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What’s up with Pelosi’s post-impeachment remarks?

Without being clear or explicit, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implied that the House has, in a weird way, more leverage to play.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, far right, speaking to the media following the voting on two articles of impeachment on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Tom Brenner

As you no doubt already know, during a long and significant but mostly unsurprising day of developments, the U.S. House of Representatives, on a mostly party line vote, made Donald J. Trump the third president in U.S. history to be impeached.

But almost immediately after the vote, Nancy Pelosi made unexpected (at least to me) remarks  that threw expectations about what happens next for a loop.

Without being clear or explicit, Pelosi implied that the House has, in a weird way, more leverage to play, including the possibility of not sending the matter to the Senate for trial, unless she has some kind of unstated assurances that the matter will be treated seriously.

If I follow that correctly (which I’m not at all confident I do), that raises an unprecedented possibility that Trump remain impeached, not removed but also not acquitted of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” on which the House has indicted/impeached him.

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Did you see that coming? I didn’t.

Pending clarifications and developments that lay ahead, it sets up days, weeks and possibility a forever of wrangling. But the big deal, just to say it once more: Pelosi implied that she won’t forward the matter to the Senate without assurances that the next step will be something more than the witness-free trial, featuring total collusion between the Republican-controlled Senate led by Mitch McConnell and the defendant/president, that McConnell has been promising.

I base all on this on some murky Pelosian utterances that occurred during her brief press availability after the final House voted to impeach Trump on two counts, abuse of power (relating to the Ukraine-Biden stuff, and obstruction of Congress, for ordering everyone in his administration to refuse to testify or hand over evidence).

Floated by Laurence Tribe

It turned out the idea of the House refusing to forward the articles of impeachment to the Senate had started floating into public view over recent and hours and even days.

On Monday, the eminent (and liberal) Harvard law professors Laurence Tribe floated the idea in a Washington Post op-ed, which called it “another option seems vital to consider: voting for articles of impeachment but holding off for the time being on transmitting them to the Senate … now that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has announced his intention to conduct not a real trial but a whitewash, letting the president and his legal team call the shots.”

In fact, it turns out, Tribe has talked about this before. The Constitution doesn’t explicitly authorize such a maneuver. In fact, a fair reading of the text and history suggests that a Senate trial automatically follows a House impeachment. But, Tribe notes, the Constitution also doesn’t explicitly require the House to transfer its articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial.

Speaker leaves ambiguity

In a gaggle with reporters just after the final impeachment vote last night, Pelosi didn’t clarify anything much, but left enough ambiguity that it was totally possible to believe that such a plan is under discussion, or to believe that she might use it as a bargaining chip to pressure to guarantee a real trial.

The developments and possibilities alluded to above are pretty weird, and the legalities are above my pay grade. But failing the idea of using the referral as leverage to get a more thorough trial (in which, presumably, Trump goes into the re-election cycle charged but acquitted (albeit on a tainted party-line vote), it raises the possibility that Trump goes into his re-election campaign charged with impeachable offenses on which he has been neither convicted nor acquitted.

Trump, by the way, gave his reaction to the news of his impeachment to a rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, calling Pelosi and the Democrats in general “depraved,” their vote to him impeach him a “disgrace,” and House Intelligence Committee Chair Adams Schiff a “pathological liar” who has a strange condition that compels him to be on camera. Here, from the Michigan rally, is that quote:

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“This guy Schiff, ‘I have absolute proof. I have this, I have that. This, that.’

“Anytime he sees a camera, and he’s stone-faced. Right? Stone-faced. He’s a pathological liar — he gets up, and I’ve never seen anything like it — even I was saying, ‘I wonder what he has?’ “