The House passed two Articles of Impeachment back before Christmas on December 18th. Meanwhile McConnell (Senate Majority Leader) and Lindsey Graham (Chairman of Judiciary Committee) were both signalling that the Senate trial would be a total sham and that they would instantly acquit Trump.
This is why, after rushing through impeachment due to its national security implications, Pelosi became reluctant to hand it over to the Senate urgently. Not a surprise, because no prosecutor wants their case to be put through a sham trial. Indeed, although people unfailingly try to read into her public statements to intuit motive, she has been fairly upfront: she wants to know what rules the Senate will agree upon before she sends the articles over.
Since then, people have argued about who has the most leverage in the impeachment fight. In order to judge this we have to figure out what the incentives are on each side.
Best outcomes for each player:
Pelosi & House Dems: (1) Senate holds a fair trial with witnesses; convicts Trump. (2) Failing that, continued scrutiny on Trump’s crimes, and plenty of heat on GOP Senators for running a sham trial.
McConnell & GOP Senators: (1) The House to not have impeached at all. (2) Failing that, articles of impeachment to arrive at the Senate as soon as possible, so that the trial can be quick and painless without TV drama; acquittal without much focus on what Trump crimes they might be covering up.
Trump: (1) The House to not have impeached at all. (2) Failing that, a Senate trial full of drama: Hunter Biden, Pelosi, and Schiff called to the witness stand; grandstanders Jim Jordan & Matt Gaetz yelling and disrupting; chaos; for nothing to make any sense; acquittal and an abject apology.
Worst outcomes for each player:
Pelosi & House Dems: (1) A super-quick Senate trial, no witnesses, over before one can blink: and exoneration for Trump. (2) The public losing interest in impeachment.
McConnell & GOP Senators: (1) Continued drip-drip of impeachment-related news; (2) Continued focus on the sham Senate trial; (3) Articles to drop into the Senate at any moment without much warning, perhaps during a low cycle for Trump, or during a vulnerable moment for GOP senators.
Trump: (1) Conviction. (2) Non-acquittal—have the impeachment charge hanging over his head. (3) A “proper” Senate trial with witnesses, serious questions, proper handling of processes by Chief Justice Roberts.
So, who has leverage?
With this laid out, one can see that no one is getting best outcome. Trump/McConnell aren’t getting the House to un-impeach (even if that were possible), and Pelosi is probably not getting a conviction in the Senate and possibly not even a fair trial.
But Pelosi is already sitting on her 2nd best outcome, while avoiding Trump and McConnell getting theirs. And she is doing this while avoiding what she wants least: she postpones the inevitability of a sham trial, while the constant will she/won’t she news dribbling out of the House keep the public mind on impeachment. She gets to bask in constant breaking of impeachment-related news: the latest being Lev Parnas’s phone records being released to the House. Finally, she also has Trump and McConnell stewing in one of their least favored situations, at least for the moment.
So I ask you: what is her incentive to deliver articles to the Senate, without assurances that the trial won’t be a sham one?
Indeed, through the din of pundits arguing this way and that, the actions of the players have confirmed the landscape of leverage as I’ve laid out above.
Pelosi hasn’t said much about when she intends to proceed. When asked, she has been consistent: some variant of wanting to see what the rules of the Senate are going to be before she decides on House Managers, or how to proceed. While McConnell and Trump keep rattling the cages.
One day McConnell dares Pelosi to send along the House’s “shoddy work product“. Another day Trump claims the holdup is “unfair” while Pence’s Chief of Staff states confidently that she won’t be able to hold onto them for long. Then McConnell chides Pelosi for the “fantasy” of daring to believe she can shape the trial; while Lindsey Graham tries to “break the deadlock” by moving forward without the articles being received at the Senate. Then McConnell colorfully says Democrats are “floundering” and warns that if Pelosi doesn’t send the articles over soon, that the Senate will move on to other business: to this, Pelosi retorted that . This is akin to threatening Pelosi with legislation while they wait: as if to threaten that then the Democrats will be left a dry husk of a pointless impeachment.
The one thing they haven’t done is stay silent. From the day the Articles of Impeachment passed the House, through their recess, till today, they have kept up the goading.
I believe they are bluffing. For the reasons I listed above, I believe Pelosi can afford to wait as long as she wants, perhaps forever. She is the master of the wait. She withstood intense pressure from her own caucus to start impeachment until she was good and ready; she can face down McConnell without flinching. Trump is already impeached.