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Pelosi says she won’t send impeachment articles to the Senate just yet

The speaker said she wants to know more about what the process will look like in the Senate.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds a press conference after the House passed articles of Impeachment against President Donald Trump on December 18, 2019.
Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

After overseeing the votes to impeach President Trump Wednesday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a few next steps to take: naming impeachment managers to make her case in the Senate and transmitting the approved articles of impeachment to that upper chamber.

Except, Pelosi announced at a press conference after the votes, she’s not going to do either of those things just yet.

Voicing concern about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s willingness to hold a fair trial, Pelosi announced for the first time that she might not, in fact, be in a rush to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate. She said instead she wanted to hear more about how the Senate planned to conduct the trial first.

“We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” Pelosi said. (Impeachment managers are members of the House who will serve, essentially, as prosecutors against Trump in the Senate trial. And to be clear, Pelosi technically can name them now; she is making a strategic decision not to do it yet.)

The move is an apparent adoption of an unusual strategy backed by Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe in a recent Washington Post op-ed — that Democrats should impeach Trump, but hold back on sending the articles to the Senate, to avoid a hasty acquittal or dismissal of the charges engineered by McConnell.

At the press conference, Pelosi criticized comments McConnell made on Fox News last week that suggested he was very much in the tank for Trump. “Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel,” McConnell said then. “There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this.

“It’s up to the senators to make their own decision working together” on how to run the trial, Pelosi said. “Hopefully in recognition that there are witnesses the president withheld from us, there are documents the president withheld from us, and I would hope that information would be available to go to a trial, to the next step.”

Asked if she could guarantee she’d send over the impeachment articles to the Senate at all, Pelosi said, “That would have been our intention, but we’ll see what happens over there.” She also said she hopes she’ll get more information from the Senate “soon.”

It’s an intriguing move. But what, exactly it will mean in practice is very far from clear. Practically, other legal experts aren’t sure Pelosi can really put off a trial in the Senate now that the House has voted to impeach Trump — the Senate could arguably just choose to begin it without her say-so.

This is apparently an attempt to play hardball with McConnell to get him to agree to a fairer process. But it’s unclear whether Pelosi truly does have any leverage over McConnell and Senate Republicans, the key decision makers here. They’re not necessarily eager to hold this trial. And while President Trump surely wants to be officially “acquitted,” he likely wouldn’t want to make any concessions to Democrats to get there.