Pelosi: No articles for McConnell until he explains himself, or something

Normally, a briar-patch strategy only works once. Mitch McConnell seems to be getting a whole lotta mileage out of his use of the tactic with Nancy Pelosi. McConnell locked up enough votes to use the 1999 Bill Clinton impeachment-trial rules for the impeachment of Donald Trump and has begun preparations to pass them quickly. Despite this, Pelosi keeps trying to use leverage she just doesn’t have, pledging to keep holding onto the articles until McConnell allows her to approve the process:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Democrats in a closed-door meeting Tuesday that she will not send articles of impeachment to the Senate until she learns more about how the chamber would conduct a potential trial, according to three people present for her remarks who were not authorized to comment publicly.

The news came hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Republicans have enough votes to proceed with President Trump’s impeachment trial with no agreement with Democrats on witnesses.

At some point, perhaps a constitutional scholar will explain to the House Speaker that she has no role in setting Senate rules, just as the Senate has no role in setting the House’s. She should be grateful for that; plenty of Senate Republicans objected to the kangaroo court Adam Schiff conducted to produce these articles of impeachment. The objections got so heated that pressure got put on Lindsey Graham to conduct a parallel set of hearings to deconstruct the Schiff Show, which he declined to do.

Pelosi tried to claim that using the same rules as in the earlier impeachment trial would not be “fair” at all:

“Sadly, Leader McConnell has made clear that his loyalty is to the President and not the Constitution,” Pelosi wrote in the letter to colleagues. “Leader McConnell has insisted that the approach under consideration is identical to those of the Clinton trial and that ‘fair is fair.’ This is simply not true. This process is not only unfair but designed to deprive Senators and the American people of crucial documents and testimony. Under the Clinton trial, witnesses were deposed.”

Yes, in fact they did depose witnesses. However, they voted on those witnesses after the trial started, which those rules allowed — and which they will allow in this case as well. Senate Republicans made that point repeatedly yesterday while citing the 1999 trial as a precedent for allowing the presentation first before deciding whether further testimony is necessary. “The process moved to a period during which the Senate debated and voted that three witnesses should be deposed,” Susan Collins noted when endorsing McConnell’s position on Monday night. “I believe that this process — the Clinton approach — worked well.”

Unfortunately for Pelosi, patience has run thin even on her side of the aisle. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) declared that “the time is past” for a delay tactic, and that Pelosi “should send the articles over.” Other Senate Democrats grumbled on background over the delay and Pelosi’s failure to grasp defeat.

As I wrote in my column for The Week, McConnell outplayed Pelosi, mainly because Pelosi never had the leverage she assumed she had:

Twenty years ago, then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) proposed those rules, working with both Senate Republicans and the White House, and got them passed 100-0. Among those voting to approve the rules was newly minted Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), now Senate minority leader, who also used those rules to vote for a dismissal at the end of the presentment. “I hope a trial doesn’t go forward,” Schumer said at the time, pledging to “explore every possible way to avoid a trial.” When a dismissal failed, the Senate held a series of votes on witnesses and procedures that largely broke along party lines, but in the end Clinton got acquitted on a bipartisan vote and the trial was largely considered credible.

For the past three weeks, McConnell has challenged Democrats to explain why those rules wouldn’t apply to Trump just as well as Clinton. Why not look at the case first before deciding whether to call more witnesses? Until Monday, neither Schumer nor House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had an answer for McConnell’s question that would have moved any of his caucus — until Bolton’s surprise announcement. …

Republicans view the articles of impeachment as the partisan fruit of a poisoned process, an impression no doubt fueled by Pelosi’s attempts to withhold their transmission to force concessions out of McConnell. In fact, Murkowski specifically referenced the House delaying action while discussing her decision to vote in support of McConnell’s plan. When asked about Bolton’s testimony, Murkowski said that issue should be taken up after the House presents the case to the Senate, adding, “So do you have any interesting news for me on that? Like when we might be able to get articles?”

McConnell didn’t waste any time after getting Collins and Murkowski on board, and later getting a renewed pledge of support from Mitt Romney as well. The rules package will likely pass on a strict party-line vote in contrast with Republican cooperation with Daschle 21 years ago. That too will likely sit poorly with the GOP majority after watching the House rush through its investigation to reach its predetermined conclusions. They may vote to allow witnesses to testify, but it seems very unlikely that anyone in the Senate will change their minds on removal now. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Pelosi can hold onto the articles of impeachment for as long as she wants, as far as Mitch McConnell is concerned. The longer this goes on, the more it overlaps with the Democratic primaries, and the more nakedly partisan it looks. The more nakedly partisan it looks, the easier it will be for Senate Republicans to pass a motion for dismissal. That briar patch will produce bumper crops in 2020.

Update: I forgot to include this in the original post, but this is what Senate Dems should be telling Nancy Pelosi.

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