President Trump’s order to kill an Iranian commander responsible for hundreds of American deaths has scrambled the politics of impeachment, putting Democrats on the defensive in their bid to remove Trump during a possible escalation into war.
Multiple senior congressional Democratic officials predicted that the House in the coming days will transmit to the Senate a pair of charges accusing Trump of abusing his power and obstructing Congress, though Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office says no decision has been made. But some privately worry that the timing will trigger GOP accusations that they’re undercutting the commander in chief during a national security crisis.
After the House impeached Trump on Dec. 18, Pelosi (D-Calif.) opted to hold on to the articles of impeachment over the two-week holiday break, a move aimed at giving Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) more leverage in negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over witnesses in a Senate trial. However, McConnell has refused to budge — and now, the articles are likely to be carried across the Rotunda during a tense and potentially dangerous standoff in the Middle East.
Pelosi, however, has signaled that she has no intention of backing down. On Friday morning, just hours after the attack, she emailed impeachment talking points to Democrats, encouraging them to “call on McConnell to commit to a fair trial in the Senate,” then later issued a statement suggesting she would transmit the articles eventually, though the exact timing is unclear.
“Every Senator now faces a choice: to be loyal to the President or the Constitution,” she said.
Republicans, meanwhile, are relishing the optics. In an interview Friday, top Trump ally Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) argued that Democrats were “playing politics” with impeachment while Trump was “taking out a general who has American bloodstains on his hands.” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) agreed, declaring that Trump was focused on defending the country amid Democratic “harassment.”
“Clearly for the president, he’s shown that he’s been able to stay focused on the main job, and that’s keeping Americans safe,” Scalise said. “But it seems like Pelosi is just fixed with the obsession of impeachment of the president. … She can’t let it go.”
Without consulting Congress, Trump on Thursday ordered the U.S. drone strike that killed Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. The president has since declared that the move was intended to stop, not start, a war. But experts argue that the attack will almost certainly heighten tensions in the region, if not lead to additional bloodshed.
Some Democrats openly speculated Friday that Trump was trying to bolster his reelection effort, noting that presidents typically receive an approval bump in times of conflict. Years ago, Trump even suggested that then-President Barack Obama would strike Iran to do just that before his 2012 reelection, an action Obama never took.
“The Occupant was JUST impeached for abuse of power for political gain & now he is leading us to the brink of war because he believes it will help his reelection,” tweeted Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). “We are sick of endless wars. Congress has the sole authority to declare war and we must deescalate. #NoWarWithIran”
The Soleimani killing comes just days before Congress is slated to return from the December congressional recess, with all eyes on the Senate as the upper chamber prepares to begin the impeachment trial. Multiple Democrats said Pelosi will send the articles of impeachment to the Senate in the near term, though Pelosi’s office declined to detail her plans.
Meanwhile, McConnell and Schumer bickered on the Senate floor Friday over impeachment, signaling a continued stalemate in negotiations over the trial process. McConnell jabbed Schumer for campaigning in 1998 on a promise to acquit President Bill Clinton and blasted Pelosi for holding on to the articles of impeachment in the House.
“The same people who just spent weeks screaming that impeachment was so serious and so urgent that it couldn’t wait for due process now decided it could wait indefinitely while they checked the political winds,” McConnell said. “No member of this body needs condescending lectures on fairness from House Democrats, who just rushed through the most unfair impeachment in modern history, or lectures on impartiality from senators who happily prejudged the case with President Clinton and simply changed their standards to suit the political winds.”