Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Friday that the House of Representatives will send the articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate next week, ending a weeks-long standoff and paving the way for the impeachment trial to begin soon afterward.
“I have asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to be prepared to bring to the Floor next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democratic House members.
Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, confirmed on Twitter that the “articles will go over next week.”
The transmission of the impeachment articles was expected to be a formality, as it was for Bill Clinton’s impeachment — it’s just a procedural step where they’re officially sent over from the House to the Senate.
But shortly after the House voted to impeach Trump on December 18 over his attempt to force Ukraine to investigate one of his political opponents, Pelosi made the surprising announcement that she wasn’t prepared to pass things over to the Senate just yet.
The problem, she said, was that because of comments Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had made about being in lockstep with the White House, she doubted he would hold a “fair trial.” So, she said, she wanted to wait and see what the Senate’s plans were regarding witnesses — or, at the very least, for more information on how the Senate trial would work.
Democrats offered several possible justifications for the move — that it could buy time to obtain more evidence, or that it would put a public spotlight on Republicans’ attempts to restrict the trial.
But most interpreted the move as an attempt to force concessions out of McConnell. The idea was that, since Trump badly wanted to be acquitted, delaying the trial would infuriate him. That indeed happened: Trump was furious. The problem was that McConnell and his Senate majority didn’t budge.
The Senate will decide how to run its trial
In December, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had proposed that the Senate subpoena four current or former administration officials for testimony, including former National Security Adviser John Bolton, as well as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, White House aide Robert Blair, and Office of Management and Budget official Mark Duffey. (All of them have knowledge of Trump’s hold on Ukraine aid.)
McConnell, meanwhile, reportedly wants no witness testimony at all at the trial. But his public position, aimed at winning over swing Republican senators, was more nuanced. He said that the Senate simply won’t decide on witnesses, one way or the other, until after the trial begins — as senators did during Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999. (That trial started with opening arguments and questions from senators, before the chamber voted on a proposal to call witnesses.)
McConnell won over enough of the 53 Senate Republicans with this plan — key swing votes such as Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Mitt Romney (R-UT) backed it. And McConnell announced Tuesday that he had enough Republican votes (at least 51) to move forward with the trial without Democratic support.
This happened despite Monday’s surprising development in which Bolton said he would, in fact, comply with a Senate subpoena for his testimony in Trump’s trial. (Bolton didn’t agree to be interviewed by the House and said he planned to fight any House subpoena in court.)
So by Wednesday, several Democrats in both the House and the Senate made clear in public statements that they thought it was time to move forward (though several of them walked back those statements afterward). Senators from both parties, including several Democratic presidential candidates, wanted more certainty in their schedules. And there was confusion about what Pelosi could reasonably hope to achieve by holding out further.
Finally, then, Pelosi announced it was time to move on, rather than continue to hold out hope of concessions that didn’t appear to be forthcoming. So in the coming days, she’ll choose the impeachment managers — essentially, the “prosecutors” who will make the House’s case against Trump during the trial. And the articles themselves will likely be sent over in the middle of next week, after a vote by the full House, teeing up the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.