Pelosi and McConnell are playing high-stakes poker

By | January 7, 2020

Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic write:

We are now entering the third week of the staring contest between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over when the House of Representatives will deliver its articles of impeachment to the Senate, and under what circumstances.

It’s time for some game theory.

The standoff stems from McConnell’s proposal for how to proceed with the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump: Pelosi has accused McConnell of violating his oath of office, while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has suggested a trial procedure that would guarantee that at least four witnesses are called to testify. McConnell has balked at agreeing in advance to call witnesses. Instead, he has argued, the Senate should begin the proceedings without such an agreement and address the question of witnesses only after the House has made its opening argument against the president and Trump’s team has responded.

For this reason, the articles of impeachment remain stalled between the House and the Senate, with Pelosi refusing to deliver them to the other side of the Capitol until McConnell reaches some kind of accommodation with Schumer. There’s no reason, the Democratic leadership argues, to provide the articles to the Senate only for them to be quickly quashed. So Pelosi has withheld the articles until, as she puts it, McConnell agrees to proceed “in a manner worthy of the Constitution.”

Who will blink first?

This sort of strategic tangle is quite different from the debates that led up to the president’s impeachment, which were charged with a kind of moral and legal urgency. The questions then presented a challenge of immediate importance: What sort of behavior by a president so steps outside the bounds of what Americans should consider acceptable that the House should act to remove him from office? To this question, there was a clear right answer, and the House acted to establish its view that Trump had breached his oath of office.

The trouble is that, in the absence of any real doubt over the president’s impending acquittal by the Senate, the questions that remain are not moral. They are strategic questions about what the goal of a Senate trial should be—and tactical questions about how best to achieve it. [Continue reading…]

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