House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not commit on Wednesday to sending the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the Republican-held Senate, a surprise move that injects new uncertainty into Congress’ timeline of the President’s trial in the chamber.
“That would have been our intention, but we’ll see what happens over there,” Pelosi said at a post-impeachment vote news conference Wednesday night when asked about sending over the articles.
Some progressives have urged Democratic leaders to withhold the articles until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, agrees to the parameters for the Senate trial that Democrats have called for, as well as agreeing to bring in firsthand witnesses like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to testify.
While Pelosi’s comments create a new level of confusion to the impeachment procedure and timeline, it’s unclear what the specific advantages there would be to withholding to the articles of impeachment from a Senate trial. Republicans argue there is no benefit in delaying something they don’t want to spend time on anyway. When McConnell was asked this week about articles not being sent over, he told reporters, “I’m in no hurry.”
Pelosi said Wednesday night that House Democrats will make the decision “as a group” on when to send the articles to the Senate. Democratic members will meet on Thursday morning, where the issue will likely be raised.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn said Thursday that he is in favor of withholding the articles “until we can get some assurances from (McConnell) that he is going to allow for a fair and impartial trial to take place.”
Asked by CNN’s John Berman on “New Day” how long he is willing to wait for that assurance, the South Carolina Democrat replied: “As long as it takes. Even if he doesn’t come around to committing to a fair trial, keep those articles here.”
There are procedural concerns behind not sending the articles to the Senate on Wednesday night immediately after the vote. Among them: Democrats can’t send the articles Wednesday night because the Senate would have to take it up Thursday, blocking votes on two spending packages that must pass before week’s end to avoid a government shutdown.
McConnell has openly sparred with his Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, over the format of the Senate trial. Earlier this week, McConnell rejected Schumer’s call for four witnesses to testify. On the Senate floor Thursday morning, McConnell described Pelosi’s delay in sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate as a sign that “House Democrats may be too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate.”
In the coming days, the House must also name impeachment managers for the Senate’s trial, another step Pelosi was not ready to make Wednesday night.
“We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side, and we hope that will be soon,” Pelosi said. “So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us, so hopefully it will be fair.”
McConnell told Republican senators at a policy lunch Tuesday that he will announce the date for the start of the Senate trial by the end of the week, sources said.