This year has not started the way everyone in Washington thought it would.
Instead of a nation’s capital focused on the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, the focus was on a series of tit-for-tat maneuvers between the United States and Iran — culminating with the latter country firing more than a dozen missiles at two sites in Iraq, with no deaths.
But with Trump’s speech to the country on Wednesday — in which he emphasized that America has the greatest military in the world but doesn’t always have to use it — and Iran seemingly content to have answered (at least for now) for the killing of Qasem Soleimani, a situation that looked to be on the brink of war at the start of the week now seems likely to move to the back-burner in most Americans’ minds. (Obviously, any further aggression by Iran or a bellicose tweet from Trump could change that reality in an instant.)
And with the Iran standoff beginning to fade, things will rapidly return to the (new) normal in Washington: Impeachment, impeachment, impeachment.
You’re already seeing it happen.
Trump’s Twitter feed — always the best window into what’s on his mind — has taken a turn as of Thursday morning to bashing Democrats for the ongoing delay by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California in transmitting the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
“Pelosi doesn’t want to hand over The Articles of Impeachment, which were fraudulently produced by corrupt politicians like Shifty Schiff in the first place, because after all of these years of investigations and persecution, they show no crimes and are a joke and a scam!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
And the last 24 hours have produced a series of high-ranking Democrats in the House and Senate expressing skepticism about Pelosi’s ongoing hold on the articles of impeachment, which were passed through the House in December.
“I think it is time to send impeachment to the Senate and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN’s “New Day” Thursday. “He ultimately is.”
And California Sen. Dianne Feinstein was even more blunt: “I don’t quite know what the strategy is, but it doesn’t — if you’re going to do it, do it, if you’re not going to do it, don’t. And obviously, they’re going to do it, so I don’t understand the delay.”
That growing chorus of frustration and impatience from Democrats — remember they wanted impeachment done and dusted well before 2020 votes started being cast in Iowa on February 3 — will almost certainly lead to Pelosi acquiescing and sending the two articles of impeachment to the Senate.
Pelosi’s move will trigger a series of events. She will choose impeachment managers to make the House’s case against Trump to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been content, to date, to sit around and wait for Pelosi to abandon her untenable position holding the articles of impeachment, will be forced to lay out his timeline for the Senate trial.
And then there will be the votes. Earlier this week, McConnell declared that he already had secured the votes he needed to open the trial without any decision being made on whether witnesses could be called. (Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York — who has called for four witnesses to testify, including former national security adviser John Bolton — has said that without such an agreement with McConnell up front, the trial would not be “fair.”)
That first vote will obviously be closely watched. But the key question will be whether McConnell — at the urging of people like Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah — allows a vote on witnesses (who? how many? when?) and how that turns out.
The point is this: Impeachment is about to grab the news cycle by the throat — and not let go for the foreseeable future. Which is what we thought would happen in January. It’s just happening about a week late.