House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that the House will send articles of impeachment to the Senate next week, setting in motion a trial that is likely to run through the end of January.
Pelosi said the House will vote on a resolution to formally transmit the articles after she meets with all House Democrats at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
“I have asked Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler to be prepared to bring to the Floor next week a resolution to appoint managers and transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate,” Pelosi said in a note to the House Democratic conference. “I will be consulting with you at our Tuesday House Democratic Caucus meeting on how we proceed further.”
The earliest a trial could start, given this timetable, is Wednesday. That means a debate between Democratic presidential candidates scheduled for Tuesday night in Iowa will likely go forward. Three Democratic senators — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar — qualified for the debate, and would not have been able to be present if the Senate trial, which they are required to attend, had been scheduled any sooner.
Pelosi’s announcement came one day after she said she would not let go of the articles until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released details of how the trial will be conducted. The decision to announce she will send the articles was a concession that further delay was politically untenable in light of objections from Senate Democrats earlier this week.
McConnell not only has not disclosed details of the trial to Pelosi, he also hasn’t even shown it to a number of Senate Republicans, based on their responses to inquiries from Yahoo News.
Not even Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of President Trump’s staunchest defenders, has seen the rules, a spokesman said.
Senators do have a pretty good sense of what the rules will be, though. McConnell has said for some time that he wants to use the same rules that governed the 1999 Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Clinton, a Democrat who was impeached by the House for lying about a sexual affair with a White House intern, was acquitted after a five-week-long trial.
But until McConnell promulgates specific language, many details remain murky.
A senior House Democratic aide told Yahoo News that another reason Pelosi did not send articles to the Senate this week was the escalating tensions with Iran, which, Pelosi feared, might have given Senate Republicans an excuse to dismiss the charges out of hand without even scheduling a trial.
The U.S. military killed Iran’s most prominent military leader last Friday, and on Wednesday, Iran fired ballistic missiles at U.S. forces stationed at Iraqi military bases. The administration reported no casualties.
Trump’s Thursday morning speech and the absence (thus far) of an additional Iranian response appeared to deescalate the crisis. It was unclear if Pelosi might change her mind if the military situation heated up again between now and Tuesday.
Senate rules dictate that a trial must start as soon as the House sends over articles of impeachment. Pelosi has held the articles back in part to pressure McConnell to commit to calling witnesses in the Senate. McConnell has steadfastly refused to tip his hand before the trial starts, citing the precedent of the Clinton impeachment trial.
Democrats, however, say that the question of witnesses in 1999 was far different than now. One of the main concerns was that testimony from Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern with whom Clinton engaged in an affair, would be below the dignity of the Senate. Ultimately the Senate decided to have Lewinsky and two other witnesses provide videotaped sworn testimony, and portions of that were shown as evidence in the trial. But no live witness testimony was provided.
In the current circumstance, there is no concern about propriety. The main obstacle, instead, has been obstruction by the White House, which has blocked a number of key witnesses from testifying about Trump’s attempts to pressure the Ukrainian government to undermine Joe Biden, a potential rival for the presidency in the 2020 election.
The House on Dec. 18 impeached Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. But Pelosi surprised everyone by announcing she would not immediately send the articles to the Senate. That left the impeachment in limbo over the holidays.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has asked for testimony from four witnesses: Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff; John Bolton, former national security adviser; Michael Duffey, Office of Management and Budget associate director for national security; and Robert Blair, senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff.
McConnell rejected the Democratic requests, saying that he thought the Clinton trial model should govern the Trump trial. He announced this week that he has support from all 53 Republican senators to approve a resolution beginning the trial and setting out rules to govern it.
In 1999, the Senate heard opening arguments from Republicans in the House and then a White House response before holding a vote on whether to dismiss the case.
The motion to dismiss failed, but the margin signaled that impeachment was unlikely to gather the two-thirds majority in the Senate necessary to convict and remove the president.
McConnell’s main priority is to protect his members who are up for reelection this fall, preserving his majority. One question likely to factor into his thinking is whether vulnerable Republicans might find a vote to dismiss the charges easier to defend than a vote for acquittal after a trial (which, even if it involved no additional testimony, would remind voters of all the evidence gathered by the House inquiry, now several months in the past). The Senate, and the nation, should learn his thinking soon.
Michael Isikoff contributed to this article
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