Pelosi downplays threat to withhold impeachment articles from Senate

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday downplayed the possibility that she would delay the impeachment trial into President Donald Trump, saying she’s merely waiting for Senate leaders to reach an agreement on ground rules before moving forward.

Pelosi, in a wide-ranging interview, said she can’t name impeachment managers — the House Democrats who will essentially serve as prosecutors in the Senate trial — until she knows the terms of the proceedings.

"We said what we’re going to say. When we see what they’ll do, we’ll know who and how [to appoint]," Pelosi said Thursday afternoon.

The terms will ultimately be set by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The two will need to reach an agreement on the parameters of the trial — including the time frame, witness testimony and obtaining documents — that will require 51 votes. Democrats have questioned the impartiality of the Senate trial after McConnell said he’s coordinating with the White House on strategy.

Pelosi blamed McConnell for the impasse, saying he was the one who wasn't abiding by precedent set during President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial in 1998.

"They had a bipartisan bill with 100 senators voting for it, that’s the precedent. That’s not what McConnell was saying," Pelosi told POLITICO. "But let’s give them the chance to do what they have to do over there. And so until they do, there’s really not that much to talk about."

In her weekly press conference earlier Thursday, Pelosi essentially dismissed the idea that she would hold onto the articles of impeachment indefinitely.

“We’re ready,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday about moving forward after the House impeached Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. “When we see the process that is set forth in the Senate, then we’ll know the number of managers that we may have to go forward and who we will choose."

The California Democrat's comments came after widespread confusion within the Democratic Caucus when Pelosi wouldn’t commit to sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate, saying she was concerned the upper chamber wouldn’t hold a fair trial. She made her initial statements in a press conference late Wednesday night just minutes after the House took the historic step of impeaching Trump.
The speaker, who refused to entertain many questions on the Senate trial during her weekly press conference, said she was merely reiterating what she had said the night before. But internal conversations among lawmakers and staff about the California Democrat’s Wednesday night comments reflected uncertainty about the post-impeachment process.

Some in the caucus interpreted it to mean Pelosi might refuse altogether to send articles to the Senate and prevent the Senate from holding a trial, an idea hatched by prominent liberal lawyers. But senior aides suggested that Democrats would deliver the articles early next year when Congress returns in early January, though did not offer specifics.

Pelosi reiterated on Thursday that she would demand a “fair trial” in the Senate, but again declined to say what that would look like.

Schumer and Pelosi met late Thursday morning and the Senate Democratic leader said he planned to meet with McConnell in the afternoon.

“We’re on the same page. What Speaker Pelosi said at her press conference [Thursday] is exactly my view," Schumer said as he left the speaker's suite.

But McConnell was quick to dismiss the Democrats' strategy.

“It’s beyond me how the speaker and Democratic Leader in the Senate think withholding the articles of impeachment and not sending them over gives them leverage,” McConnell told reporters Thursday. “Frankly, I’m not anxious to have the trial … If she thinks her case is so weak she doesn’t want to send it over, throw me into that briar patch.”

Some senior Democrats also question whether withholding the articles gives them any strategic advantage. “I don’t know if this gives us any leverage at all," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

Pelosi’s public comments reflect similar remarks she made during a private caucus meeting Thursday morning. Pelosi told Democrats she wouldn’t name impeachment managers until she knew the “arena” they were working in.

She also encouraged members not to publicly discuss the timing of sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate, noting it will distract from Trump’s impeachment.

“Let’s not take away from ‘this president is impeached for the rest of history because he violated the constitution,’” Pelosi told her caucus, according to two attendees.

Schumer this week called for a trial that would essentially expand the House’s probe with new witnesses and new document demands — an attempt to lure on-the-fence Republicans to buck their party on the rules.

But the idea has largely been shrugged off by the more moderate GOP senators.

Earlier Thursday, McConnell mocked Pelosi during a speech on the Senate floor, saying the speaker is “too afraid” to send the articles to the Senate.

“It’s like the prosecutors are getting cold feet in front of the entire country and second-guessing whether they even want to go to trial,” McConnell said in his half hour floor speech.

Pelosi quickly dismissed with the claims when asked about them later.

"Frankly, I don't care what the Republicans say," Pelosi said.

“It reminded me that our founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected there could be a rogue president. I don’t think they suspected we could have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time,” she added.

Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.