WASHINGTON — Imagine there is a murder trial that takes months and involves many witnesses, then, at the end, the prosecutor announces that he’s done such a great job of arguing guilt, he’s not going to send the case to the jury.
That’s sort of what happened Wednesday night after the Democratic House voted to impeach President Donald Trump. With a win in her column, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had to confess that she wasn’t ready to send the articles to the GOP Senate.
Can you say “farce”? Because that’s what the impeachment effort essentially was. House Democrats kept switching the offenses they said merit kicking Trump out of the Oval Office, as they ditched the bipartisan spirit they once considered essential.
In September when she learned about a whistleblower who didn’t like Trump asking Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to look into dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, Pelosi didn’t wait for further information. On the say-so of an unnamed person, she couldn’t wait to announce she would launch an impeachment.
There was no Republican support.
The first of two articles of impeachment pretty much passed along party lines by a margin of 230-197 — with no Republican voting yes, two Democrats voting no, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, voting present as she preferred censure over impeachment.
One of those two Democrats, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, announced Thursday at the White House that he was joining the GOP. Trump promptly endorsed him.
After the big vote, having won what they wanted for three years, Democrats sat on their victory.
With a two-thirds vote in the majority GOP Senate needed to convict and remove Trump, House Democrats know how this is going to end. So after rushing to impeach, they are playing for time.
During her weekly news conference on Thursday, Pelosi cut off questions about impeachment. It was an action that belied her assertion that she felt “a spring in my step because of the moral courage of our members.”
Before Wednesday night, Pelosi seemed so skillful in the ways of Washington that she enjoyed the distinction of being the rare rival for whom Trump had no killer nickname.
If Pelosi and her cool demeanor ever intimidated Trump, that’s over now.
Thursday, when CNN asked House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., when the articles would go to the Senate, Nadler responded, “It has to be sent in due course.”
Even if the House decides to pass the articles to the Senate, which is not a complete given, the damage from dithering has been done.
What’s standing in the way? Pelosi told reporters, “We would hope there would be a fair process.” Fair like the House impeachment hearings, for which the outcome was preordained?
Pelosi suggested that she was using the delay for leverage. She said she wanted to wait so that she could see the ground rules for a Senate trial before she named the House “managers” who would serve as prosecutors.
And Pelosi has as much right telling the Senate how to conduct its impeachment trial as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have telling Pelosi how to run her impeachment.
Pelosi’s act as a reluctant impeacher who wore black to recognize the solemnity of the occasion was smart, if not sincere. Ditto her ample use of the famous Ben Franklin quote said in answer to a question about what kind of government would come from the Constitutional Convention of 1787. “A republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin reportedly replied.
Elected officials should vote to overturn an election at their peril. But instead House Democrats produced a result that they know could backfire big time—an impeachment, if they can keep it.
Contact Debra J. Saunders, the Review-Journal’s White House correspondent, at dsaunders@reviewjournal or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.
“The Trump impeachment shows the danger of impulse buying during the holiday rush. Despite a record of evidence that is both incomplete and conflicted, the House leadership stuck to its promise to Democratic voters that it would impeach Trump by Christmas.”
-Constitutional Law Professor at George Washington University