The Corner

Politics & Policy

Democrat Gamesmanship on the House Impeachment Article

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) holds the article of impeachment against President Donald Trump after signing it in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., January 13, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

As predicted here, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) is playing games with the impeachment article the House voted against former president Trump.

Clearly, if there was such a rush to impeach Trump that it had to be done in a single day — in just a few hours, in fact — with no hearings and no due process, then it should have been transmitted to the Senate forthwith. But the transmission is the captive of partisan politics, like everything else about the proceeding, from the inexplicable five-day delay in commencing the impeachment to the article’s flawed framing of the impeachable conduct.

Even though the Senate has now been convened for three days, the Wall Street Journal reports that Pelosi is still withholding the article in order to see how the Senate would handle it. But that’s none of her business. The impeachment trial is the Senate’s affair, just as the impeachment article was unilaterally the business of the House. Once the article was adopted, the speaker’s task became ministerial: Send it to the other side of the Capitol.

Democrats want to have their cake and eat it too: Push Republicans for quick confirmation of President Biden’s cabinet and other key executive officials, and proceed with an impeachment trial timed to give them maximum political advantage. Republicans should not let them get away with it.

They lost significant leverage over the confirmation process when the two Georgia seats were lost, but Senate Republicans still have privileges that would delay Biden’s nominees. They should use those privileges to force transmission of the impeachment article. Then, if there is to be a trial, the Senate should put other business aside and conduct the trial. It does not have to be a long trial, but it will end up being more extensive than should have been necessary, due to the slapdash way the House did its work.

I continue to think a trial at this point serves no one’s interests. It was unlikely Trump would be convicted, and the legal controversies surrounding the impeachment, particularly its post-presidential timing, assure that outcome. It should not be necessary to disqualify Trump formally from future public office. Some would think it anti-Democratic, and it would not stop the former president from being a factor in elections even if he were not a candidate. The point should be moot, however, since disqualification could only follow from conviction, which is not going to happen. Since there is no practical upside, it makes no sense to provoke more strife in the body politic while grinding the Senate’s work to a halt. And if there were a trial and an inevitable acquittal, Trump would claim vindication.

Drop the trial, legislate a censure, and let that stand along with the fact that the former president is, for historical purposes, twice-impeached. Then get on with the business of standing up the new administration and dealing with the pandemic. But don’t let Speaker Pelosi and Democrats make the impeachment article a sword of Damocles, to be loosed at some moment they calculate is politically advantageous. If there has to be a trial, then force the Democrats’ hand, get on with it, and get it over with.

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