Now that the House has impeached President Trump, all eyes turn to the Senate. According to Article 1 of the Constitution, what happens next is a trial there to determine if the president should be removed from office.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has thrown a wrench into that constitutional process by announcing that she will most likely not send the articles of impeachment to the Senate until she is satisfied that the Senate will conduct what she determines to be a “fair” trial.
The word “unprecedented” gets thrown about in Washington all the time, but this really is something else.
Can Pelosi do that? Is the impeachment process truly on hold until Pelosi decides to transmit the articles to the Senate?
Let’s start with the Constitution. Article 1, Section 2 states that the House “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” Section 3 states that the Senate “shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”
Critically, there is no mention of procedure here. So where does this supposed transmittal requirement come from? The answer is the Senate’s own rules. Specifically, its rules governing impeachment procedure.
The first rule of impeachment procedure states that the Senate will not act on an impeachment until the House sends to the Senate its appointed “managers”— the representatives who will act as the lawyers during the impeachment trial. After the House has presented its managers to the Senate, then the Senate takes the reins and launches its trial.
So can Pelosi delay an impeachment trial? Yes, as long as the Senate doesn’t change its current rules. But there’s absolutely nothing stopping it from changing this rule, and the Senate should change the rule to prevent this sort of gamesmanship.
The Senate should not let Pelosi interfere with its constitutional obligations and its independence in this way.
Impeachment of the president shakes the nation to its core, and when, as here, it’s done in a nakedly partisan way, it divides the country and damages our constitutional framework. It needs to be over as quickly as possible.
So the Senate should change its impeachment rules as follows: once the House has impeached the president, the Senate shall set a date for trial and shall set a deadline for the House to present its managers to the Senate. If the House fails to meet that deadline, the Senate will either dismiss the articles of impeachment for lack of prosecution or, better yet, vote on the articles immediately in light of the evidence presented to it — in this case, no evidence.
Having set this boulder rolling, House Democrats should not be allowed now to hold it up. They started this process. It’s up to the Senate to finish it on its terms alone. Not Pelosi’s.