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Can Democrats Take Impeachment Seriously?

If it’s a straight party-line vote, they’ll win in the House, fail in the Senate, and lose in America.

Peggy Noonan · Oct. 5, 2019

We have grown used to the daily bedlam, the nonstop freak-out that is the Trump White House. Nevertheless it should be noted the president’s language and visage this week were especially wild. It’s “treason,” it’s “a coup,” it’s a “hoax” and a “fraud,” the whistleblower’s information came from “a leaker or a spy,” it’s a political “hack job,” it’s “bulls—.” He had a Travis Bickell moment — “You talkin’ to me?” — with Jeffrey Mason of Reuters. He’s careening around, growling and prowling like some preliterate King Lear. It’s a reality show about a reality you don’t want to be in.

The best description of him was low-key, from a former GOP congressional staffer: “The president is an unsettled person,” he said.

It is assumed the House will impeach the president. If that is so, how is the great question. If it is a straight party-line vote, if it’s shirts vs. skins, then the Democrats will have their victory in the House, quickly fail in the Senate, and not win in America.

This cannot be one party doing its one-party thing. I think Nancy Pelosi knows that.

The reason she did not put forward a formal resolution calling for an impeachment inquiry is said to be that she didn’t want to jeopardize her moderate members from districts that voted for Mr. Trump. There’s something in that, though a former member of Congress pointed out to me that most of the moderates aren’t all that vulnerable — they’re way ahead in fundraising; Mr. Trump didn’t win some of the districts by much; some don’t have opponents yet.

I suspect another reason Mrs. Pelosi didn’t call a vote is that she knew the outcome would have been completely down-the-line partisan: Dems on this side, Reps on that. And that wouldn’t look good. It would allow more than half the country to dismiss the effort as more party mischief.

Here is a very open question: Can House Democrats control themselves? Can they look like they’re not trying to kill their foe but trying to get the truth? I don’t know. There’s something about Democrats now that they seem embarrassed to reach out to Republicans, as if that’s not done by nice people.

Can they establish an air of earnestness and care, of fairness, of investigative depth?

Members of the investigating committees have to understand that in hearings they are not talking to the media, they are not talking to the Democratic base, and they are not talking to cable news. It’s not about the hot exchange with a witness or a dramatic sound bite. You’re talking to the American people. The impressions of fair-minded centrists and swing voters will be everything. And they will see right through your sound bites and Spartacus moments.

You won’t impress them that way. They will turn on you if you give them only showbiz.

Members of the committees really have to prove they’re operating in good faith. During the impeachment hearings for Richard Nixon you could honestly look at the Democrats and think: Most of them are trying to play it straight. It was still true of Republicans, though less so, in the Clinton impeachment.

But there’s a good-faith deficit in Congress now as it becomes more brutal and partisan. It leads to losing sight of the big picture, which is what is good for America.

For instance, the Democrats want access to more transcripts of the president’s phone calls with foreign leaders. That’s a dangerous area. Foreign leaders need to have confidence they can speak frankly and privately with a president. In a world crisis lacking that confidence could prove disastrous. Normal people would understand this right away, and not approve of irresponsible fishing.

Mrs. Pelosi keeps saying she’s moving forward more in sorrow than in anger and that she’s praying for the president. Maybe she’s overlarding it, but swing voters will see her calm in contrast to the president’s lunacy, and prefer it. Her members should be watching her.

She is also trying to wire this thing without the help of committee chairmen of conspicuous stature. Here we get to Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He is an intelligent, focused and strikingly partisan figure. He will be a face, maybe the face, of the impeachment hearings.

He has already stepped in it with his tendentious paraphrasing of Mr. Trump’s conversation with the president of Ukraine, a so-called parody that was bizarre, unserious, embarrassing. This was followed by reports he was misleading in denying prior knowledge of the whistleblower’s complaint.

Mr. Schiff’s weakness, at least in public, appears to be lack of judgment. You could see it last week in his questioning of the acting director of national intelligence.

Joseph Maguire had been on the job in this high-turnover administration for all of six weeks. He’s a serious looking guy, joined the Navy in 1974, was 33 years a Navy SEAL, rose to vice admiral. Speaking under oath he said, “I am not partisan and I am not political.” He’s from a long line of those who’ve served: “When I took my uniform off in July of 2010, it was the first time in 70 years that an immediate member of my family was not wearing the cloth of the nation.”

This guy is a citizen. He said he supports whistleblowing, that he got the whistleblower complaint a few weeks into his tenure, reviewed it, consulted with lawyers, tried to determine if the complaint was subject to executive privilege. The day before the hearing, the White House had released the transcript of the call, and he felt that allowed him to reveal the complaint, unredacted.

He said he believed the whistleblower and the inspector general did nothing wrong, did everything by the book. He believes this matter is “unprecedented.” Deeper in his testimony he said “I believe the whistleblower is operating in good faith,” and “I think the whistleblower did the right thing.” He expressed no skepticism at all.

It was pretty explosive!

Mr. Schiff didn’t see it for what it was and rise to the moment. He proceeded to beat Mr. Maguire around the head, grilling him and interrupting answers. You went to the White House. You told the president’s lawyers. Why didn’t you come to me sooner? He fixated on “sequencing” and “chronology.”

He seemed to miss the story totally and have no sense of how people at home would experience it. He was weirdly hostile.

I was watching at home like an American and thought: What’s wrong with you? The nation’s top spy, who appears thoroughly upstanding, is expressing no skepticism about a complaint that alleges his boss, the president, is kind of a bum.

How could you miss that? You’d have to be blinded. By what?

During Watergate there was a guy called Peter Rodino of New Jersey, head of the House Judiciary Committee — Democrat, Newark, pretty tough guy. He was no child, he was no naïf, he was a party man. But he was judicious and capable and ran his committee well. After it voted to impeach Nixon, he got on the phone with his wife and wept. “You know, he was our president,” he told Susan Stamberg of NPR in 1989.

That’s what the Democrats need, someone who’d be genuinely sad at taking out a president.


Republished by permission from peggynoonan.com.

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