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House managers help deliver the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
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The old-school pomp and circumstance of impeachment, briefly explained

Yes, the House still hand-delivers articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Because Congress is a body that loves its arcane rules and traditions, the opening act of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial began with a literal procession on Wednesday — a precedent first set during Andrew Johnson’s administration in 1868.

As part of this formality, the seven House impeachment managers solemnly formed a line to walk the articles of impeachment, effectively a sheaf of papers enclosed in two folders, over from the lower chamber to the Senate side of the Capitol.

The articles placed on a table to be signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Astrid Riecken/Washington Post/Getty Images

The managers, as Vox’s Andrew Prokop writes, will serve as the equivalent of prosecutors in the impeachment trial, continuing to make the case that Trump should be removed from office over his attempt to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, and over his administration’s stonewalling of Congress’s inquiry into that matter.

They will be led by House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (CA); the other members are House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (NY) and five Democrats chosen for their litigation experience: Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (NY), Val Demings (FL), Jason Crow (CO), Sylvia Garcia (TX), and Zoe Lofgren (CA).

Their march, two by two across the Capitol, took place following an “engrossment ceremony” for the articles, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the measures using a set of commemorative pens.

“When the managers walk down the hall, we will cross a threshold in history, delivering articles of impeachment against the president of the United States for abuse of power and obstruction of the House,” she said before the procession.

Pelosi signing the impeachment articles against Trump, with charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Astrid Riecken/Washington Post/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, D.C. - JANUARY 15: Pens are placed on a table for
Pens are placed on a table for House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi to sign the impeachment articles of U.S. President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in Washington, D.C, January 15, 2020.
Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Of course, all this pomp and circumstance wasn’t just about tradition. The march of the articles also enabled House Democrats to have a made-for-TV moment as they concluded their work on the impeachment inquiry. The visuals, as lawmakers quietly strode across the Capitol’s statuary hall, underscored the seriousness of their endeavor.

Leading Wednesday’s procession were House Clerk Cheryl Johnson, who’s in charge of record-keeping for the lower chamber, and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, who heads the body’s law enforcement. Johnson announced the notice of impeachment once the group had arrived in the Senate chamber, where it was received by Sen. Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore of the Senate (a lawmaker who oversees Senate sessions).

This tradition marks the House officially handing over the reins for the Senate impeachment trial.

House Clerk Cheryl Johnson and House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving led the impeachment managers as they walked to the Senate.
Melina Mara/Washington Post/Getty Images

Next up: the official reading of the articles

The articles of impeachment won’t be read on the Senate floor until Thursday afternoon: As dictated by the Senate’s rules, the upper chamber has some leeway to set the time for when it wants to officially hear the impeachment managers “exhibit the articles” after it has been notified about them.

Prior to their physical delivery, there had been some concern about whether the Senate would accept the articles of impeachment on Wednesday, because of the timeline it had determined. According to the Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had suggested that the Senate rules barred the formal delivery of the articles at that time.

At one point, BuzzFeed’s Paul McLeod wondered whether the Senate’s stance could require lawmakers to comically walk back the impeachment articles after they had been physically delivered.

Instead, the symbolic march of the articles still took place, though the Senate won’t officially receive the articles until Thursday, when House members return to the chamber to present them. There will, naturally, be another procession to highlight this moment.

For the article reading, a representative of the House impeachment managers, likely Schiff, will take the Senate floor around noon. At 2 pm, Chief Justice John Roberts, who will oversee the trial, will be sworn in by Grassley, and then he’ll go on to swear the hundred senators in as jurors.

Their oath, as Democrats have repeatedly emphasized, calls on lawmakers to commit to serving as impartial jurors. The trial will begin in earnest with opening statements from both the managers, and President Donald Trump’s defense counsel on Tuesday.

Many of the formalities in the impeachment trial were established by past proceedings

Andrew Johnson’s impeachment process, the first to take place in US history, has helped establish many of the rules and traditions that Congress will continue to adhere to during this trial. The Constitution, though it offers a broad outline about what an impeachment consists of, has left many of the granular details open to interpretation by the two chambers.

Since Johnson’s impeachment, just one other president — Bill Clinton — has undergone the same process, roughly 20 years ago. (President Richard Nixon resigned before he was officially impeached by the full House of Representatives.) Trump now becomes the third sitting president in US history to face an impeachment trial.

The march of the articles itself is a nod to the time these measures were transmitted by foot in the 1800s. As the Washington Post’s Avi Selk and Maura Judkis report, the route across the Capitol has stayed the same:

The procession followed a route first laid out on Feb. 25, 1868, one day after the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. That time the bills were delivered to the Senate by Rep. Thaddeus Stevens (R-Pa.), who was so weak from an illness that attendants had to carry him through the Capitol in a chair.

“Every eye followed Thad Stevens as he limped down the center aisle of the crowded Senate chamber,” David O. Stewart wrote in his book “Impeached.”

Among the additional rules that have already been conveyed to lawmakers this time around: Senators will be barred from using cellphones inside the chamber, and each person will be allocated a cubby and charger while the trial is underway, Politico reports. Additionally, there could be heightened restrictions on the press, limiting reporters’ — and Americans’ — access to senators during these proceedings.

Expect more formalities yet to come.


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