The final bend of US President Donald Trump’s impeachment process, a Senate trial, has suddenly slid into limbo after his Democratic rivals who control the House of Representatives have brought the until-now rapid fire spectacle to a screeching halt and left politicos scratching their heads about how this story ends.
“Timing is everything,” the President’s most consequential rival in the US Congress and the heroine of the Democratic resistance Nancy Pelosi said before launching the impeachment inquiry against Trump.
While political pundits began predicting an early January trial, Pelosi has now inserted a twist in the storyline after bottling up impeachment. She is asking Senate Republicans what a trial might look like.
Pelosi has refused to submit articles of impeachment to the Senate and the standoff is likely to last a few weeks at least before the high stakes feud resumes on the other side of the new year.
Republicans control the Senate 53-47. Even if all Democratic Senators vote to remove Trump, at least 20 Republicans will have to flip for him to be convicted and removed from office. A two thirds vote in the Senate is required to remove an impeached US President.
Throughout the impeachment tumult so far, the White House has kept its sights firmly on the Senate trial, where Trump is almost certain to be acquitted.
Pelosi says the House cannot choose impeachment managers “until we know what sort of a trial the Senate will conduct”.
“President Trump blocked his own witnesses and documents from the House and from the American people, on phony complaints about the House process. What is his excuse now?” Pelosi tweeted.
Bolstering Pelosi’s tack, top Democrats were now saying a trial without witnesses would be “Kafkaesque” and a “sham”.
Trump was impeached on December 19 by the House of Representatives, becoming only the third American President in the nation’s history to be impeached.
Republican and Democratic leaders have not yet agreed on the format of the pending Senate impeachment trial and whether witnesses should be called.
“We haven’t ruled out witnesses,” Senate Republican leadership told Fox News. “We’ve said let’s handle this case just like we did with President Bill Clinton. Fair is fair.”
The Clinton trial headlined a 100-0 vote on procedures in which Republicans, who held the majority, called a limited number of witnesses.
In a four-page letter, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer argues that equating the Clinton trial to the present circumstances is “misleading”.
During the Clinton trial, “witnesses had already testified multiple times under oath and transcripts of their testimony were available to the Senate”, he said.
In the Clinton case, Democrats say Senate testimony from the same witnesses would be repetitive and “redundant”.
Democrats have said that the Trump case stands in stark “contrast” to the Clinton impeachment, where Trump has “ordered that witnesses with direct knowledge and documents containing directly relevant evidence, be withheld” and “no good reason has been offered”.
Republicans have made it clear that the Senate trial, whenever it happens, isn’t going to try too hard to play fair. “This is a political process, not a legal one” is their anthem.
Trump is already juicing the us-versus-them theme for his re-election campaign to re-ignite his base.
“In reality, they’re not after me. They’re after you. I’m just in the way,” read his noir-laced pinned tweet moments after he was impeached.
The Democratic delay of the impeachment process holds many political gifts for Trump and his party. They are already framing the inquiry as a template of how Democrats think of and treat Trump’s base.
How the Democrats plan to finesse Trump’s impeachment for the 2020 election was still unclear.
Either way, a clear answer will emerge next November.
If Trump loses, the impeachment will be hailed as a political class act by Pelosi, and if he wins, the impeachment decision will be attacked as the epicentre of his resurgence.