The White House messaging is similar to that used by President Bill Clinton and his aides in 1998: pressing lawmakers to expedite the impeachment process and Senate trial so Washington can focus on other matters.
That strategy is based on advice from Clinton White House veterans — some solicited, some offered for free on cable news programs and in newspaper op-eds. In the 1990s, Clinton rarely discussed his impeachment process, and his top aides’ public message was about all the legislation and other policy efforts on which their boss was working.
“If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair………trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business,” Trump tweeted after Pelosi announced she had asked House committee chairs to craft impeachment articles.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham acknowledged the Democratic majority would be enough to impeachment Trump. “We look forward to a fair trial in the Senate,” she tweeted.
Then came a statement from Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 election campaign manager.
“Impeaching the President has always been their goal, so they should just get on with it so we can have a fair trial in the Senate and expose The Swamp for what it is,” Parscale said.
But was this message shift to the Senate’s role the equivalent of the White House waving a white flag on the House process? Not so fast, said one White House official.
“There is no white flag,” the official said. “We don’t know if Pelosi has the votes or not.”
Asked if Trump and his team now see no way to avoid him becoming just the third American president to be impeached, after Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, the official, granted anonymity to speak freely, replied with a shake of the head: “We don’t know if that’s inevitable. Does she have the votes? You’ll have to ask her.” (Both Johnson and Clinton were acquitted in their Senate trials.)
“She whipped health care, the Obamacare vote. But she hasn’t whipped other big things,” the White House official said. “Will she have to whip this, twist arms? We’ll see. Maybe. It’s not a done deal.”
That largely comported with what White House Counsel Pat Cipollone told Republican senators at their policy lunch at the Capitol on Wednesday, according to those present. That, despite the White House insistence that there is no there there.
“He (Cipollone) said a number of times ‘We don’t think that there is any reason the House should send this to the Senate,’” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, even as he described Cipollone saying the White House was eager to present a case in the Senate.
Majority Whip John Thune described the White House counsel’s presence as an opportunity for Republican senators to understand the White House’s thought process on a possible impeachment trial.
“Well, I think, you know, they just wanted to help us kind of get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they see it,” said the South Dakota Republican. “So it was an opportunity for our members to ask questions and for some to offer comments, but you know, again it’s a fluid process.”
Chris Marquette, Lindsey McPherson and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.