Thus endeth one of the most inexplicable, self-inflicted political embarrassments in recent memory. Days after it became clear that no one could figure out what Nancy Pelosi thought she’d gain by delaying the transmission of articles of impeachment, the House Speaker has finally caved to the reality that she has no leverage over a Senate trial:
Pelosi sent out a dear colleagues letter saying they will appoint impeachment managers (the Democratic reps who will get the high-profile gig of making the case against Trump during a senate trial) next week. She’ll consult with her caucus during a Tuesday meeting on next steps.
— Paul McLeod (@pdmcleod) January 10, 2020
BREAKING: In letter to colleagues, Speaker Pelosi says she has asked Chairman Nadler "to be prepared to bring to the" US House floor "next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate." https://t.co/kdrUxk2XiK
— NBC News (@NBCNews) January 10, 2020
That’s a rather abrupt reversal. Earlier in the day, Pelosi had been more defiant and less inclined to discuss the matter. She told CNN’s Haley Byrd that she wouldn’t send them over today, and wouldn’t commit to sending them at all:
And Pelosi makes if official. She tells reporters NO vote on naming impeachment managers today.
“No,” she said, per @byrdinator
Asked about when she will make announcement about sending articles, Pelosi says: “I’ll be communicating with my members, and perhaps we’ll see that.”
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 10, 2020
At this point, Bloomberg reports, no one’s clear as to why Pelosi kept delaying the transmission of the articles — not even her fellow Democrats. Her allies on Capitol Hill are “stumped” as to what Pelosi thinks she’s gaining out of the delay:
Lawmakers expect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will soon end her delay of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial without any notable concessions from Senate Republicans, leaving her allies stumped about her strategy in the three-week standoff.
Senior Democrats in the House insisted publicly that the speaker has given them no hints on timing for sending the two articles of impeachment over to the Republican-controlled Senate, the step that would trigger an immediate opening of the historic impeachment trial.
Amid speculation about her rationale and expressions of exasperation from Democrats in the House and Senate — delivered almost exclusively on condition of anonymity — Pelosi offered only cryptic clues.
Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) suggested that maybe impeachment is enough:
“I can honestly say that I was inundated for the last six to eight months with demands that I vote to impeach,” said Representative Gerald Connolly of Virginia, a House Foreign Affairs Committee member. But he added, “I did not have a single constituent in the last two and one-half weeks approach me and say you have to deliver those articles of impeachment.”
What is Connolly saying — that Pelosi may have never planned on sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate? What about the fierce urgency of now in dealing with Trump? If that’s the plan, then House Democrats should have simply dealt with this in the upcoming presidential election. The longer this goes, the more ridiculous that argument becomes, which is probably why Senate Democrats are so mystified about Pelosi’s intent at the moment.
That leads to another interpretation of Connolly’s observation would be that the delay has made voters aware that the urgency argument was nonsense all along. That makes impeachment look like just another Beltway partisan point-scoring exercise, in an environment where voters have already tired of establishment self-absorption. Even Democratic constituents are losing interest in impeachment and a Senate trial, at least if one credits Connolly’s observation as meaningful.
Pelosi must have finally figured out that even her public leverage was dissipating. The Guardian’s Thomas Meaney writes that the delay is only making Trump stronger, and making Democrats look weaker and more partisan:
Either way, the circling tactic appears doomed to fail. Even if they are armed with court orders to make crucial witnesses appear, the Democrats cannot deny Trump his favourite resource – sensational television – for much longer without wearying the public’s patience and taking the sting out of their original intent to remove him.
In 2001, the historian Perry Anderson argued that critics of US empire should have embraced the impeachment of Bill Clinton: any body blow against the imperial presidency was surely something good for the rest of the world. Today, liberals and legal scholars argue that impeachment will at least weaken the forward march of Trumpism, much as Clinton’s impeachment supposedly hobbled his chosen successor, Al Gore. The trouble is that the impeachment of Clinton resulted in the opposite of presidential impairment: his approval reached an all-time postwar high of 73% during his Senate trial. …
Trump may not enjoy a popularity bump like Clinton’s during his own Senate carnival, even with McConnell as ringmaster. But however much less mystique Americans attach to their presidents since Nixon and Clinton, the office still retains an aura. For the Democrats to set themselves against it, instead of concentrating their fire on an electoral victory in November, could further inflate the executive.
So what made her change her mind today? Mitch McConnell just threatened to set the timer on her delay strategy by signing onto Josh Hawley’s proposed rule change:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is backing a resolution to change the Senate’s rules to allow for lawmakers to dismiss articles of impeachment against President Trump before the House sends them over.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced on Thursday that McConnell has signed on as a co-sponsor to the resolution, which he introduced earlier this week. …
Changing the rules would either require a two-thirds vote or for Republicans to deploy the “nuclear” option.
The resolution would give the House 25 days to send articles of impeachment over to the Senate. After that, a senator could offer a motion to dismiss “with prejudice for failure by the House of Representatives to prosecute such articles” with a simple majority vote, according to Hawley’s proposal.
The “nuclear” option is no longer as nuclear as it used to be, thanks to Harry Reid’s deployment of it in 2013. It is now precedential, allowing the majority to change the rules on the minority at whim. McConnell would likely prefer not to use this option — Republicans can vote for dismissal at the end of the presentment under the existing rules anyway — but this is a reminder that McConnell has all the leverage in this situation, and Pelosi has none at all, no matter what she’s telling her caucus these days.
And now she’s finally figured it out. Be prepared to read a lot about how Pelosi somehow made a point with this stunt, but if she did, it wasn’t the one she intended. Her own colleagues are still scratching their heads over this one.