There was only one side of the dais at Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing that mentioned impeachment — and it wasn’t the Democratic side.
There was only one side that hollered and sputtered, one side that lobbed insults at the other and impugned colleagues’ motives — and it wasn’t the majority.
Indeed, Tuesday’s hearing was a study in the asymmetric combat that defines our politics in the Trump era. Some on the left see this asymmetry as a sign of Democratic weakness. I see it as the nation’s best hope for recovery.
At Tuesday’s session, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), spoke in a calm, steady voice about the absence of former White House counsel Donald McGahn, a no-show after President Trump ordered him not to comply with a subpoena. “Mr. McGahn has a legal obligation to be here for this scheduled appearance. If he does not immediately correct his mistake, this committee will have no choice but to enforce the subpoena against him,” Nadler intoned.
Nadler mentioned neither impeachment nor contempt, and he managed to keep the Democratic side — including the gadfly who brought fried chicken to a previous hearing as a prop — quiet.
Then came Nadler’s Republican counterpart, Rep. Douglas Collins of Georgia, who practically yelled out his statement and fired off taunts so quickly that those of us in the room struggled to understand him, and the transcript designated several sections as unintelligible. The words that did come through were mostly caustic and personal. Nadler “rushed to maximize headlines,” was “politically expedient,” issued an “illegal subpoena,” “orchestrated” a “spectacle” and a “drama,” and is “more interested in the fight than fact-finding.” Collins further accused Nadler and the Democrats of “harangues,” “innuendo” and warned of“running roughshod over the Constitution.”
“The theater is open,” Collins said of the sedate proceedings. Because Democrats can’t find anything to “hang their I-word, impeachment, on. . . . We’re here again, with the circus in full force.”
Though accusing Democrats of theatrics by having the empty-seat hearing, Republicans attempted to continue bickering by voting against adjournment. “This is disgraceful!” cried out Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).
Watching this disparity in demeanor, I tried to imagine how things might look if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, and, two years later:
• Five of her campaign advisers had been convicted of crimes — one of them implicating her — and a sixth indicted.
• A prosecutor documented numerous instances in which Clinton had interfered with investigators.
• Clinton refused to let aides cooperate with subpoenas and dismissed an unfavorable court ruling as “crazy” and partisan.
• She directed the Justice Department to investigate the front-runner for the Republicans’ 2020 nomination.
• She directed the White House counsel to lie about her deceit, then ordered him not to testify.
Can anybody imagine, in those circumstances, a Republican speaker of the House and the Republican presidential front-runner (the one Clinton ordered investigated) steadfastly resisting calls for impeachment?
There is long-standing tension among Democratic lawmakers and 2020 presidential candidates about whether to answer Trump’s aggression and insults in kind (Republican lawmakers long ago internalized his style) or whether to be the grown-ups in the room. On the campaign trail, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Kamala Harris(Calif.) have called for impeachment, and a growing number of Democrats in Congress, from fiery Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) to Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), a member of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) leadership team, have joined the cause. Liberal activists rage against Pelosi “meeting fire with fecklessness,” as New York magazine’s Eric Levitz put it.
But the mass of voters side with restraint, and even anti-establishment Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said impeachment “works to Trump’s advantage.” Certainly, Trump has earned impeachment; Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) has said as much. But with no chance of removing Trump, Democrats can instead show the country that our problem isn’t polarization; it’s that one side has gone bonkers, and the other side is trying to restore adult supervision.
Americans, even reluctant Trump supporters, hunger to end the madness. This is likely why former vice president Joe Biden holds a commanding lead, even though he’s out of sync with the party base ideologically and demographically. And generally, the 2020 Democrats seem to grasp the country’s need for normal. I had feared that, after Trump, Democrats would conclude there’s no penalty for lying. Instead, “anecdotally, I think they are trying to harder to be more factually accurate,” The Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, tells me.
This is an encouraging sign, as is party leadership’s efforts to resist an impeachment stampede. Impeachment may be inevitable if Trump continues to stiff-arm all inquiries. But Democrats are right not to emulate Trump’s insults, falsehoods and extreme partisanship as they go about their legitimate inquiries.
Maybe such restraint will be proved wrong in 2020, and voters will reward the insult hurlers. But if Americans don’t desire a return to stability, honesty and decency, our democracy is already lost.
they are pursuing a fresh line of attack in public, shifting from proclaiming the president’s innocence to attempting to undermine the probe itself.
.. Giuliani previously said that he’d negotiate an end to the probe within a week or two, which didn’t happen, and the president said he was wrong about some aspects of a reimbursement to former fixer Michael Cohen. But Giuliani’s remarks make clear that far from ruling out an interview, the president’s team continues to work toward a meeting with Mueller.
.. it was only two months ago that Trump first singled Mueller out by name in a tweet.
.. The new strategy, particularly as demonstrated by Giuliani on CNN, follows three prongs.
- First, impugn the investigators themselves.
- Second, argue that the investigation was tainted from the start.
- Third, argue that Mueller cannot indict Trump anyway.
.. The Cobb-Dowd strategy began with the assumption that Trump had nothing to hide. The new strategy, however, seems to take as its premise that Trump is guilty of at least something.
Mueller, a lifelong Republican who has served presidents of both parties, is a tougher case to make, so Trump has simply lied, claiming for example that Mueller worked for Barack Obama for eight years. Mueller was FBI director for nearly five years under Obama, having been appointed by George W. Bush... Giuliani, for his part, has referred to officials in the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, both of which he praised in the recent past, as “storm troopers.”.. They argue that the fact that the FBI was investigating Trump as far back as 2016 shows not only political motivation, but also that there is nothing to investigate... The setting of arbitrary timelines is a common motif. Trump has repeatedly said there is no evidence of collusion, even as two of his former aides have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russians, and despite the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and others. Giuliani on Friday charged that Mueller’s probe “$20 million later has come up with nothing,” when in fact the investigation has been unusually prolific.
.. It may or may not be true that DOJ placed a spy in the Trump campaign, but there’s no public evidence for it. Someone inside informing the FBI about goings-on is not the same as the Justice Department sending someone under cover. Nor is it scandalous for law enforcement to use legal methods to investigate possible crimes... We’ve heard this again and again. First, Trump claimed that Obama had “tapped” Trump’s “wires” during the campaign. This remark turned out to be nonsense, the result of a game of speculation in conservative media. Trump’s Justice Department said it was not true. Later, when it became clear that Manafort had been surveilled, some of Trump’s defenders claimed it vindicated his wiretap claim, which it did not, as I explained at the time. That’s a good reason to take the most recent claims skeptically, too. When Cuomo pointed out that Trump has often said false things, Giuliani blustered, “That’s a disgraceful comment about the president of the United States.” But he didn’t say Cuomo was wrong... if anyone did commit crimes, they were being entrapped and led into crimes by DOJ infiltrators who sought to take down Trump’s campaign... One doesn’t talk about whether or not one’s client can be indicted unless one believes that one’s client is likely to have committed some indictable crime. But the presumption of guilt has increasingly suffused the message of Trump defenders over the last month. It also surges through repeated warnings from Trump allies that Mueller might try to catch the president in a “perjury trap,” as though Trump could not avoid that by telling the truth... The president appreciates aggressive media responses, and Giuliani is to a certain extent just aping the president’s own words.
I was in Cleveland for the Republican convention. I think there was a Wall Street Journal story during that week or just right afterwards. And the headline was “GOP Delegates Think American Economy Is Terrible – Except Where They Live.” You know, there was a sense that most of their communities were doing OK, but they believe the entire American economy was troubled.
And I think we are seeing some combination of the way in which a generation’s worth of cable news has sort of conditioned people to nonstop and undifferentiated crisis around the world. The great difficulty of presenting positive developments in ways that don’t seem silly or sap-like. And also – I guess I’ve been thinking about this in the last day or two – the elevation of national politics to something like a religion
.. And I think national politics has become what you – what I think of as either a religious affiliation or a particularly sort of acrid sporting team loyalty where people who you otherwise can work with and compromise with and build a future with you either really feel connected to or you really feel just are the other based on which team they’re on, whether they’re on the Republican team, the Trump team, or the anti-Trump team.
And one other theme which no doubt we will explore, which is the ways in which people in non-coastal America feel as – not so much looked down on, but just ignored by media in particular
.. when my wife and I began our flying project back in 2013, our premise was to go to places that you would normally go to only if there were a flood or a tornado or a shooting as opposed to treating them as real entities and giving them the sort of three-dimensionality that you’d naturally give to the big coastal cities.
.. the opinion polls that came out before Donald Trump’s announcement when they asked people to sort of free associate across the country about the greatest threats to the nation, immigration was normally not in the top 10. You know, some people were very concerned about it, but not most people. So I would view this as a phenomenon of something about modern political national-level campaigning and media emphasis thereof has allowed us to get hyperpolarized and hyper, you know, upset about phenomena that in the daily life of the country are not seen as that threatening or disturbing.
.. I’ve interviewed most of the fallen Republicans and their campaign managers. And they really felt that the cable-based structure of those debates, where you had 10 or 11 people on the stage all crowding around for airtime, with Donald Trump standing dominant in the middle – that that helped him as well because it sort of preconditioned a “Survivor” or “Apprentice”-type show where you would knock off the weaklings one by one.
And there was always somebody who was weaker than Donald Trump, so he ended up seeming relatively stronger as time went on. And also, none of them – they didn’t figure out that they needed to join in together to attack him.
.. I think, in a potentially ominous way in the violation of norms. Donald Trump didn’t release his tax information. We thought in modern times that’s what a presidential candidate would have to do. During one of the debates Donald Trump said to Hillary Clinton that if he won, she would be in jail. This is something we have not heard from our candidates. We think of our candidates if they lose a bitter campaign, they say we offer our support to the next president. When Donald Trump suggested that he might not accept the results of the election, that also was unusual.
.. And Jimmy Carter, who had many thoughts to offer about speeches at all times, his thought about this was we don’t say that. You know, he’s a former president. We don’t talk about our opponents that way. We say we disagree with their views. We say they’ve made mistakes, but we don’t say their intentions are bad. And so to leap from there to saying that the incumbent president and his one purported successor are traitors, that is one more of the norms that we had – we’d not seen before this year.
.. I recorded a number of times where something happened and Donald Trump would immediately say it’s 100-percent clear that X happened. For example, this EgyptAir plane disappeared over the Atlantic some time ago – I’m sorry, over the Mediterranean some time ago. And still nobody knows what happened to that plane. But within, like, 30 minutes of its disappearing, Donald Trump was on the news saying it’s 100 percent clear this is terrorism. If you don’t know it’s terrorism, believe me, you’re suckers, folks. This is entirely what it is.
.. FALLOWS: So his main point, it’s based on something that is in my view largely just wrong and connected to something that is – that is real…
GROSS: I mean, wrong you disagree or factually incorrect?
FALLOWS: Factually incorrect – and that is the idea that essentially the economic problems America has is because China is – in particular but also Mexico and Japan and South Korea – are stealing our factories and stealing our jobs. And this is the main reason why the U.S. has the economic problems, the employment problems that it has. I think if 20 years ago, when China was beginning its ascent, you could say that a lot of the economic problems of the early ’90s were much more directly traceable to outsourcing decisions than anything that’s going on right now
.. But if you go many places now, the people who have been losing jobs in the last 10 years have been losing them only minorly to Mexico, China, South Korea, Japan. They’ve been losing them mainly to automation.
.. I can tell you from going back and forth to China that in every single country of the world, including China and Japan and South Korea and Mexico, the employment problem is the hollowing out of factory-type jobs because of automation.
.. I think to blame it as he does on bad-and-stupid deals with Mexico, China, Japan and South Korea both is out of date about the problem and really off about the solution because I don’t think there’s anybody who is involved with those countries who thinks that much tougher or canny or dealmakers is going to bring a lot more factories back to Indiana or Illinois.
In her letter, first reported by the Washington Post, King urged the Senate three decades ago to reject Sessions’ bid to become a judge.
“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge,” King wrote in her letter back then, which Warren read on the Senate floor Tuesday night. “This simply cannot be allowed to happen.”
But as Warren said those words, Republicans took offense. First, she was warned by the presiding officer — at the time, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) — that she was violating Senate rules against impugning another senator.
Warren protested, saying she was merely repeating the words of King. But she was allowed to continue to talk, so she did, and Warren finished reading King’s letter.
“Mrs. King’s views and words ring true today,” Warren said. “The integrity of our Justice Department depends on an attorney general who will fight for the rights of all people. An honest evaluation of Jeff Sessions’ record shows that he is not that person.”
But a little while later as Warren continued to speak, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came to the floor.
“The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” McConnell said, referring to Warren’s recitation of the part of King’s letter that warned Sessions would “chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
.. Warren insisted that she was “surprised” that reading King’s letter would not be appropriate debate in the chamber and asked for permission to continue speaking.
McConnell objected to that request from Warren, which was upheld in the GOP-controlled chamber. Warren immediately appealed that ruling so she could finish her speech against Sessions, but the Senate voted along party lines to shut down that appeal.
Now, she can no longer talk until the floor fight over Sessions’ nomination is over. His confirmation vote is expected Wednesday evening.