On impeachment, senior House Democrat crosses Pelosi and quickly retreats


Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is one of the more powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But he just got a quick education on the cost of breaking with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Smithappearedon CNN Thursday morning, mostly to discuss the situation in Iraq. But anchor John Berman also asked about Pelosi's decision not to send the House-passed articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. "Is it time, chairman?" Berman said.

"I think it is," Smith answered. "I mean, I understand what the speaker is trying to do, basically trying to use the leverage of that to work with Democratic and Republican senators to try to get a reasonable trial ... but at the end of the day, just like we control it in the House, [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell controls it in the Senate."

Smith wasn't finished. "I think it was perfectly advisable for the speaker to try to leverage that to get a better deal," he continued. "At this point, it doesn't look like that is going to happen, and yes, I think it is time to send the impeachment to the Senate and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial."

the Magazine: December 17With that, Smith became the first high-ranking Democratic lawmaker to publicly declare that it is time for Pelosi's hold-the-articles gambit to end. In that, Smith joined a number of Senate Democrats — Dianne Feinstein, Joe Manchin, Chris Coons, Jon Tester, and others — who have said Pelosi should give up and send the articles.

On Wednesday night, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine told Fox News he expected a Senate trial to start "within days." "That's what my gut is telling me," Kaine said. "I don't have any inside intel."

That is the situation in the Senate, where Democrats are not beholden to Pelosi. The House is another story, as Smith quickly discovered.

Not long after his CNN appearance, Smith took to Twitter to execute acomplete turnaround.

"I misspoke this morning," Smith wrote. "I do believe we should do everything we can to force the Senate to have a fair trial. If the Speaker believes that holding on to the articles for a longer time will help force a fair trial in the Senate, then I wholeheartedly support that decision."

Smith's climbdown left no question that Pelosi has not yet decided to give in and that when she does, she, and not one of her chairmen, will be in control. Yes, there has been growing speculation that Pelosi will cave soon. But the Smith kerfuffle suggested that is not yet.

Indeed, Pelositold reportersThursday that she plans to send the articles to the Senate "soon." But she would not say when. "I'm not holding on to them indefinitely," Pelosi said. "I'll send them over when I'm ready. It will probably be soon."

Meanwhile, Pelosi suffered an embarrassing revelation when it was reported that she got the idea for holding the articles from watching convicted Watergate felon John Dean on CNN. "Pelosi, according to an aide, had been mulling the tactic since she heard former Nixon White House counsel John Dean float the idea on CNN on Dec. 5,"reportedTimemagazine.

In that appearance, Dean suggested that Pelosi might hold on to the articles indefinitely, even beyond the 2020 presidential election. "I think Nancy Pelosi has some real leverage in this," Dean said.

Now, it has turned out that Dean's theory, as adopted by the speaker of the House, has some flaws. The largest flaw is that Pelosi actually does not have real leverage. The Constitution gives the House the "sole power" to impeach but also gives the Senate the "sole power" to try all impeachments. Pelosi has no say at all over how the Senate conducts the trial.

"There will be no haggling with the House over Senate procedure," McConnelltweetedWednesday. "We will not cede our authority to try this impeachment. The House Democrats' turn is over."

And so it is — in the Senate. In the House, Pelosi still commands the power to force Democrats to toe the line. Just ask Smith.