'What the hell': Furore over strange 'victory lap' moment in Trump impeachment

Signing of the impeachment articles against Donald Trump took a bizarre turn when the process was painstakingly held up due to a strange move by the leading Democrat behind the impeachment push.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi picked up pens lined up beside her and used them to sign each letter of her name on the all-important paperwork, handing each to assembled chairmen and House managers due to prosecute the case in the Senate.

The unusual process attracted widespread outrage from Republicans, who bashed Pelosi over what some perceived a “disgusting victory lap”, particularly given she previously referred to the impeachment issue as “serious, sad, and sombre”.

“What the hell is Pelosi doing?? Signing one letter so a time so everyone gets a pen. Pelosi’s victory lap is disgusting,” another wrote.

Others were critical of her seemingly giddy nature during the signing of the documents.

“For months Nancy Pelosi said impeachment was serious, sad, and somber. After signing the articles of impeachment Pelosi laughed about the number of pens she used to sign the articles,” they said.

Pelosi smiles while signing the resolution to transmit the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Source: Associated Press

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham also criticised Pelosi for both the pens and her demeanour during the process.

“Nancy Pelosi’s souvenir pens served up on silver platters to sign the sham articles of impeachment,” Grisham said to Twitter, adding that Pelosi “was so somber as she gave them away to people like prizes”.

Hypocrisy was highlighted by Trump himself, who handed out his own pens after signing a new trade agreement with China, which happened to occur at the exact moment his impeachment papers were being signed.

A number of commentators falsely claimed the pens came at huge expense to the taxpayer but those claims have been proven false by PolitiFact.

Where does the ritual originate?

The practice is not a new concept in Washington, with signing pens often doled out on celebratory occasions.

They can be seen framed and hung in lobbies across the city as trophies of the proximity to power. Trump has engaged in the tradition himself.

In a much-photographed ceremony in June 2018, he signed an executive order halting family separations at the US border. He then handed the pen to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

On December 22, 2017, in the Oval Office, Trump signed the Republican tax bill into law while Congress was in recess. But Trump’s aides brought some pens, anyway — so he tried to give them out to reporters.

Each pen was emblazoned with Pelosi's name printed in gold. Source: Associated Press

The tradition didn’t start with Trump however, with President Lyndon Baines Johnson giving away framed sets of the pens he used to sign his “great society” legislation to fight poverty and racial injustice.

Among the recipients were lawmakers and the White House press corps. A complete set still resides in the press work space behind the White House briefing room.

What’s next for the impeachment?

Pelosi’s signature sent the articles against Trump to the Senate for trial, which is expected to open Thursday (local time).

The documents charge the Republican president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for pressuring Ukraine to help him politically.

Trump says the whole thing is a “hoax” and claims he is a victim of a political “witch hunt” led by Pelosi.

Now that the articles have been signed, if the Democratic-led House of Representatives wants to file a trial brief it must do so by 5pm on Saturday, January 18, local time.

Trump has until 6pm to file a response to the impeachment charges. That document is to be submitted to the secretary of the Senate.

Pelosi gave pens to assembled chairmen and House managers who will prosecute the case in the Senate. Source: Associated Press

The House then has until noon on January 20 to file its reply to the secretary of the Senate, and Trump has until noon to file a trial brief that would contain detailed materials from his lawyers.

Starting on January 21, if the White House files a trial brief on behalf of Trump, the House has until noon to file a rebuttal brief if it so chooses. The trial will then resume at 1pm.

A vote could be held sometime during the day on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposed rules for the first phases of the trial, which would leave open the option of voting later on whether witnesses would testify and new evidence could be introduced.

That's likely to prompt Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to demand votes on approving witness testimony rather than leaving that question open until later in the trial.

Democratic House "managers" who form the prosecution team will begin to present their case against Trump, and the president's legal team will respond, with senators sitting as jurors. McConnell has said the Senate will sit in session six days a week, taking only Sundays off.

Following the opening arguments, which could take days to present, senators would then be given time to submit questions to each side.

McConnell has not yet published a draft of his proposal on trial procedures, but has said it would be similar to that adopted in January 1999 during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.

Democrats will push to hear from witnesses during the trial. If McConnell's resolution on initial trial rules is adopted, as expected, senators would likely vote some time after the trial has started on whether to introduce witness testimony sought by the Democrats.

The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. That means four Republicans would need to cross party lines and join Democrats in requesting witness testimony.

The trial could continue into February, when Iowa and New Hampshire hold the first nominating contests for the 2020 presidential election. That could pose logistical problems for the four senators seeking the Democratic nomination: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Michael Bennet.

On Febuary 4, Trump is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

In 1999, Clinton delivered such a speech in the House chamber in the midst of his Senate impeachment trial. 

With Associated Press and Reuters

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