Pelosi's impeachment endgame
Don't worry, America. There will be an impeachment trial for President Trump in the U.S. Senate — and it will happen sooner rather than later.
Yes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is spending the holidays hoarding the articles of impeachment and refusing to formally transmit them to the Senate. She is instead using them as leverage to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) into adopting rules that gives Democrats a chance to call witnesses like acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Advisor John Bolton.
"As long as it takes," House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told CNN last week. "Even if he (McConnell) doesn't come around to committing to a fair trial, keep those articles here."
That won't work for long, though, and Pelosi surely knows it.
For one thing, McConnell is unique among politicians in resisting pressure to do anything he doesn't want to do. The man who denied a Supreme Court confirmation hearing to Merrick Garland isn't going to get stressed or offer concessions to Pelosi because Democrats try to pressure him on impeachment. The trial will be held how he wants it held, and Pelosi — who has demonstrated she knows how to use power better than just about anybody else in Washington — understands that.
It's also unlikely that Pelosi herself really wants to drag out the process. Remember: She was the original architect of the quick and narrow approach to Trump's impeachment, overseeing a process that wrapped up in just a few short months, and which was restricted to just two charges against the president.
"How much drama can the American people handle?" she asked The Atlantic in October. "Where does the law of diminishing returns set in? Where is the value added not worth the time?"
Pelosi is anything but fickle, so we can expect that logic to guide her thinking still. The holidays are a natural time to take a break from impeachment proceedings anyway — this delay isn't really a delay, because everybody in Congress is headed back to their districts — but you can expect Pelosi will allow the process to move forward shortly after Congress returns from its winter break.
That isn't to say Pelosi's strategy is a failure. No, she won't get the witnesses that Democrats want, but the short delay allows her to highlight the Senate GOP's determination to acquit Trump on the impeachment charges, no matter what the evidence shows. McConnell will get the trial he wants, but Pelosi has ensured Republicans will pay a cost for doing so.
That approach will result in Trump keeping the Oval Office, though — at least until the 2020 election. Once the Senate trial ends, what should Democrats in Congress do next?
They can keep on investigating Trump's malfeasance — there is surely much more to be found and understood — and presenting their findings to the public. But they should understand that the impeachment of President Trump is a one-shot deal, and that there will be no second bite at the apple. If Americans cannot handle a drawn-out impeachment process, they also will not tolerate repeated impeachment attempts. This is it. Which means, as my David Faris wrote last week, that American voters will ultimately judge Trump's political fate and "decide how they wish to see the next several decades of American history unfold."
Give Pelosi credit, though, for her mastery of this impeachment process. It started when she wanted it to start, and not a moment before. It has taken as long as she wanted, and not a moment longer. And even if the process does not directly product Trump's removal from office, Pelosi and House Democrats have succeeded at ensuring there is a black mark on his official record. But the time has come to move forward. Pelosi's impeachment delay won't last long.
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