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Impeachment articles’ path to Senate governed by rules and precedent

Before trial starts, expect pomp, circumstance and ceremony

The articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton lie on the desk of Secretary of the Senate Gary Sisco on Dec. 19, 1998, after House Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde delivered them from the House floor after the impeachment votes. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton lie on the desk of Secretary of the Senate Gary Sisco on Dec. 19, 1998, after House Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde delivered them from the House floor after the impeachment votes. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Correction appended Jan. 14, 2:10 p.m. | The expected House vote this week to name impeachment managers for the Senate trial and authorize them to spend House funds will set in motion a set of established steps that will guide the articles of impeachment from the House to the Senate.

The resolution, which won’t be released until Speaker Nancy Pelosi meets with her caucus Tuesday morning, will appoint managers who will act as prosecutors during the Senate trial that will determine whether the impeached President Donald Trump is removed from office. They will present the case for the House impeachment articles, approved in December, which charge the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The transfer of the articles of impeachment between the chambers has been delayed by a weekslong standoff between Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell regarding the parameters of the Senate trial. While Pelosi has agreed to relinquish her grip on the articles, there will not be a tense photo op of a handoff between the two congressional leaders.

The transmission of the articles is a choreographed ceremony. It will put the Secretary of the Senate Julie E. Adams, who came up through McConnell’s office and typically works behind the scenes, at center stage.

Adams will receive the articles from the House, likely delivered by Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler or Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff and a cadre of other House Democrats selected as impeachment managers.

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Pelosi has not indicated which House members will serve as impeachment managers, but they will be appointed this week. Some names floated in recent weeks include familiar characters in the impeachment inquiry, including Schiff, Nadler and other members of their committees.

The solemn ceremony of walking the articles to the Senate and the procedures that it would trigger are in part set in Senate impeachment rules passed in 1986 and precedent set by the impeachment and trial of President Bill Clinton that stretched from 1998 into 1999. But the articles’ path from the House is in part the result of a scramble to get things ready in the Clinton case. Impeachment is a duty enshrined in the Constitution, but it didn’t provide many details. 

James Ziglar, who served as Senate sergeant-at-arms during the Clinton impeachment, said that with the limited precedent for impeachment, he pieced things together with the help of the Senate historian, parliamentarian and others.

“Because there is no scripted format, you make it up as you go along and hope the public doesn’t get a sense of the chaos in the background,” Ziglar wrote in an article last month.

The House resolution expected this week will also likely allow the managers to tap into Judiciary Committee funds and other House accounts to hire legal and clerical help and cover other expenses that arise in the preparation for and execution of the Senate trial.

It is not yet clear if the Senate will pass its own resolution to authorize funds for the trial. Ahead of the impending Clinton impeachment trial, the Senate approved in 1998 a flurry of small measures to prepare, including authorizing the installation of special seating for impeachment managers and the president’s counsel and to allow audiovisual equipment to facilitate the presentation of the case.

The articles against Clinton arrived in the Senate in 1998 in blue leather-like folders, embossed in gold with the congressional seal. House Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde walked through the long marble hallways from one side of the Capitol to the other, followed by his colleagues and a flurry of photographers.

12/19/98.IMPEACHMENT VOTE-- House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., delivers the Articles of Impeachment against President Bill Clinton just passed on the House floor to Secretary of the Senate Gary Sisco. Looking on are committee members Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, Bob Barr, R-Ga., Bill McCollum, R-Fla., James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., Charles Canady, R-Fla..CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY PHOTO BY SCOTT J. FERRELL
Hyde delivers the Articles of Impeachment against Clinton just passed on the House floor to Secretary of the Senate Gary Sisco. Looking on, from left, are Judiciary members Steve Chabot of Ohio, Bob Barr of Georgia, Bill McCollum of Florida, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Charles T. Canady of Florida. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The 1998 handoff ended with a handshake and a formal statement read from a notecard about transmission of the important documents. While the details of this week’s handoff will be sorted out by Adams and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael C. Stenger, it will likely be a similar exchange. This time Adams will safeguard the documents before turning them over to the full body for the trial.

Stenger will eventually make a proclamation on the floor, along the lines of: “Here ye, here ye. All persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump.”

After the proclamation, the House managers will present the articles of impeachment to the Senate and the presiding officer will then inform the managers that the chamber will “take proper order” on the impeachment and will provide notice to the House of the start of the trial. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will also be alerted that the trial is imminent. 

Eventually, the Senate will convene a “committee on escort,” composed of senators to escort the chief justice into the Senate, and oaths will be administered to each senator. 

Once the Senate receives the impeachment articles and list of House managers, the chamber will notify the president that he is invited to come and respond. 

The rules and precedents are silent on key procedural matters, which is why the Senate will need to approve a resolution detailing a framework for the impeachment trial before it gets underway.

Todd Ruger and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the Secretary of the Senate’s home state. 

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