DANIEL VAUGHAN: Republicans hold all the cards on impeachment – and the Democratic primaries

A question for the Bernie Sanders campaign: How much do you trust that Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democrats will work Trump’s impeachment trial in a way that allows fairness in the Democratic primaries?

I ask because, although I seriously doubt Nancy Pelosi had any long-term plan behind her choice to withhold the articles of impeachment from the Senate, the move has worked out well for establishment Democrats who would like nothing more than to hamstring Bernie Sanders down the stretch of the Iowa caucuses.

If you’re just tuning in after a holiday hiatus from news and politics, we are expecting Nancy Pelosi to turn over the articles of impeachment this week. She’s held onto them ever since the House impeachment vote, back before Christmas, making weaker and weaker demands every week, and Mitch McConnell rejected each one in turn.

Pelosi never had any leverage over the Senate, and anyone in the media who suggested otherwise was nothing more than a partisan hack.

All of that political action brings us to the prospect of a trial in the Senate, which, at this point, plans on following rules similar to those that governed Bill Clinton’s impeachment. And while Democrats are complaining about that nowadays, the Clinton rules were passed by a unanimous 100–0 vote in the late 1990s.

(If you ever wanted proof that Democrats don’t want a fair trial, by the way — there it is. They want rules rigged toward the conclusion they want — not procedures that were agreed upon by everyone over 20 years ago.)

Among the impeachment rules is the requirement that all the senators be present for the trial — and that no one is allowed to talk during the proceedings. Questions get asked by writing them down on a notecard and passing them up front.

If you’re a senator running for president, the prospect of sitting quietly in Washington, D.C., while the Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada caucuses are plowing full speed ahead is terrifying.

We have quite a few senators facing that prospect — among them: Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. If you take all of them out of the day-to-day runnings in the early primaries, that leaves Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden free to run their campaigns with no competition in the field.

All of this brings us back to the decision by Pelosi to hand the articles of impeachment over now, instead of letting the primaries take place free of distraction. Is this her way of trying to get something about of bad situation?

There are two ways to read this scenario. Law professor Johnathan Turley, who testified before the House regarding the articles of impeachment, argues that this entire situation is a face-saving ploy by Pelosi. Writing for The Hill, he argues:

The delay now seems largely driven by a desire to preserve the image of Pelosi as a master strategist despite a blunder of the first order. Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed the frustration of many members in saying, “The longer it goes on, the less urgent it becomes. So if it is serious and urgent, send them over. If it is not, do not send it over.” But she and other members were quickly pressured to “correct” their earlier statements by stating the exact opposite and praising the brilliant strategy of Pelosi.

Indeed, this entire charade could simply be a legacy-saver by Pelosi, who was out-maneuvered and out-classed by McConnell and Republicans on the impeachment saga at every stage. Donald Trump’s conduct gift-wrapped Pelosi a ready-made controversy with a moment in the polls that showed some support for impeach-and-remove.

But all of that has since evaporated, much like the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl chances when they got punched directly in the face by my Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

As Noah Rothman puts it, there’s more evidence Pelosi has lost her political edge: “Political observers need to update their assumptions about the speaker’s relative acumen. The firm hand that once laid steady on the Democratic Party’s tiller is gone.”

But there’s another thing that could be happening here, too: the Democratic establishment may be using Pelosi’s blundering on impeachment as a means to boost establishment candidates like Joe Biden.

In trolling moments, both Donald Trump, in a tweet, and Kevin McCarthy, in an interview, have suggested that Pelosi and Democrats are purposely delaying the articles in this fashion to harm Bernie Sanders’ chances at winning the Dems’ nomination.

But Trump and the GOP, while trolling Democrats on this, aren’t pointing this out in a vacuum. Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign did everything in their power to hamper Bernie’s success in 2016.

Sanders said so himself during the 2016 match-up, and the WikiLeaks dumps proved the point. In the spring of 2019, The New York Times reported that the establishment wing of the Democratic Party was worried about the rise of Sanders again. And last week, the Associated Press published a similar worry among the same crowd.

If you’re a person in the Democratic establishment and want Bernie Sanders and his campaign shut up before the primaries, there’s no better way to do that than by forcing him to sit silently at an impeachment proceeding.

But the bigger point for Republicans is this: if that is actually happening behind the scenes, then it makes sense to put some pressure on Sanders’ supporters. They’ll either demand the senator oppose impeachment in the Senate to get things over with quickly, or they won’t vote in the 2020 election.

Either way, that’s a win for the Republicans. And if you’re a Democrat, you’re stuck with the proposition that Pelosi is trying to save face with the media, or that she believes the only way to defeat a geriatric socialist is by forcing him to shut up during an impeachment trial.

There’s a lot of politics left to go in this impeachment trial, but right now, Republicans hold all the cards.