Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., suggested Wednesday that she could indefinitely delay sending the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the upper chamber until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., concedes to the Democratic Party’s request for a “fair trial."
In an historic vote, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of justice Wednesday. While the vote was mostly drawn across party lines, more House members voted to impeach Trump than either of the other two presidents previously impeached.
But the two parties are at an impasse on how to proceed with Trump’s Senate trial. McConnell wants a speedy trial with no witnesses, while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has called for a weekslong trial with new witnesses. Democrats have also criticized McConnell, who has vowed to coordinate the trial with the White House and said he will not be an “impartial juror.”
“This is what I don’t consider a fair trial,” Pelosi said Wednesday.
Pelosi added that she would not send the articles of impeachment to the Senate unless McConnell agrees to a “fair” trial.
“We will make our decision as to when we are going to send it when we see what they are doing on the Senate side,” she continued. “So far, we have not seen anything that looks fair to us.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., told The New York Times that dozens of Democrats want Pelosi to hold off on sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate out of concern that McConnell would not conduct a fair trial.
“What is gained by accelerating this process?” he asked, adding that Democrats should “let the speaker work her magic” to “get some sort of assurance — if it’s possible — that there will be a level playing field.”
Pelosi said Wednesday that the House would not appoint impeachment managers to prosecute the case in the Senate until the Democrats’ conflict with McConnell is resolved.
“We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side, and I would hope that would be soon,” she said.
But some Democrats have also urged Pelosi not to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate at all, where Trump is all but guaranteed to be acquitted. Pelosi has not ruled that out, according to The Times.
The Times reported that House leaders are not seriously considering that option, but House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., the No. 3 Democrat in the House, told CNN Thursday that he would not send the articles of impeachment to the Senate at all.
“As long as it takes. Even if — if he doesn’t come around to committing to a fair trial, keep those articles here,” Clyburn said. "So keep it as long as it takes."
“Are you suggesting it’s possible you will never transmit the articles of impeachment?” CNN host John Berman asked.
“If it were me, yes, that’s what I’m saying,” Clyburn replied. "I have no idea what the speaker will do.”
Given that McConnell has broad power to determine the scope of the trial and can amend the format with a simple majority vote, it is unclear how much leverage Democrats actually have. Democrats would need four Republican defectors to vote to approve their proposed version of the trial. McConnell, for one, does not appear to be concerned.
“This might be the greatest compliment McConnell has ever received,” Josh Holmes, a senior adviser to McConnell, tweeted . “They are seriously entertaining holding a grenade with the pin pulled rather than facing what happens when they send it over McConnell’s wall.”
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell accused Democrats of being “too afraid” to send their “shoddy work” to the Senate.
"Prosecutors are getting cold feet in front of the entire country and second-guessing whether they even want to go to trial," McConnell said, calling the Democrats’ impeachment effort “the most rushed, least thorough and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history.”
"They said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process, but now they want to sit on their hands," McConnell added. "This is really comical."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused Democrats of “Constitutional extortion” by withholding the articles of impeachment from the Senate.
“If House Dems refuse to send Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for trial it would be a breathtaking violation of the Constitution, an act of political cowardice, and fundamentally unfair to President,” he tweeted.
But House Democrats rallied behind Pelosi’s decision Thursday, according to The Hill.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who sits on the Intelligence Committee, told the outlet that Pelosi’s strategy was a “very wise decision on her part.”
"I think it gives her leverage; it gives the House leverage in terms of making sure that it's not going to be a kangaroo court over there," she said. "If, in fact, they intend to not be an impartial reviewer of the facts, then it becomes a joke. And we're not party to a joke."
Schumer responded to McConnell’s remarks complaining about the rushed impeachment vote by claiming that McConnell was “plotting the most rushed, least thorough and most unfair impeachment trial in modern history.”
“House Democrats cannot be held responsible for the cravenness of the House Republican caucus and their blind fealty to the president,” he said, adding that McConnell’s claim that the impeachment was “motivated by partisan rage” was ironic given that he bragged, “I am not impartial, I have no intention to be impartial at all.”
“What hypocrisy,” Schumer said. “Leader McConnell accused the House Democrats of an obsession to get rid of President Trump. This from the man who proudly declared his No. 1 goal was to make President Obama a one-term president.”
Schumer said McConnell’s plan to “prevent House managers from calling witnesses to prove their case is a dramatic break from precedent . . . Never has there been a presidential impeachment trial in which the majority prevented the House managers from fairly presenting their case, to have witnesses.”
“Will Leader McConnell, breaking precedent, strong-arm his caucus into making the first Senate impeachment trial of the president in history that heard no witnesses?” he asked.