A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Impeachment Watch newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
The outcome of the Democratic impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has seemed like a foregone conclusion almost since it started. Impeachment in the House would be followed by acquittal in the Senate, and the election next November.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi jammed a wrench into the machine shortly after impeaching Trump on Wednesday night, creatively using her power to slow things down as the articles move from the House over to the Senate.
Rather than appoint managers right away to prosecute the case before the Senate as the Constitution ultimately requires, she’s going to take her time and see what she can squeeze out of Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader. He wanted to start a trial the first week of January. But the House didn’t appoint impeachment managers before leaving for its holiday break.
Read this piece on how Pelosi is stepping into a new power role, by CNN’s Maeve Reston.
Will Trump get acquittal or impeachment purgatory?
Pelosi’s threat to leave the impeached President in limbo until she knows more about the shape of a Senate trial bends the plot line in a way befitting the reality TV ethos by which Trump is leading the country.
See what she did there? He was expecting acquittal before the 2020 caucuses and primaries start. Instead, she’s making him sweat – and all of us wonder what comes next.
Remember, Democrats sped the impeachment process along, arguing they couldn’t wait for the courts to compel testimony from the White House or people like John Bolton, who all but begged the courts to make him testify.
And now Pelosi’s taking her time, thank you very much. On one hand, McConnell has made clear he’ll defeat this when he gets it. He’s in Trump’s corner. For Pelosi to now argue the process should be slowed is in direct opposition to her previous tactic, which was to move it along.
The ultimate sideshow
And Pelosi seized power from McConnell and from Trump, who were in cahoots to speed along the Senate trial. (Remember, it was McConnell sat on Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination for a year. Now he’s all about speed.)
Republicans were wailing about the fast process until Wednesday night. Instead, there will first be a scorched-earth parliamentary chess clash, if such a thing exists, between Pelosi and McConnell.
Regardless, Trump’s still the President and will continue to be. So this is, while annoying to him, a sideshow unless or until Republican senators start sounding like they’ll support the impeachment. There’s no evidence they will.
In this representative democracy, the House is actually supposed to be closest to the people. Pelosi is showing herself to be very good at reminding people of that.
- The White House is pushing back on a bipartisan bill to punish Russia
- Bill Taylor, the top official at the US Embassy in Ukraine, who testified during impeachment hearings, will leave his post days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives for a visit.
- Analysis from CNN’s Brandon Tensley: Impeachment debate offered another reminder GOP is old, white and male.
Besides impeachment, this was a good week for Trump
It’s a little ridiculous to think of the week separate from impeachment. But if you do, it is these kinds of weeks that will fuel Trump’s reelection pitch. I wrote about this Thursday.
Even as she was overseeing his impeachment, it’s worth pointing out that Pelosi gave Trump some real policy wins this week.
They passed the USMCA (for which Trump should thank Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, the Democratic congresswoman he insulted Wednesday night), they funded the government, they authorized Trump’s new space force and they gave federal workers paid family leave.
In any other world, that would have been a nice way to close out the year.
Trump said something very revealing when he insulted Debbie Dingell
CNN’s Marshall Cohen made this extremely important point about Trump’s insult of Debbie Dingell and his insinuation that her dead husband might be in hell:
Everyone is rightly focusing on how Trump said Wednesday night that Dingell could be in hell. But Trump also said something that was very revealing about how he approaches his office, and his presidential powers. And it’s one reason why he got into the Ukraine mess.
Trump essentially patted himself on the back for NOT asking Debbie Dingell for anything in exchange for him using his presidential powers to lower the flags. (“I don’t want anything for it.”) To Trump, it was charitable of him NOT to demand some sort of quid pro quo from Dingell. (“I don’t need anything for anything.”)
This isn’t new, but it’s another example of how he operates. Here’s a reminder of what that looked like in Ukraine, from the impeachment testimony.
The GOP is still at war with itself
Trump likes to brag about how united the GOP is. And it’s certainly true that his impeachment has focused the elected class in his party on his preservation like never before.
He met in the Oval Office on Thursday with the newest Republican, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who was part of the wave that helped Democrats take the House in November 2018 but opposed impeachment and joined the GOP, perhaps in part to avoid a primary challenge.
Anyone for Trump is welcome in the GOP.
A party built around an ego
But it’s also true that Trump has robbed the GOP of its ideological center. It’s a party built around him at this point, not around any idea.
Party vs. principle
The most principled person in Washington at the moment, arguably, is Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the libertarian-leaning congressman who left the GOP to support Trump’s impeachment. He gave a lonely looking speech from the Democratic side of the aisle Wednesday, supporting Trump’s impeachment even though he disagrees with Democrats on most things.
Arguing against enablers
Here are some interesting things written on Twitter among anti-Trump conservatives and also establishment Republicans who have bought into him:
“One day in the not too distant future, Republicans will wake up and say, ‘We did this for this man?’ ” wrote former Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona.
Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff and Republican National Committee chairman who, unlike many former White House staffers, has not run afoul of Trump, spoke up for his boss.
“From here on out, most Presidents will now get impeached when the opposite party holds the House. This is a new political game that will play out for decades to come,” Priebus wrote.
That drew a scathing response from Bill Kristol, the neocon intellectual who is angry at the GOP over Trump.
“Future presidents will only get impeached if they behave like Trump, and Trump’s behavior was possible thanks to mainstream enablers like @Reince, and in particular by their silence once they were no longer working for him but were still benefiting from an association with him,” Kristol wrote.
Impeachment Watch Podcast
David Chalian talked about how impeachment would affect Thursday night’s Democratic debate with CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny and CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip.
What is Tulsi Gabbard doing?
The Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii voted present on impeachment despite the overwhelming opinion of her party. She’s still running for President despite not being on the debate stage Thursday night.
This quote shared on Twitter is fascinating: “My ‘present’ vote was an active protest against the zero-sum game the two opposing political sides have trapped America in. My vote and campaign is about freeing our country from this damaging mindset so we can work side-by-side to usher in a bright future for all.”
I read this paragraph in The Washington Post and it perfectly summarizes Wednesday:
Donald J. Trump inherited a fortune, built an empire and has spent his life grabbing for more, transforming scandal and bankruptcy into opportunity, playing on his strengths and America’s weaknesses in a half-century spree that won him the presidency, but on Wednesday he could do nothing but stew and thrash and watch as the nation that gave him everything tried to take something back.
What are we doing here?
The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats have impeached him for it. Next up is a trial in the Senate to decide whether to remove him from office. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what’s acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.
Keep track of congressional action with CNN’s Impeachment Tracker. See a timeline of events here. And get your full refresher on who’s who in this drama here.