The hearing held on Monday by the House Judiciary Committee was titled, “Lessons From the Mueller Report.” It should have been titled, “Yet Another Example of Democrats Making Fools of Themselves While Wasting Valuable Time.” It was a comprehensive disaster. Some of us saw this televised fail coming a mile away, and Donald Trump’s defenders had themselves a field day.
The entire hours-long endeavor served no purpose whatsoever in the search for knowledge regarding the Trump administration, but provided a splendid platform for right-wing grandstanding that will linger far longer than any of the proffered testimony. This kind of Democratic self-immolation has been going on for days now, and if it keeps up, Trump will win re-election next year by 4,000 points without ever having to leave the building.
“Here we sit today in a hearing with the ghost of Christmas past,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) of the hearing’s “star witness,” Watergate figure John Dean, “because the chairman of the committee has gone to the speaker of the House and sought permission to open an impeachment inquiry and she said no.”
Hard to argue with that statement, which captured the spinning-wheels nature of the entire event. Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) has been pushing hard to open a formal impeachment inquiry, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) continues to resist. In the absence of a genuine inquiry, Rep. Nadler was left to preside over Monday’s toothless farce.
Anything that makes a lump like Rep. Gaetz look sharp and witty is bad news, and when his star-turn comes at the expense of what should be a serious and legitimate inquiry by House Democrats, the writing on the wall is clear: Speaker Pelosi is fully prepared to let her caucus look like perfect fools in public if it serves her efforts to avoid impeachment entirely. It is beyond cowardice. It is dereliction of duty.
“Mr. Dean,” pounded Gaetz, “how many American presidents have you accused of being Richard Nixon?” The answer, now, is two: Before Trump, Dean spent most of the George W. Bush administration comparing that president to Nixon, as well. As with Trump, it was an apt comparison, but Rep. Gaetz targeted the repetition of the claim to lethal effect, stating, “We’re here reopening the impeachment inquiry potentially into Richard Nixon, sort of playing out our own version of ‘That ’70s Show.’”
“The Democrats want to talk about Watergate?” crowed Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) on Fox News. “I mean, this happened before I was born. This is a total waste of time.” Gallingly, Senator Hawley is also correct: The hearing was a waste of time. This isn’t Watergate; this is worse by orders of magnitude, and despite Speaker Pelosi’s ongoing reticence to acknowledge it, the public at large knows this.
“A recent CNN poll released the last week of May found that 41 percent of the public supports proceedings while 54 percent does not,” reports The Washington Post. “Another Fox poll from May similarly found 42 percent supporting and 50 percent opposed.”
Those numbers have Pelosi spooked, but since we’re talking Watergate in the absence of actual action, let’s put them in context: Before the Watergate hearings began, only 19 percent of the country supported impeaching Nixon. After the hearings, that number jumped to 57 percent. Approval for impeaching Trump is already above 40 percent without a single real hearing being held. The ground does not get any more fertile than that.
“Privately,” the Post report continued, “several Democrats said they agreed with the GOP’s harsh assessment, wondering why Dean was called in the first place.” Terrific. An already-fractured caucus splits even wider, and Chairman Nadler — a lifelong Trump foe who fears this rogue president not one bit — is left straining at his leash, paws digging uselessly in the dust. Nadler didn’t have to do this hearing, of course, but he called it hoping that even a weak something would prove to be better than nothing. It wasn’t. Nadler deserves better than what happened on Monday. We all do.
It would be bad enough if Monday’s sham hearing had been the only Democratic failure of the last seven days, but it wasn’t. On Friday, the House Rules Committee announced it would not, in fact, follow through with plans to hold Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn in contempt for defying subpoenas. By Monday, it appeared the contempt hearing was back on. Late Monday afternoon, however, a deal between House Democrats and the Justice Department to provide only a portion of the subpoenaed Mueller report evidence was announced, putting contempt back on the shelf.
It is exactly this half-assed, discombobulated approach that has been motivating Rep. Nadler to advocate so strongly for opening an official impeachment inquiry, because an official inquiry would put all the investigative eggs into one basket: his. This is not a power grab by Nadler, but a way to organize the frictionless chaos of the current situation under one roof.
Instead, we are left with the sort of raging incoherence evinced by Speaker Pelosi when she told Nadler on Tuesday night that she wants to see Trump “in prison.” Translation: She wants something she lacks the power to do, but refuses to undertake an action she absolutely has the power to do. This is Peak Democrats 2019.
Compounding this array of self-inflicted wounds, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced Wednesday that no presidential debate devoted specifically to the pressing issue of climate disruption would be held. Further, any Democratic presidential candidate who participates in a non-DNC-sanctioned climate debate would be barred from all future debates.
Climate disruption, from a purely political perspective, is a runaway winner for the Democratic Party. “Over the past eight months, climate change has shot up as a core Democratic issue in polls,” reports Ella Nilsen for Vox. “While it certainly came up during the 2016 presidential primary and was discussed on the sidelines in 2018, this year marks a noticeable shift.” One major reason for this is plain: People, especially caucus voters in flood-ravaged Iowa, can see climate disruption simply by looking out the window.
“This isn’t about one issue among many,” writes Esquire blogger Charles P. Pierce. “This is about the one great issue of our time, and one of our political parties is pretending it’s not happening, and the other major political party is pretending that it’s just another topic for a 30-second spot. It doesn’t matter what kind of healthcare plan you pass if people can’t live on the land, and if the land can’t produce food.”
If you find yourself looking up at the flailing leadership of the Democratic Party and are considering a run against an incumbent because you believe you can do better, watch out: Party leadership has a plan for that. “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee warned political strategists and vendors Thursday night that if they support candidates mounting primary challenges against incumbent House Democrats, the party will cut them off from business,” reported Akela Lacy for The Intercept in late March.
It’s a good thing this rule was not in place before the 2018 midterms. Otherwise, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), Lucy McBath (D-Georgia), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and other exemplary members of the House freshman class would have been bricked by the party during the primaries.
Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley knocked off long-serving incumbents to win their seats, so this rule is for upstarts like them. As far as the leadership of the Democratic Party is concerned, empowering women of color is great until they threaten its own power.
Also, former senator and vice president (and current party insider) Joe Biden, the frontrunner in the presidential race, spent the last week staggering through crises over plagiarism, abortion and contraception. On Tuesday, CBS News dug up the transcript from a 1995 Senate hearing where Biden described the once and future attorney general, William Barr, as “one of the best I have ever worked with.” The hearing in question was on the subject of “enhancing the effectiveness of incarceration.”
The man has 22 different presidential campaigns along with the White House digging through dirt to blunt his momentum. All they need to do is leaf through his congressional and prior campaign records, because Biden 3.0 makes its own opposition gravy.
So squats the current state of the Democratic Party. If this parade of strategic calamity and gutless short-sightedness continues apace, and we have every reason to expect it will, Donald Trump won’t have to work hard to keep his job. It almost makes you wonder if these Democratic “leaders” actually want Trump to be re-elected. After all, he is such a spectacular foil for fundraising.