“We’ve upped the ante on this,” Nancy Pelosi told Molly Ball, but unfortunately for her, Mitch McConnell called her bluff. By holding onto the articles of impeachment, Pelosi had hoped to dictate the terms of the Senate trial, or at least to paint it as hopelessly partisan. Either way, Pelosi and Chuck Schumer thought they could potentially buffalo a handful of McConnell’s caucus into handing them control of the impeachment trial proceedings.

Instead, Pelosi’s gambit has undermined the argument that impeachment was so urgent that the House couldn’t wait to get it done. Now, Politico reports, Pelosi’s looking for an off-ramp from the box canyon she inadvertently entered:

HERE’S WHAT’S CLEAR if you talk to House and Senate Democratic insiders: Speaker NANCY PELOSI is on the brink of ending her hold of the impeachment articles. The House is going to send them to the Senate in the near future, which will trigger the trial, most likely in the next few weeks. PELOSI has not given any hints of exactly when she might start this process, but we were told late Wednesday night this is coming soon.

THE LEFT WAS CLAMORING for PELOSI to hold the articles, in an attempt to get Senate Majority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL to agree to witnesses. He didn’t — and most people realized he never would.

That’s not keeping them from upping the spin after losing the ante:

PELOSI ALLIES, though, say they forced a weekslong public discussion on impeachment trial witnesses, and whether MCCONNELL should be forced to guarantee them.

HERE’S WHAT A SENIOR DEM AIDE TOLD US: “The hold was clearly successful. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but a huge part of what we wanted was a national spotlight on the fairness of the trial. There’s no question we achieved that.”

Well, they can certainly tell themselves that, but that didn’t pan out like they’d hoped, either. McConnell had the better argument on fairness right out of the gate by proposing that the Senate use the same rules as in the 1998-9 impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. Those rules defer the debate over witnesses until after the case is presented, where McConnell argues the debate belongs. Why would the Senate commit to specific witnesses when the case might not require them or they may end up not being relevant to the trial?

Pelosi and Schumer had no answer for that, other than to claim that this trial is “different.” It is — it’s based on no specific crime at all, with no direct evidence or testimony even to an abuse of power. It’s entirely deficient in that regard because the House rushed through the process rather than allow the courts to determine questions about witnesses and executive privilege, questions which a Senate trial will inevitably raise as well. The attempts by Pelosi and especially Schumer to rush to media microphones to demand different rules before even engaging McConnell on the question demonstrate a clear case of projection in their claims about partisanship and lack of credibility in the process.

That’s why their strategy “crumbled,” as Jake Sherman writes:

DEMOCRATS WERE COMPLETELY UNIFIED UNTIL WEDNESDAY, when Senate Democrats crumbled in a stunning story by BURGESS EVERETT and HEATHER CAYGLE … Read the story. (BTW … Consider that Pelosi’s 232 Democrats stuck together for a few weeks, and Senate Democratic support crumbled within days.)

Er, might that not be because House Democrats had control of the impeachment process and Senate Democrats don’t? And might that not be because Pelosi could rally her caucus around the fierce urgency of now while Senate Dems suffered from severe cognitive dissonance when told that the fierce urgency of now required them to, er, wait indefinitely?

Anyway, while telling Time’s Molly Ball that she’s “upped the ante,” now she’s desperately trying to negotiate a face-saving exit from the standoff:

Just show them to me whatever they are is a far cry from demanding that McConnell allow her to approve the rules. This doesn’t make much sense anyway, since the rules were first published in 1999 when they got approved 100-0, including an enthusiastic vote from Chuck Schumer at the time. If Pelosi wants to read the rules, she can check the Congressional Record. Or simply wait for McConnell to pass them in the upper chamber this week or next.

Upping the ante only works when you have a winning hand. When you’re bluffing, you wind up losing your shirt, or in this case, your face.