House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she would “soon” release articles of impeachment to the Senate amid an increasingly tense standoff and diminishing support among her Democratic allies.
“I’m not holding them indefinitely,” the San Francisco Democrat said. “I’ll send them when I’m ready, and that will probably be soon.”
Pelosi has been holding the articles of impeachment since the House voted in mid-December to impeach President Trump on the grounds that he pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals while withholding U.S. aid to the country. The move pitted Congress’s two most powerful leaders — Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — against each other in a political squabble over one of Congress’ most grave responsibilities.
The articles were expected to go to the Senate immediately after the House vote, but Pelosi held on to them in hopes of giving Democrats some leverage to negotiate more favorable terms in the trial. Democrats want an upfront commitment that the Senate will subpoena witnesses and documents that the Trump administration has refused to hand over.
But Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, have refused to budge. They want to start the trial with opening statements and punt any debate over subpoenas until later.
With Trump’s ultimate fate all but certain in the Senate — Democrats are nowhere close to the 67 votes they would need to remove Trump from office — some Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated with Pelosi’s refusal to transmit the articles.
A handful of Senate Democrats say the best leverage against Republicans will be had once the trial is underway and GOP senators have to vote down Democrats’ requests to subpoena key Trump officials, such as former national security advisor John Bolton or acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who on Tuesday touted to reporters her close friendship with and trust in Pelosi, said Wednesday that holding up the articles diminished the apparent urgency of the House impeachment inquiry.
“The longer it goes on, the less urgent it becomes,” she told Politico. “So if it’s serious and urgent, send them over. If it isn’t, don’t send it over.”
Other Democrats are reluctant to question Pelosi’s strategy, even if they don’t understand it.
“I would not ever tell Nancy Pelosi what to do,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). “When the speaker is ready to send them over, we will do our job.”
Pelosi did not define “soon,” but lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol expected the articles to be transmitted in the coming days.
“People back home, they knew Mitch pretty well,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from McConnell’s home state. “They know Mitch is going to make a political calculation. But I think they also feel, knowing that, you might as well get it over with.”
Democratic leaders say Pelosi’s scheme has already been successful because it has focused attention on what they see as unfair terms of a Senate trial. And during the period in which Pelosi has held the articles, new developments have emerged that could help Democrats’ case.
Bolton, who impeachment witnesses said was critical of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, made a surprise announcement that he would comply with a Senate subpoena, a move that Democrats hoped would put pressure on Senate Republicans to agree to issue one.
“The speaker’s strategy put a bright spotlight on Sen. McConnell’s attempt to cover up President Trump’s abuse of power and allowed pivotal new documents to emerge. And a key witness, John Bolton, who was blocked by Trump from testifying in the House, is now willing to testify to the Senate,” said a senior House Democratic leadership aide. “This has put McConnell and other Republican senators in an impossible position of refusing new evidence and key witness testimony.”
Pelosi said Thursday the delay also might have prevented Republicans from quickly dismissing the articles without a trial, something she said was a possibility.
Others question whether Pelosi’s tactic accomplished anything at all. McConnell has shown no sign of bowing to the pressure. In fact, during the delay he gathered enough GOP votes to pass a pretrial rules package without any Democratic votes. Plus, one of the few Republicans viewed as most likely to buck their party and support impeachment — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voiced frustration with Pelosi keeping the articles.
Like McConnell in the Senate, Pelosi enjoys fierce loyalty from her fellow Democrats. In a sign of that unflinching allegiance, when a House Democratic chairman on Thursday publicly questioned the speaker’s delay strategy, he quickly walked it back.
In the morning on CNN, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) called it “perfectly advisable” for Pelosi to hold the articles for leverage, but “at this point, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.” Now, “it is time” to move them, he said.
Shortly after the interview, however, he sent a tweet saying he “misspoke” and said he “wholeheartedly” supported Pelosi’s decision to hold the articles.
Earlier this week, Pelosi demanded that McConnell release the text of the proposed rules that would govern the Senate trial.
“I’m not responsible to Mitch McConnell or anybody else except my members and the people who have worked so hard on this,” she said.
McConnell has not indicated when he will do so, resisting what he called the House’s attempt to influence the Senate process.
“It is bad enough that House Democrats gave in to the temptation of subjective impeachment that every previous House for 230 years had managed to resist,” McConnell said. “But they do not get to declare that it can never be finished.”