All Eyes On Pelosi For Impeachment’s Next Steps

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference on October 15, 2019. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)
January 7, 2020 11:38 a.m.

As the House returns to Washington Tuesday, a question lingers over the Capitol: when will Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) send the impeachment articles over to the Senate?

When she left Washington before the holiday recess, having just presided over the historic impeachment vote adopting the articles, Pelosi played coy about her next steps.

She said she wanted to wait and see how the Senate trial was shaping up before naming House managers — the House members who will make their impeachment case before the Senate. But she also downplayed the idea that she was using the delay to secure specific concessions on trial procedures from the Senate.

“We’re ready [to send the impeachment case],” Pelosi said at a press conference last month. “When we see what they have, we will know who and how many [managers] we will send over. That’s all I’m going to say about that now.”

Meanwhile, a public feud between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) broke out over whether there should be an agreement on calling additional witnesses before the trial started (Schumer’s position) or whether that decision could wait until the Senate was half way done with the proceedings (McConnells’ proposal).

The Senate dynamics haven’t changed much — if it all — since Congress left for the holiday recess.

The biggest news was the announcement Monday morning by former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who witnessed key episodes in President Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign, that he’d be willing to testify in the Senate trial if subpoenaed.

But if Senate Democrats were hoping that would move the needle — and namely, the votes from enough Senate Republicans — towards a pre-trial agreement on calling additional witnesses, they were likely disappointed by the Senate GOP reaction to Bolton’s announcement.

Almost no Senate Republican expressed proactive interest in securing Bolton’s testimony. Instead, the GOP response confirmed that McConnell had the 51 votes required to do things his way.

So-called moderate Republicans that Democrats were hoping to pick off, like Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), dodged on the question of subpoenaing Bolton and stressed that they wanted to take McConnell’s proposed route of making witness decisions mid-way through the trial, after the initial procedures are finished.

Under McConnell’s preferred model — which he compares to how things unfolded in the Clinton impeachment  — the Senate would initially come to an agreement on procedures dictating the first few stages of the trial. Those stages include the opening arguments by each side, written questions submitted by senators and a vote on a motion to dismiss.

Only at that point would the Senate then consider whether witness testimony was necessary.

McConnell has often brought up that in 1999, the Senate voted unanimously ahead of the trial on a procedure package that carried it through to the witness phase. The vote on the witnesses who ultimately were deposed for the trial happened only after those beginning phases.

It’s possible the Democrats, seeing that they don’t have the leverage to justify a further delay, will come to a similar deal as soon as this week, though it’s unclear if they’d wait for Pelosi to transmit the articles before doing so.

If the Senate can’t come to a unanimous agreement akin to 1999’s, there is also an option for a pre-trial vote-a-rama, during which each individual trial procedure would have to be voted on by the Senate.

Schumer has promised that he’d force the Senate vote on calling each individual witness (four total, including Bolton) he is seeking, if a deal to subpoena them is not otherwise reached. Again, it’s unclear if such a vote would occur during a pre-trial vote, or midway through.

But even before that point, Pelosi will have to send over the impeachment articles themselves — and any timeline for when she would make that move is, reportedly, being kept close to the vest.

A spokesperson for Pelosi told TPM that he had no updates to provide at this time.

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