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Slow-walking impeachment may look weak. But restraint is Democrats' greatest strength.

Dana Milbank on

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.

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