Democrats are playing hardball on impeachment, and it's depriving US president Donald Trump of the one thing he wants most for his reelection
- President Donald Trump is unequivocal: He is innocent, the phone call was "perfect," and the Senate will soon acquit him of the impeachment charges against him.
- But Democrats are throwing a wrench into Trump's plan.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers may withhold the articles of impeachment from the Republican-led Senate until they get assurances that Trump's trial will be fair to Democrats.
- Trump and Senate Republicans made a number of public statements on Thursday that signal their apprehensiveness over the possibility.
- If Democrats decide not to transmit the articles of impeachment, it could deprive Trump of what he wants most: "total and complete exoneration" as he heads into a tough reelection campaign.
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President Donald Trump is unequivocal: He is innocent, the phone call was "perfect," and he will soon be exonerated of all accusations of wrongdoing as he seeks reelection in 2020.
The president has been steadfast in making these claims in the wake of his impeachment by the House of Representatives on Wednesday for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Both charges relate to Trump's efforts to strongarm Ukraine into acceding to his political demands while withholding vital security assistance and a White House meeting that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky desperately wants.
The evidence against him, Democrats say, is overwhelming and undisputed, having been confirmed not just by testimony by over a dozen witnesses and White House documents but by Trump's own public statements.
Trump, meanwhile, says his impeachment is a partisan and unconstitutional "crusade" by disgruntled Democrats who want to overturn the results of the 2016 presidential election.
To that end, Trump has said he looks forward to his trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is widely expected to acquit him, allowing the president to claim what he wants most: "total and complete exoneration" heading into the election.
But Democrats might not make it that easy.
'Frankly, I don't care what the Republicans say'
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers have signalled an openness to withholding the articles of impeachment against Trump from the Senate until they get assurances from the Republican-led chamber that Trump's trial will be impartial and fair to Democrats.
"So far we haven't seen anything that looks fair to us," Pelosi said on Wednesday night.
Pelosi indicated she won't name impeachment managers, or House Democrats who will serve as prosecutors in the Senate trial, until there's more clarity on the guidelines.
In a press conference on Thursday, Pelosi reiterated that she will withhold the articles until she can confirm the terms of the process will be "fair," and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other congressional Democrats, lined up behind her.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also announced there will be no more votes in the chamber until the winter recess is over on January 7. This effectively means the House will not vote on a resolution naming impeachment managers and to transmit the articles over to the Senate until January.
In the last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected calls from Democrats for specific witnesses in the trial, while telling Fox News there's "zero chance" Trump will be removed from office.
McConnell has also pledged to work in close coordination with the White House and Trump's legal team during the trial.
Senators take oaths of impartiality at the start of impeachment trials, but the Senate majority leader and other Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, have said they will not approach the proceedings as impartial jurors.
"I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process," McConnell said on Tuesday.
That said, Pelosi's unanticipated decision to withhold the articles of impeachment threw a curveball into Senate Republicans' plans.
Graham said in a tweet that Pelosi is engaging in "Constitutional extortion" and creating "chaos for the presidency."
Meanwhile, Trump tweeted: "Pelosi feels her phony impeachment HOAX is so pathetic she is afraid to present it to the Senate, which can set a date and put this whole SCAM into default if they refuse to show up! The Do Nothings are so bad for our Country!"
McConnell sought to downplay any concerns about Pelosi's decision to withhold the articles, telling reporters on Thursday: "I'm not anxious to have the trial … If she thinks her case is so weak she doesn't want to send it over, throw me into that briar patch."
But Pelosi seems unfazed by the criticism.
A reporter asked the California Democrat on Thursday whether she was concerned about the GOP accusing her of playing games with the impeachment process.
"Frankly, I don't care what the Republicans say," Pelosi replied.
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