WASHINGTON — There’s a campaign going on in Washington that even the most garrulous members of Congress aren’t eager to talk about: to be part of a team of uncertain size, with a risky mission, to be named by a leader who isn’t talking about what she’s looking for or when she’ll decide.
Welcome to the race within the House to win a spot on the Democratic team that will prosecute the impeachment case against President Donald Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the sole decider, but she offered no hints Thursday as the impeachment saga accelerated toward an expected vote next week by the full House — and, in January, a Senate trial.
“When the time is right, you’ll know who the people are,” she told reporters Thursday.
But they’ll have to be the right people, by Pelosi’s measure, to press the Democrats’ case that they are defending the Constitution against a president who put betrayed his oath by pushing a foreign country to help him in the 2020 elections.
The impeachment managers will have to withstand the scrutiny and risk of prosecuting the case against Trump from the floor of the Republican-held Senate, before a global audience. And be willing to face the near-certainty of defeat, as the Senate appears unlikely to convict and remove Trump from office.
“They’re ugly,” Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, said of the Senate proceedings. He would know, as a manager of former President Bill Clinton’s trial two decades ago. “I have a lot of sympathy for the House managers that are going to be picked.”
Plenty of ambitious people are quietly jockeying for the job by writing Pelosi letters nominating themselves, spreading the word or just hoping their work impresses her. The campaigns are exceptionally sensitive, since lobbying Pelosi or looking to gain fame or campaign funds from impeachment could backfire. But the widely televised public hearings before the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee are thought to have served a kind of audition for the most likely Democrats to be appointed to the team.
The competition has kept aides, reporters and lawmakers talking for weeks. But few, if any, seem to have solid insight into Pelosi’s plans.
Yet a few things seemed likely. Almost certainly, the team won’t include Democratic freshmen from Trump-won districts who are the most at risk in their reelection bids this year.
The group seems certain to be diverse in race and gender, providing a contrast to the 13 white, male Republican lawmakers who prosecuted the case against Clinton. (Trump’s defense at the trial will be conducted by his legal team, not lawmakers.)
Pelosi also has suggested in private that she’s concerned about “geographic diversity” on the team, according to a Democratic aide who was not authorized to speak publicly about her thinking.
That means she’s likely to name at least one manager from someplace other than the robustly Democratic U.S. coasts, which could help counter the GOP argument that impeachment is a partisan, elitist exercise to topple Trump from power.
She’ll also want managers who have legal experience as well as deep knowledge of the case against Trump. That likely means members drawn from the rosters of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees that led the investigation and wrote the articles of impeachment.
The members who check the most boxes start with the chairmen of both panels. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California has drawn widespread praise — and Trump’s ferocious scorn — for his investigation of the president’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate the family of Democratic hopeful Joe Biden. Schiff, a former prosecutor, is exceptionally close to Pelosi. She yielded the podium to him at a recent press conference and opted to watch his statement from the audience, alongside reporters.
Nadler is a veteran of the Clinton impeachment proceedings, led his panel through the consideration of the articles and will be the sponsor of the legislation when it comes to the full House.
No matter whom Pelosi names, the team will have a sensitive, high-profile role in a process that’s only been undertaken three times in American history.
After the House vote to impeach Trump, it is expected to inform the Senate that it has authorized the managers to conduct the trial in the Senate. According to a November report on the process by the Congressional Research Service, the Senate then informs the House when the managers can present the articles. Doing so will kick off a solemn sequence of pageantry, wherein the House prosecutors cross the Capitol and enter the Senate chamber, presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts and populated with senators who act as the jury.
The House members then read the resolution containing the articles and leave until the Senate invites them back for the trial. The prosecutors, possibly assisted by outside counsel, present the evidence against Trump and respond to any of the president’s lawyers or senators.