House members eye high-profile impeachment assignment
Senate trial could be a career-defining moment for some ambitious Democrats
The expected impeachment of President Donald Trump this week will give some lawmakers a potentially career-defining opportunity to present the House’s case against the president to the country during a Senate trial next month.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi will decide who and how many impeachment managers will travel to the other side of the Capitol to make arguments, present evidence, question witnesses and more in just the third time in U.S. history that a sitting president has been on trial before the Senate.
Her picks can be political as well as legal, some Democratic lawmakers say. The California Democrat would want members with trial experience who understand the Constitution and the case well — particularly because they must fight in a Republican-controlled Senate.
But Pelosi also holds an opportunity to showcase diversity among the Democratic caucus and spotlight rising members who could use the historic Senate trial as a way to boost their national profile or fundraising power. Back in the 1999 impeachment trial for President Bill Clinton, Republicans sent 13 impeachment managers, all of them white men.
Pelosi doesn’t have to follow any tradition and has not given any hints. “Right now? OK, if you promise not to tell anybody,” Pelosi teased reporters who asked last week. “When the time is right, you’ll know who the people are.”
‘Brief moment in the sun’
Behind the scenes, some Democratic members have jostled to be included. Others have taken themselves out of the running over campaign conflicts or because they don’t have as much legal or trial experience.
Some potential impeachment managers are largely keeping quiet about any ambitions in public.
“I haven’t given it any thought,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the House Democratic Caucus chairman who is a Judiciary Committee member and worked as a lawyer before moving into politics, said Friday.
One lawmaker speculated that Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin tried out a new pair of glasses during the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings in preparation for the role.
[On impeachment, Pelosi prevailed over Judiciary panel to narrow focus]
Raskin, a former prosecutor, said they were his driving glasses to help cover up a black eye he got in a fall while running, but he added about the manager role, “I am totally there if they want me.”
“I have no strategy and no bloodthirst ambition to do that,” Raskin said of being an impeachment manager. “I am more than available to do it if they need a constitutional law professor. But there are people of remarkable talents across our caucus, and I know there are dozens and dozens of people who would be good and excellent at it.”
Members won’t really have a choice if Pelosi taps them for the role, said Tennessee Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen, a Judiciary Committee member. “If she calls and she asks you to do it, you’d be happy to do it,” Cohen said.
The role of impeachment manager could help with the base and make a member an instant figure in the media and speaking circuit, said Virginia Democrat Rep. Gerald E. Connolly. “They’re going to be in the history books,” Connolly said.
But there are downsides too. “It’s a lot of work for a brief moment in the sun, although a brief shiny moment in the sun,” Connolly said. “You could also really flop. All this expectation and you’re not quite what we thought. You bored the hell out of people, or you weren’t very compelling.”
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, when serving as an impeachment manager during the Clinton impeachment trial, said the managers “spent long hours poring through the evidence, sacrificed time with our families and subjected ourselves to intense political criticism.”
Such political criticism could be intensified in the polarization of the Trump era, when the president has wielded his Twitter account to attack his political opponents.
Almost as a preview, Trump tweeted Sunday about the articles of impeachment and said that Pelosi’s “teeth were falling out of her mouth, and she didn’t have time to think!”
Pelosi’s picks are expected this week around the same time as the House floor vote on the articles of impeachment set for Wednesday. Previously, the House has appointed managers by agreeing to a House resolution after the House agrees to the articles.
Pelosi seemed to suggest to reporters last week that she would like to make her picks based in part on what the Senate process will look like. But there is no indication the Senate will decide that until early next year.
There are a number of members who appear likely to be impeachment managers.
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., got his post in part because of a long tenure that includes leading a subcommittee on constitutional issues.
Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., is a former prosecutor who garnered praise from Democratic colleagues for how he handled the investigation into Trump’s Ukraine dealings and the public hearings.
Other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, where managers traditionally have come from, could also fit the job. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California is a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee who worked on the Nixon impeachment as a staffer and was on the committee during the Clinton impeachment.
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California is a former county prosecutor whose concise questions from the dais stood out during both the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee hearings. Swalwell, who ended his presidential campaign in July, clearly has ambitions beyond the House.
And Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas is a lawyer, as is Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida.
Pelosi might include some other chairmen of the six House committees investigating Trump under the “umbrella” of an “official impeachment inquiry.”
And since Democrats used the Intelligence Committee for much of the investigation, Democratic members such as Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, Rep. Val B. Demings of Florida and former lawyer Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois could be in the mix.
Over the weekend, The Washington Post reported that a group of 30 House freshmen led by Minnesota Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips sought to have Rep. Justin Amash as an impeachment manager.
Amash was the first Republican lawmaker to say that Trump committed impeachable offenses, and then left the Republican party and became an independent in July. He tweeted over the weekend that Republicans are “making a concerted effort to mislead” about impeachable wrongdoing.
With Republicans apparently in lockstep in opposition to the articles of impeachment, Pelosi could see an advantage in adding Amash to the managers, Phillips told the Post.
“To the extent that this can be bipartisan, it should, and I think including Representative Amash amongst the impeachment managers is a smart move both for the country, for the substance and for the optics,” Phillips said.
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.