A different chairman. A committee twice the size. A shift from evidence to law.
Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing was full of signs that the impeachment of President Donald Trump is advancing away from the drama of his Ukraine conduct toward the grave business of approving charges against him. That meant turning from tales of international intrigue and shadow diplomacy to scholarly talk about what the founders meant when they wrote the impeachment standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” into the Constitution.
For a change, the famously combative Judiciary Committee plunged through the proceedings with comity and restraint. Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, on the hot seat to deliver experts who say Trump’s behavior is impeachable, gaveled the committee through a handful of objections and roll call votes. For long stretches, 41 of the the fiercest partisans in the House sat through the professors’ testimony as quietly as church mice.
I’ll give the chairman credit,” ranking Republican Doug Collins of Georgia said in the late afternoon. “He’s actually following proper procedure.”
The relative peace on the dais belied the bitterness that remains between the parties over whether Trump abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden — and whether his actions are impeachable.
Partisan bickering and grousing bubbled forth at times. Nadler raised some hackles by suggesting that the still-to-be-decided impeachment articles might go beyond Trump’s plans on Ukraine and wrap in his conduct during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“This is Act II of the three-part tragedy of impeachment,” said Rep. Ben Cline, a Virginia Republican.
Republicans also took aim at a Democratic witness, Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan, who had joked early in the day that the president “can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.”
She was trying to make the point that Trump is a president, not a king. Nonetheless, she apologized. First lady Melania Trump said Karlan “should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”′
Broadly, there clearly was a shift afoot across Capitol Hill and the sense that the process was accelerating toward a House vote — and later the GOP-controlled Senate — no matter who objects or tweets.
The contrasts started even before Nadler’s gavel fell on Wednesday. The night before, the House Intelligence Committee voted to send its report on Trump’s Ukraine conduct to the Judiciary Committee charged with writing the articles of impeachment. Hours later, House Democrats gave the lead investigator, Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, a sustained standing ovation inside a private caucus meeting. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear that impeachment loomed.