Honestly, before I thought this through, I figured the idea that Pelosi would actually hold articles of impeachment indefinitely was farfetched. In fact, it’s possibly unconstitutional, but until the courts determine that, let’s assume for the moment she can do whatever she wants. As much as I’m sure she wants to get it over with and move on to other things, like trying to take credit for the USMCA, it’s become clearer to me that Pelosi has primary political motives to do this.
She’s hoping Democrats win back the Senate and is pulling a Merrick Garland
Democrats are still sour about Mitch McConnell not taking up Barack Obama’s third Supreme Court pick after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. That strategy was a huge gamble on the outcome of the 2016 election. Is Pelosi thinking she can hold on to the articles of impeachment indefinitely, waiting for the possibility that Democrats could, at the very least, take back the Senate? They won’t likely get the 67 seats required to throw Trump out of office, but, if Trump is reelected but loses the Senate, they would be able hold a Senate trial with rules set by Chuck Schumer, and probably get a majority of votes to remove Trump from office. A simple majority won’t change the result, but to say Trump was impeached and had a majority of senators voting to remove him would be something attractive to their base to point to and damage Trump’s political capital in the event of reelection. Having a majority of senators voting to remove doesn’t sound much like an acquittal, does it?
This theory assumes two things, 1) that Pelosi assumes Trump will be reelected, and 2) that Democrats will take back control of the Senate. According to 270towin.com, if all of the current elections marked as toss-ups went blue, it would be a 50-50 split. It’s likely Republicans will hold on to their majority, but Democrats winning a slim majority is still within the realm of possibility. That would be a heck of a gamble on Pelosi’s part.
The Democratic Primary schedule
According to the rules, during a Senate trial, all U.S. senators must be there, and can’t campaign. Well, there are a few senators running for president, two of them are in the top three. The Iowa caucuses are on Monday, February 3, meaning that to have a trial in January would pull Senators Warren, Sanders, and others away from the campaign trail before that crucial election test. Joe Biden is likely not going to win Iowa, or the New Hampshire primary, which calls into question his ability to maintain frontrunner status. In short, a Senate trial risks pulling a Democrat frontrunner off the campaign trail during a busy season of campaigning and primary elections. If Joe Biden pulls it off, Pelosi would be free to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate without worrying about affecting any primary election outcomes. But, if Joe Biden collapses, and, for example, Elizabeth Warren rises, Warren would be required to show up at the Senate trial and not campaign. Unless, of course, she chose to resign from the U.S. Senate. I can’t imagine she’d want to do that.
While it’s possible a U.S. senator might not end up the runaway frontrunner once the primary contests begin, there’s also the possibility that no candidate, U.S. senator or otherwise, will get a clear majority, and the last thing Nancy would want to do is pull anyone off the campaign trail when they should be fighting for votes and delegates. In that case, the first really convenient time to send articles of impeachment to the U.S. Senate would be after the Democratic National Convention, and, if you think about it, that’s not really a convenient time at all, regardless of who the nominee is. A general election is no time to hold an impeachment trial, especially with Republicans in charge. I suspect that Nancy Pelosi knew these complications would be an issue long ago, and that’s really why she opposed impeachment.
So, don’t hold your breath on impeachment.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis