn’t envisioned in the process or rules. Noah Feldman, who testified for the Democrats during their proceedings, maintains that Trump isn’t actually impeached until the House sends over the articles. It also prompts a host of questions about whether the Senate could hold a trial even if the House does not transmit the Articles of Impeachment. Weird granular debates about legislative rules seems like exactly what’s needed to increase the momentum toward removal, guys – great job.
But Pelosi’s move is also something that makes for an incoherent series of talking points in media appearances. Watch this appearance by Majority Whip James Clyburn on CNN yesterday.
.@johnberman: “Are you suggesting it's possible you will never transmit the articles of impeachment [to the Senate]?”
— New Day (@NewDay) December 19, 2019
He accuses Mitch McConnell of “colluding with the White House”. Jerry Nadler followed on this by saying they can’t be confident McConnell will be a “fair juror”. In other words, their problem with the Senate is that it’s full of Republicans. That’s not an argument that passes muster with anyone with a brain.
On some level, this is Democratic partisans convincing themselves they have some leverage that doesn’t exist. Sean Davis and Mollie Hemingway write:
Preventing people from wasting their time on something that they don’t want to waste their time on is not a victory. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would likely rather do anything other than waste his time on an impeachment process that House Democrats failed to manage well, and said as much on Thursday morning.
Frankly, I’m not anxious to have the trial, if she [Pelosi] thinks her case is so weak she doesn’t want to send it over, throw me into that briar patch,” he told reporters.
Pelosi thinks that holding the articles of impeachment somehow gives her leverage to control how the Senate trial is conducted. But McConnell would probably rather chew gum and confirm judges and keep accomplishing his agenda rather than waste valuable time dealing with an impeachment that has zero chance of resulting in Trump’s removal from office. Pelosi’s threat simply has no weight.”
Republican consultants are ebullient about this latest move. They already thought impeachment was raising their possibility of a very strong performance in 2020 in the House – now, this botched impeachment has them believing Pelosi has put the House back in play. They may be overly optimistic – most consultants are. But it’s not inconceivable. By failing to look to the interests of the 30 Trump-district members first, defending their priorities and holding back the Squad and its followers, Pelosi is entering the closing years of her long career taking an enormous gamble on how this bizarre impeachment path will end in 2020.