Impeachment Trial Still In Limbo As Iran Tensions Shove Issue To The Back Burner

on December 8, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) waves goodbye after speaking with then-House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) following an event marking the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act at the Capitol ... Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) waves goodbye after speaking with then-House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) following an event marking the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act at the Capitol on December 8, 2016. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 6, 2020 11:35 a.m.

With the killing of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani last week, impeachment suddenly no longer dominated the headlines.

As tensions balloon in the region and U.S. allies express apprehension at the strike, attention has shifted overseas, giving Democrats and Republicans space to strategize on their next impeachment moves. 

Much to the chagrin of the White House and Republicans, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has held onto the articles of impeachment since the House passed them three weeks ago, declining to immediately transmit them to the Senate. 

The delay served two purposes. One, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) articulated Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” is that it prevented Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from holding a hasty trial and clearing the President during the holidays when few were paying attention. 

“McConnell could have well just voted for dismissal the day before or after Christmas,” Schumer said. 

It also gives the Democrats some leverage to try to force a more structured Senate trial, with witnesses and documents the White House has withheld. 

While McConnell has signaled that he’s satisfied with continuing business as usual until Pelosi gives the articles up, Trump clearly is not. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway bashed Pelosi’s delay Monday morning, calling it a “mini-sabbatical” and urging her to “get on with it already.” 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of Trump’s most loyal foot soldiers, took to Fox News Sunday to float an (improbable) solution to the President’s desire to be cleared quickly by the majority Republican Senate. He offered to work with McConnell to change Senate rules so that the body can unilaterally proceed with the trial even without the articles. 

“My number one goal is to not let the speaker of the House become the majority leader of the Senate,” he said. “If we don’t get the articles this week, then we need to take matters into our own hands.”

This is an unlikely fix. Per the Washington Post, it takes 60 Senate votes to pass an impeachment resolution outside of a trial and 67 to alter impeachment rules; Republicans only have 53 members in the chamber. But it speaks to the President’s state of mind.

The Soleimani killing introduces new factors into the mix. Democrats don’t want to be seen playing domestic politics in the face of an escalating crisis in the Middle East, hence Pelosi’s introduction of a war powers resolution to curtail the President’s unilateral military powers. She made no mention of impeachment in that announcement.

Some suspect that the timing of Trump’s strike was meant to give the President political cover, a break from the inundation of negative impeachment headlines. The hashtag “#WagTheDogWar” was trending on Twitter, a reference to a 1997 satirical movie “Wag the Dog” where the President brings in a spin doctor and producer to manufacture a fake war with Albania to distract the country from his sex scandal just before reelection. Many dredged up Trump’s old tweets accusing President Barack Obama of stirring up a war with Iran to help shore up support before his reelection.

But while impeachment may have been temporarily elbowed out of the limelight, the process won’t remain in stasis forever.

We’ll likely know more about Pelosi’s plan after the House reconvenes Tuesday, and she addresses the public Thursday in her weekly press conference. But the conflict with Iran makes everything less predictable — a lot can happen between now and then.

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