House Democrats are poised to vote Wednesday on a resolution that will send articles of impeachment to the Senate, setting up a trial to determine whether President Trump should be removed from office over his contacts with Ukraine.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the decision to move forward at a closed-door meeting Tuesday with her Democratic troops, ending weeks of delay that followed the Dec. 18 House votes charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — making him just the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.
Wednesday’s vote is a procedural step that will empower House lawmakers to physically deliver the articles across the Capitol, to be received by Senate leaders who have said they will begin the trial on Tuesday.
Pelosi had initially decided to withhold the articles, accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) of tipping the scales in favor of Trump. Backed by virtually all of her caucus, Pelosi was betting the delay would shine a spotlight on Senate GOP leaders for refusing to consider new documents or witnesses with insights into Trump’s dealings with Kyiv.
“There is no doubt we were trying to communicate to the American public that they should expect a fair trial, that we expected a fair trial,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. “A fair trial meaning the evidence is heard, not precluded, not stone-walled, not covered up.
“We think we’ve made that point,” he added.
But despite Pelosi’s political gamble securing several wins for Democrats, McConnell deflated her leverage last week when he announced that he had enough votes to begin the trial without allowing a vote on witness testimony beforehand, as Democrats were demanding.
The GOP leader also recently signed on to a resolution introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) that would allow the Senate to change the rules and move to dismiss the articles of impeachment if the House continued to withhold them.
Pelosi, expressing indignation at McConnell’s statements, ended the standoff on Friday by announcing she intended to move the impeachment process forward the following week.
“The American people deserve the truth, and the Constitution demands a trial,” Pelosi said Tuesday in a statement that formally announced the vote.
While the move ends the monthlong standoff, House Democrats have kept up their pressure campaign on Senate Republicans. Those efforts have become particularly pronounced ever since John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser who had refused to testify before the House, offered to appear before the Senate under subpoena, providing plenty of ammunition for Democrats arguing for witness testimony at the trial.
“We’ve made our case, but I think the case can be amplified from a lot of evidence that’s come forward since we passed the articles,” Hoyer said. “To preclude the prosecution … from offering evidence which has got evidentiary value, I think, is a refusal to do their duty.”
Trump’s allies have dismissed those criticisms, framing the impeachment process as an unfounded, and politically motivated, strategy to harm the president’s prospects for reelection.
“If the existing case is strong, there’s no need for the judge and the jury to reopen the investigation,” McConnell said Tuesday. “If the existing case is weak, House Democrats should not have impeached in the first place.”
Democrats have countered by arguing that if Trump is innocent, then there’s no harm in hearing from first-hand witnesses like Bolton.
“The next step is simple: The Senate should conduct a fair trial. A fair trial involves witnesses and documents,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “What is the president hiding from the American people?”
Wednesday will also end weeks of speculation over Pelosi’s hand-picked impeachment managers, who will have the high-profile role of making the case in the Senate as to why Trump’s actions warrant his removal from office. The Speaker, who said she will announce the names Wednesday morning, has kept the names under wraps.
As late as Tuesday afternoon, multiple members viewed as possible picks said they had not received word about whether they made the list.
Still, several names have been mentioned as likely contenders, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Jeffries.
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the “obvious” candidates are those with both a legal background and front-line experience through the impeachment investigation in the Intelligence and Judiciary panels.
“There were six of us who helped to mold the articles,” he said, referring to the initial panels of jurisdiction. “I think now you move into a more lawyerly position.”
Nevertheless, even members who are seen as likely contenders are being cagey.
Nadler on Wednesday went from telling CNN that he “expects” to be an impeachment manager to telling reporters that he is not going to get into such topics when asked the same question later in the day.
Wednesday’s vote, expected in the afternoon, will set off a series of steps heading into the Senate trial.
After the House vote, a procession of sorts will take place as the two articles are walked from the House to the Senate. Hoyer said he expects that procession to occur Wednesday, though he left open the possibility that it could be pushed to Thursday “at the latest.”
The Senate GOP leadership then must finalize its rules package, establishing the guidelines for the trial.
McConnell has said he wants to follow the resolution that shaped the 1999 Clinton trial, when each side was allowed 24 hours to make their case, followed by a maximum 16 hours of senator questions.
Those rules also empowered each side “to make a motion to subpoena witnesses and/or to present any evidence not in the record.” The motions were then subject to a full Senate vote.
During the Clinton trial, the Senate voted on a second resolution along party lines to subpoena three witnesses for closed-door depositions, all of whom had previously testified in the initial investigation.
Democrats say there are clear differences between the Clinton impeachment model and Trump’s impeachment, particularly the White House seeking to assert absolute immunity over testimony from current and former White House officials. They allege that under this format, McConnell will seek to block witnesses from testifying after the trial gets underway. The Kentucky Republican has said he sees no need for witnesses while emphasizing that he himself is “not an impartial juror.”
Many Democrats have pounced on those comments as further evidence that McConnell’s approach is inherently unfair. But some predict a more somber process when senators are sworn in and the weight of the historic moment dictates the tone.
“That was a political statement in the heat of battle,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a former judge, said of McConnell’s remarks. “But I believe, at the end of the day, even Sen. McConnell will be faithful to his oath. Because history is watching.”
While most of the GOP senators appear to support his decision to exclude a vote on witnesses in the impeachment rules resolution, McConnell is facing some pushback from moderate Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) who want to leave the door open to potential witnesses as the trial evolves.
While the question about witnesses remains to be determined, the GOP-controlled Senate is viewed as all but guaranteed to acquit Trump since 67 votes are needed to convict.