House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defiantly held on to the articles of impeachment Thursday despite cracks in support from congressional Democrats and ramped up efforts by Senate Republicans to take matters into their own hands.
The California Democrat suggested she won’t block the Senate trial indefinitely, saying the two articles of impeachment against President Trump would be transmitted “soon.” But she insisted the Senate first make public the rules for the trial.
Precedent dictates that the trial cannot start until the House speaker sends the articles to the upper chamber.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has repeatedly said the chamber will follow the same rules and procedures as in President Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial.
“I said from the start, we need to see the arena in which we are sending our managers. Is that too much to ask?” said Mrs. Pelosi, who has withheld the two articles of impeachment since the House approved them in a party-line vote Dec. 18.
Mr. Trump was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The charges stem from a July phone call with the Ukrainian president in which he requested a probe into a political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
Senate Republicans prepared to press ahead Thursday. The trial in the GOP-run Senate is expected to end in acquittal.
The House can impeach a president on a simple majority vote, but the Senate needs a two-thirds majority to convict and remove a president from office. Democrats would need 20 Republicans to join them for Mr. Trump to be convicted.
Mr. McConnell told GOP senators that he expects the articles to be delivered to by Friday, suggesting a trial could start early next week.
A handful of Senate Democrats have voiced readiness to get the process underway despite Mrs. Pelosi’s delay.
“We’re all hoping [for] that. I think with the six Democratic senators or so saying that they wanted to see it, that made a big difference,” said Sen. Mike Braun, Indiana Republican.
If Mrs. Pelosi doesn’t cave, Republican senators are teeing up a rule change to break the impasse.
Mr. McConnell on Thursday signed on to legislation by Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, that would deem articles of impeachment transmitted to the Senate if the House fails to do so within 25 calendar days. A senator then could introduce a motion to dismiss the articles “with prejudice for failure by the House of Representatives to prosecute.”
The full Senate would have to vote on dismissal, which would require a simple majority of the 100 members.
Democrats in both chambers demanded that the trial include the presentation of additional evidence and witnesses not included in the House investigation, which lasted about 12 weeks.
But cracks are forming in Democratic support for Mrs. Pelosi’s gambit.
A half dozen Senate Democrats broke with party leaders, saying they want to get the process rolling.
Sen. Doug Jones, Alabama Democrat, said it was “disappointing” that Mrs. Pelosi was holding the charges.
Mrs. Pelosi appeared to reel back House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington Democrat, who told CNN Thursday morning that the speaker needed to end the standoff.
He quickly corrected himself after his comment made headlines, issuing a tweet saying he “misspoke” and that he fully supports Mrs. Pelosi’s stance.
Speaking to reporters Thursday afternoon, Mr. Smith insisted his retraction was his idea and that he approached the speaker’s office with a statement after his comments on CNN went viral.
“I saw the way it was being reported on the news and I said that is not what I wanted,” he said. “I had my staff put together this statement and send it out. Before we sent it out, I did reach out to the speaker’s office and say, ‘Hey we want to get this right, you know, is this the right statement?’”
On the other side of the Capitol, Mr. McConnell said he had lined up enough votes to proceed with the trial that would use the Clinton impeachment trial as a model.
The Clinton proceedings allowed for House prosecutors to present their case and a White House defense team to respond before the chamber decided on whether or not to hear from witnesses. The procedure was decided unanimously in 1999.
House Democrats argue the 1999 model isn’t the right fit this time because Mr. Clinton was investigated by special counsel for more than a year, whereas in Mr. Trump’s case, officials who House Democrats called for their investigation did not cooperate. The Democrats decided not to go to court to subpoena them.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said Mrs. Pelosi has “done just the right thing.”
If she transmitted the articles of impeachment right away, he said, Senate Republicans would have tried to dismiss the charges against the president right away.
“Not only have they been prevented from doing that, but there have been several crucial disclosures of evidence,” Mr. Schumer said.
Democrats credited the delay with opening possible testimony by the president’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton, which they consider a victory.
Mr. Bolton this week said he would testify in a Senate trial if he were subpoenaed. During the House impeachment inquiry, Mr. Bolton had refused to cooperate.
Mr. Trump declined to say Thursday if he would bar Mr. Bolton from testifying but said his appearance could set a dangerous precedent that weakens executive branch autonomy.
“I’d have to ask the lawyers because, to me, for the future, we have to protect presidential privilege,” he told reporters at the White House. “When we start allowing national security advisers to just go up and say whatever they want to say, we can’t do that. We have to protect presidential privilege for me, but [also] for future presidents.”