As reporters grilled House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week about whether she felt pressured to send over the articles of impeachment to the Senate, she laughed it off.
“Absolutely total cooperation,” Pelosi offered, after 24 hours in which several Senate Democrats reversed themselves on challenging her strategy. “We have 1,000 flowers blossoming beautifully in our caucus.”
But later that morning when Pelosi announced she would finally transmit the articles, Capitol Hill reporters were quick to declare her the loser in her face-off with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She hadn’t extracted a single promise from McConnell on rules for the Senate trial. Some reporters were still crowing about it this week. In a hot take for CNN, Chris Cillizza wrote, “Pelosi’s goal was simple: To try to force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s hand. Pelosi wanted to use her possession of the articles of impeachment to yield promises and/or compromises from McConnell — most notably on the issue of witnesses being allowed to be called in the Senate trial. Except that McConnell wasn’t playing ball.”
Genius. McConnell triumphs again! Only that was never Pelosi’s main goal. She knew McConnell wasn’t going to let her dictate the terms of the Senate trial any more than she would have let him tell her how to run the House impeachment. What Pelosi really wanted was to give the impeachment articles enough room to breathe that McConnell couldn’t sweep them under the rug and out of public consciousness before people had even awoken to the New Year.
Cillizza memorialized his insights on Tuesday. Fast forward two days and the Senate GOP caucus is cracking under the weight of new revelations further enmeshing Trump in the Ukraine scandal. Not only did the Government Accountability Office determine the Trump administration broke the law by freezing Ukraine funding, an explosive interview of indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas put Trump at the center of the imbroglio. Add those two revelations to the growing minefield of trouble spots for Senate Republicans—such as John Bolton’s willingness to testify—and Pelosi’s garden is beginning to bear fruit.
It’s still unclear whether the Senate trial (set to begin next Tuesday) will end up including witnesses and documents, but what is undoubtedly true is that Pelosi’s gambit has put the GOP caucus between a rock and a hard place. McConnell has put new restrictions on press access during the trial in order to insulate his members from pesky questioning. The White House was pushing for dismissal but the votes weren’t there because vulnerable Republicans needed a trial with at least some semblance of decorum. But now those very same GOP lawmakers are desperately trying to thread the needle of staying loyal to Trump while still managing to win reelection. It isn’t pretty. Just look at someone like Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who’s approval ratings have dropped 36 points since 2015 from 78% to 42% now, according to Morning Consult’s latest polling. She’s now the most unpopular senator in America.
If Pelosi had done as everyone expected and immediately transmitted the articles, McConnell would have dispensed with them in the first couple weeks of 2020 and the Republican caucus would be breathing a sigh of relief as they eyed November. Instead, we’ve got fresh reporting, Bolton, Parnas, the GAO, and polling showing that more than 70% of Americans and battleground state voters alike want a fair Senate trial with witnesses and documents.
Pelosi was asked Thursday for a response to Senate Republicans who say they shouldn’t have to consider new evidence such as Parnas’ allegations because it wasn’t included in the House investigation. “They’re afraid of the truth,” Pelosi offered without missing a beat.
They sure are. And none of them are enjoying Pelosi’s green thumb.
Pelosi on Senate Republicans not wanting witnesses during the impeachment trial: "They're afraid of the truth." pic.twitter.com/FPulKwsgUf
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 16, 2020