Whether or not Nancy Pelosi is the “absolute worst Speaker of the House in US history”, as Donald Trump insisted on Saturday, the Democrat has indicated she will soon transmit two articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial.
While the president lashed out on Twitter, preparations continued on both sides of the aisle for a piece of pure Washington theatre. Richard Nixon resigned the presidency before he could be impeached, which makes Trump only the third president to face trial in the Senate, a process Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton survived.
The articles of impeachment were approved before Christmas but Pelosi delayed in sending them to the Senate while Democrats sought to negotiate the rules for Trump’s trial with Republicans who hold the upper chamber.
Democrats want former national security adviser John Bolton and other key Trump aides to appear as witnesses. Bolton has said he will do so if served with a subpoena.
In an interview with Fox News broadcast on Friday night, Trump made clear that he would block such testimony, citing executive privilege, should the Senate allow it.
Most likely the Senate will not, as majority leader Mitch McConnell remains in lockstep with the White House, saying he has not ruled out new witnesses but emphasising that impeachment is a political rather than a judicial process and promising Democrats’ case will be quickly dismissed.
Republican senators have followed their leader, regardless of the oath they will take to be impartial jurors. Democratic hopes that moderates such as Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska might act in sufficient numbers to force the calling of witnesses seem to have been in vain.
A two-thirds majority of 100 senators would be required to remove Trump from office – a vastly unlikely outcome however the trial proceeds, given a Republican party fully behind its president.
The case against Trump is that he abused his power, by seeking investigations in Ukraine regarding a conspiracy theory about election interference and alleged corruption involving former vice-president Joe Biden, a rival at the polls in 2020, and then obstructed Congress in its attempts to investigate the affair.
In House hearings, witnesses detailed the withholding of nearly $400m in military aid from Ukraine as well as promises of a White House meeting for its president, Volodymyr Zelinskiy. Bolton, who sought a judge’s opinion on whether he should testify, thereby delaying a decision until the articles were approved, emerged as a key figure.
For example, Fiona Hill, a British-born former White House expert on Russia policy, explained in stark detail how Bolton called efforts towards the Kyiv government by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others a “drug deal” in which he wanted no part.
Leading Democrats, among them Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, have pointed to the emergence of new reporting on White House approaches to Ukraine as a benefit of Pelosi’s delay.
Regardless, Trump tweeted on Saturday that “the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, are asking Mitch McConnell to do the job that they were unable to do. They proved NOTHING but my total innocence in the House, despite the most unfair & biased hearings in the history of Congress. Now they demand fairness!”
Trump also claimed that “new polling shows that the totally partisan Impeachment Hoax is going nowhere. A vast majority want the Do Nothing Democrats to move on to other things now!”
In fact, most polling shows the US public split on whether Trump should be removed.
On Saturday a CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of Iowa voters, released ahead of the caucuses which kick-off the Democratic primary on 3 February, said 45% of voters in the state, of either party, disapproved of the process while 43% approved.
Nationally, polls site fivethirtyeight.com puts support for impeaching Trump at 50.2%, to 46.2% against.
Trump spent the weekend presenting his aggressive moves against Iran as a contrast to alleged Democratic inaction domestically while impeachment has played out.
Pelosi “is obsessed with impeachment”, he told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “She has done nothing. She is going to go down as one of the worst speakers in the history of our country. And she’s become a crazed lunatic. But she will go down as, I think maybe the worst speaker in the history of our country.”
Pelosi held her counsel but political Twitter duly lit up with discussion of Denny Hastert, who held the position from 1999 to 2007, making him the longest-serving Republican speaker in history.
In 2015, Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison for financial crimes related to attempts to cover up his abuse of teenage boys when he was a high-school wrestling coach. Hastert admitted the abuse. A federal judge called him “serial child molester”.