For months, it has been painfully clear that what House Republicans and Democrats both wanted – in the worst way – was to fight and win every little battle, every single day, in their ultra-ugly partisan war over whether to impeach President Donald Trump.
And they have just spent the autumn of 2019 showcasing America's democracy – in the very worst way.
The sharp rap of every opening gavel at impeachment hearings triggered daylong parliamentary food fights that demeaned our democracy in ways we never saw during the efforts against Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton. We saw House Republicans with law degrees erupting by interrupting with so many delay-and-derail tricks that we wondered if some eager aide had googled Robert's Rules of Disorder. We heard Republicans attacking by challenging procedures and processes – but carefully avoiding unassailable evidence in which mid-level Trump officials testified publicly about Trump's determination to use military aid and the promise of a presidential meeting to get Ukraine's new president to announce that Ukraine would probe Trump's Democratic opponents.
But, in a sense, the Republicans' unfairness worked. We saw Democratic chairmen become increasingly flummoxed, pounding their gavels like heavy-metal drummers trying to regain control of their runaway band. They looked like wannabe dictators trapped in the unfriendly confines of congressional democracy.
This week, impeachment went prime-time, bigtime. On Wednesday night, the House Judiciary Committee began what it billed as its long awaited "debate" during family TV-watching time. Households coast-to-coast had a chance to tune into a rare moment of American history. House Democrats had drafted two articles of impeachment: The first declared Trump "abused the powers of the presidency" by soliciting a foreign government (Ukraine) to help his 2020 reelection campaign. The second charged that Trump obstructed Congress' effort to investigate that abuse by withholding documents and witnesses.
But lo, it turned out that no one was debating on Wednesday's historic impeachment debate night. All we saw and heard were 40 House committee Democrats and Republicans peacocking in prime-time, each reading five minutes of overwritten, overwrought oratory. (Do the math: 40 x 5 = 200 minutes.) Soon their words seemed to allruntogether.
Then, on Thursday morning, the strangest thing happened: An actual debate broke out – in the House Judiciary hearing room, of all places. At first even the Republicans seemed to be focusing on the actual evidentiary facts; but of course, they did their focusing in their own way. As when Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, argued that the Democrats' first article of impeachment, abuse of power, "is not a crime, much less a high crime." And Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a hard-hitting hardliner, opined: "That's just a Democratic drive-by.... No evidence of a crime."
Inconvenient facts were conveniently ignored, of course. As the so-called debate droned on for 14 hours, both sides reached for creative ways to get face-time. Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Tex., may have set the indoor record for creative name-dropping by conjoining Socrates, Stalin and Trump. "This reminds me historically of the trial of Socrates," said Gohmert. Why? Because Socrates was convicted "because he was arrogant. ...You want to try Donald Trump for being arrogant? I'm sure you'd have a lot of Republicans vote with you on that. Ya, he's arrogant." But arrogance isn't a crime, Gohmert said. And anyway (here comes his Texas two-step) Trump was accused by a few "hearsay gossip-mongering witnesses" in a "star chamber...so people can't see them, can't hear them. ...This is a Stalinesque type proceeding!" (Wake up, it's over.)
Of course, Gohmert conveniently ignored the fact that those House Intelligence Committee hearings were public, not secret. We saw a parade of Trump appointees describe Trump's quid pro quo demands that Ukraine must announce a probe of Democrats, before Trump would agree to deliver Ukraine's congressionally approved military aid and meet with Ukraine's president.
On Friday morning, after an autumn of GOP efforts to delay, derail and simply disregard the Democrats' impeachment effort, it took just six minutes for the House Judiciary Committee to vote 23-17 in a party-line vote to approve the two Trump impeachment articles. This month, the full House is expected to do the same. But no one expects two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate to convict Trump. So the drama will end there and Trump will run for reelection in 2020.
Yet, the most spot-on observation of the week was made by none other than Gaetz, the always outspoken Trump defender. During Wednesday night's eye-glazing speechifying, Gaetz, actually declared: "If obstruction of Congress is an impeachable offense, maybe we best impeach ourselves!"
About The Writer
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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