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Pelosi’s Game of Chicken Will Leave Her Party Fried

The Speaker's claims about wanting a fair trial ring hollow as she delays the inevitable and 2020 Democratic candidates suffer.
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After holding a vote to impeach President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has decided to wait on sending the impeachment articles to the Senate. According to many in the media, this brilliant bit of strategy gives her leverage to force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to provide a fair trial in the Senate.

There’s so many reasons this is wrong, but let’s start with the most obvious: according to the Democrats’ own impeachment witness, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman, Trump isn’t actually impeached until the articles are sent to the Senate, and “an indefinite delay would pose a serious problem.”

“If the House does not communicate its impeachment to the Senate, it hasn’t actually impeached the president. If the articles are not transmitted, Trump could legitimately say that he wasn’t truly impeached at all,” writes Feldman.

There’s no moral victory in the House holding a vote to impeach Trump if Pelosi indefinitely sits on the articles, and she holds no leverage over the Senate because McConnell isn’t interested in holding an impeachment trial, and so long as she twiddles her thumbs, he doesn’t have to.

McConnell can use time that would have been spent on impeachment to confirm another 15 to 20 federal judges to lifetime appointments. He’s already said it’s the transformation of the judiciary that he sees as Trump’s legacy.

“It’s beyond me how the Speaker and Democratic leader in the Senate think withholding the articles of impeachment and not sending them over gives them leverage,” McConnell told reporters after the House passed the articles.

“Frankly, I’m not anxious to have the trial. If she thinks her case is so weak she doesn’t want to send it over, throw me into that briar patch,” McConnell added.

Should the House send the impeachment articles, McConnell has said he wants two resolutions, one to deal with procedure and one for potential witnesses, similar to what Democrats and Republicans agreed to in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.  He is not rejecting witnesses out of hand, but wants each side to present their case before a majority vote is held on witnesses.

But Democrats say they want an agreement on specific witnesses before opening arguments are made. Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued on Monday that the Senate needs to hear from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former advisor John Bolton, especially in light of a newly published New York Times report that both men urged Trump not to withhold the Ukraine aid.

“This shows all four witnesses we requested — [acting White House chief of staff] Mulvaney, Bolton, Duffey, [White House aide Robert] Blair — were intimately involved & had direct knowledge of Pres. Trump’s decision to cut off aid to benefit himself,” Schumer tweeted.

Of course in order to decide  whether or not to impeach, Senators needs to hear from these witnesses.

But Pelosi made this problem for herself. She could have utilized the House subpoena powers to compel these fact witnesses to appear before her chamber, where she makes the rules. She could have allowed the executive privilege claim to be tested in the courts. Instead, she rushed the vote on an artificial timeline “before Christmas,” twisting the arms of members in purple districts and alienating moderate Democrats in the process. There are 30 odd freshmen Democrats who were elected in 2018 in districts Trump carried in 2016. Now they’re getting shouted down at townhalls over their impeachment vote.

All this Pelosi did because she said Trump is a threat to democracy and he is  a threat to national security.

Yet if she believes that, how can she now sit on the very same articles until the Senate agrees to do things her way? Suddenly there is no urgency to impeachment.

The insistence on specific witnesses appearing in the Senate trial also points to the weaknesses in the House case.

Most view it a foregone conclusion that the Republican-controlled Senate will acquit. No leverage is gained in this delay, but the four Democratic senators running for president will be seriously impeded by a delayed trial, given that they face the Iowa caucuses at the beginning of February.

Pelosi has said that Trump, McConnell and Attorney General William Barr have “gone rogue.” But it’s really her belief that she can dictate how impeachment will unfold in the Senate that is roguest of all.