by N. Peter Kramer
The House impeachment of President Trump was only a day old when it moved from folly to farce. Speaker Nancy Pelosi started threatening to withhold the articles of impeachment that Democrats just passed until the Senate sets trial terms that she deems adequate. ‘We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side’, Mrs Pelosi said after the impeachment vote, referring to the House Members who would present the case for removal to the Senate.
The Constitution gives the House ‘the sole power of impeachment’. It also gives the Senate ‘the sole power to try all impeachments’. Nonetheless Mrs Pelosi wants to use the articles the House has passed as leverage to force the Senate to do what she wants. She further trivialises the impeachment power that the Democrats have already done so much to diminish. The House raced to an impeachment vote to please swing-district members who wanted it over before Christmas. ‘Speed was essential’, Rep. Adam Schiff said. Lest Mr. Trump steal the 2020 elections, he meant…
But see, speed isn’t essential anymore Mrs Pelosi said, because the Senate Republicans might not hold the kind of trial she wants. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, demanded that the Senate call witnesses the House refused to call. The Democratic goal seems to be to turn the Senate trial into a second impeachment investigation. But that isn’t what the Founders intended for a Senate trial, which is supposed to judge the President based on the charges in the House articles. The Senate can call any witnesses it thinks will shed light on House claims. But Mrs Pelosi can’t dictate which witnesses the Senate calls.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, ridiculed Mrs Pelosi’s remarks, ‘ the Democrats said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process but now they’re content to sit on their hands. It is comical’. But the harm from Mrs Pelosi’s impeachment shenanigans is too serious to dismiss as comic relief. The Senate needs to take the trial mores seriously than the House took impeachment.