WASHINGTON — Like others who didn’t see it coming, Sen. Mike Lee is puzzled why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indefinitely held off sending articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial to remove President Donald Trump.

Pelosi made her unexpected announcement shortly after the House impeached Trump on on two charges — abusing his presidential power and obstructing Congress — based on his pressure on Ukraine to announce investigations of a political rival as Trump withheld U.S. aid and blocking House efforts to investigate.

She said House Democrats are waiting to see if the Senate trial prosecuting the charges against Trump will be fair.

“So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us. So hopefully it will be fair. And when we see what that is, we’ll send our managers,” she told reporters Wednesday night.

The announcement ignited confusion and speculation that the speaker is withholding the articles of impeachment as leverage in negotiations between Senate leaders over how the trial will unfold.

But Lee wondered why the California Democrat and her caucus are willing to delay delivering the charges to the Senate for trial if they were in such a rush to impeach a president they said was a threat to national security.

“She’s moved heaven and earth to do it before the holidays. Why then, just days before Christmas, when she’s finally impeached the president, she’s decided just to sit on it? It’s really weird,” the Utah Republican told the Deseret News on Thursday.

Lee speculated, however, that Democrats are holding out for terms that will give a “weak” case a better chance in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Senate’s role

Earlier in the day at a news conference, Pelosi downplayed the possibility that she would delay a Senate trial, according to Politico, saying she’s just waiting for Senate leaders to agree on ground rules before moving forward.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were to meet privately Thursday afternoon to discuss those rules but came to no agreement. The two leaders sparred over the pending proceedings in separate floor speeches earlier in the day.

McConnell denounced the House’s impeachment of Trump as the “most rushed, least thorough and unfair” impeachment inquiry in modern history. But he said the Senate exists for these moments.

“It could not be clearer which outcome would serve the stabilizing, institution-preserving, fever-breaking role for which the United States Senate was created and which outcome would betray it,” he said.

Although the House is not required to deliver impeachment articles to the Senate, if it happens the Senate must hold a trial. Only two impeached presidents have been tried by the Senate — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999. Both were acquitted, and McConnell has assured the GOP-controlled chamber will do the same with Trump.

Schumer countered in his remarks that the Republican leader was plotting the “most rushed, least thorough and most unfair” impeachment trial in history by declining to agree to call witnesses Schumer has requested, including former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who declined to testify before the House.

“McConnell claimed the impeachment was motivated by partisan rage,” said Schumer. “This from the man who said proudly, ‘I am not impartial.’”

“What hypocrisy.”

Schumer has proposed new witnesses and new document demands, which would essentially expand the House probe.

Utah Republican Mitt Romney, who has reserved judgment on the charges against Trump, said he will work within the structure the two leaders agree to.

“I understand the majority leader’s point of view. In the Clinton trial, the decision related to witnesses was reached after opening statements. The minority leader would like to reach that decision before” the trial begins, Romney said. “They’ll need to work it out between them one way or the other.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. | Susan Walsh, Associated Press

‘Type of collusion’

Lee was on the floor of the House Wednesday night for the final speeches of the eight-hour debate and the nearly party-line votes on both articles.

“I like to go over there and watch a vote particularly if it’s high profile or an interesting one, and this certainly fell within that category,” he said. “It was a little more contentious, a little more openly hostile than what you typically see in the Senate.”

Lee, who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 but is now co-chairman of Trump’s reelection campaign in Utah, has met with the White House legal team preparing to defend the president, and he speculates that Schumer and Pelosi are in “some type of collusion” negotiating for trial arrangements that will “make up for the defects in their proceedings.”

McConnell told reporters Thursday that withholding the articles of impeachment doesn’t give Democrats any leverage negotiating terms of the trial, Politico reported. “Frankly, I’m not anxious to have the trial,” he said. “If she thinks her case is so weak she doesn’t want to send it over, throw me into that briar patch.”

Lee contends the House’s case against Trump is “weak” in both the facts and how it was managed. He explained past impeachments of both presidents and federal judges offered the accused more opportunities to defend themselves during an inquiry than House Democrats have done for Trump.

“They have the prerogative to do it their way,” Lee said. “It’s not their prerogative to tell us that we’ve got to do it the way they want.”

Trump weighed in on Thursday with a tweet that questioned Democrats’ resolve and stated that he wants “an immediate trial.”

Contributing: Associated Press