Last night’s impeachment vote set the stage for a power struggle between the political forces that dominate our nation. Nothing has been decided, and so much more will happen between now and the next election. In boxing parlance, the impeachment vote was a prelim.
There may be a trial in the Senate. On the other hand, the House plans to hold back on delivering the articles of impeachment until Senate Majority Leader McConnell agrees to ground rules for a trial. He has announced that he will coordinate the proceedings with the White House, meaning that he will allow the accused to make the rules. McConnell has thrown down a gauntlet of his own. He has promised a fast trial rather than a fair one, straight out of his Merrick Garland playbook. In fact, today McConnell responded dismissively that he would not negotiate with the Democrstic leadership on rules for the trial.
McConnell flouts Senate conventions by dispensing with them. With the Senate outcome foreordained, he collects political capital by taunting his adversaries instead of feigning respect. His base loves the touchdown, but it craves the touchdown dance even more.
Speker of the House Nancy Pelosi, draped in mourning for the Constitution, lamented the impeachment as a duty mandated by law, undertaken as if against her will, forced on her by a lawless president. Although she had previously said that she wouldn’t seek impeachment without bipartisan support, in the end she passed the articles without it, much as the 2009 Democratic Congress passed Obamacare without Republican support. Despite Pelosi’s rending of garments, deep down inside she, like Joe Biden, has to acknowledge that passing the articles is a big fucking deal, a Democratic touchdown dance all its own.
What do McConnell and Pelosi, master strategists, see as they study the chessboard? There will be no trial if Pelosi doesn’t send the articles over, and there will be no acquittal unless McConnell gets to hold a trial. A stalemate? No way!
Even a fair trial is going to result in an acquittal. The numbers don’t change. There will never be 2/3 of the Senate to vote to remove the president. By going forward with the vote, Pelosi must’ve reasoned that impeachment without trial was better than no impeachment at all. On the other hand, McConnell figures that the failure by the House to deliver the articles is nearly as good as an acquittal and much less risky. Both pols are betting that time is on their sides.
McConnell had nothing to lose by announcing that there would be no impartial or fair trial. He may have thought that he would scare off moderate Democrats, which he failed to do. If he had been successful, it would have been a triumph for his cohort. He may have prevented potential renegades from voting for impeachment. In any case, he is showing a hand that will beat a full House.
Yet, McConnell has another sort of problem. Even if he retracts his claim of partisanship, he is tainted with it. Even if he gives in to many of Pelosi‘s demands, it may not be sufficient to satisfy her belief that a fair trial can be held. Alternatively, Pelosi may have decided that nothing offered will be sufficient. She may be happy to play the Waiting Game, even if it carries over into next summer’s conventions. Potentially, the Democrats can hold up a trial until they are assured of having their case heard fairly and the hoaxes kept on the sidelines; until there is a nominee in place.
And the bands play on. US Attorney John Durham’s report will be released at some politically advantageous moment. If he has a strong case for Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, it will be spread across the front page of every despised main-stream publication in the country. If the case is weak or nonexistent, it will come out below the fold on a Saturday morning, buried under a torrent of more sensational news.
In the meantime, there are piles of bills sitting on McConnell’s desk. They have been languishing without explanation. Now that the House has completed its extraordinary business, it will return to its routine work, which will include oversight and more information-gathering. The Senate will have nothing to do but sit on its hands, unless those House bills are taken up or the Senate passes a few of its own.
There are a number of legal cases working their way through the federal judicial system, which address the administration’s refusal to appear before Congress and furnish documents. Some of those cases already have been scheduled for argument in the Supreme Court; notably, those concerning the Congressional right to obtain presidential financial records.
The outcome of the cases will have an impact on public opinion, while the two chambers idle over the impeachment trial issues. Any finding for or against the White House will cause a collateral effect on the issue of obstruction, even though the impeachment articles do not refer directly to the substance of any of the cases now pending.
The 2020 Democratic nomination is another dynamic process rolling on during the Waiting Game. Most of the 2020 hopefuls support impeachment. The caucuses and the primaries begin in January, and voters may signal their opinions by voting for or against the candidates more hawkish on removal. Admittedly, the voting outcomes are difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, there will be some information to be masticated by the Pundocracy.
Despite the momentary break in the action, both sides know that they are engaged in a betting game as well as a waiting one. The odds do not necessarily favor the House, and there will be many revolutions of the wheel before the metal ball passes the point of deflection and drops into the winning pocket.