We’ve all been there.
Who hasn’t found themselves living in Brussels, serving as America’s top diplomat to the European Union – only to be summoned to Washington for a closed-door, transcribed interview before the House Intelligence Committee?
We board a long flight to Dulles International outside Washington. Prepare what we’re going to tell congressional investigators. And then, in the middle of the night, just hours before heading to Capitol Hill, the administration puts the kibosh on your appearance.
Don’t you remember when that happened to you?
The Trump administration blocked U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from appearing before lawmakers to tell his side of the Ukraine story on Tuesday. A few hours later, the White House wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to declare her impeachment inquest “invalid.” As a result, the administration won’t permit any witnesses to testify and it won’t fork over any documents related to the probe.
The House is on a recess this week. Some lawmakers who flew in just for the Sondland interview fumed about the cancellation early Tuesday morning.
“They told us it was going to happen an hour ago,” vented one House member, expecting to attend the interview early Tuesday morning. “I canceled all sorts of district and constituent events for this.”
In the TV news business, we often toss in a throwaway line during a live shot. We declare we “don’t know what will happen next,” or some other bromide. But in this impeachment process, we truly don’t know how this will unfold. We’re in such new territory here.
But one thing is clear: The decision by the Trump administration to bar any cooperation with Congress simply hastened the impeachment timetable.
When Pelosi formally threw her support behind the impeachment probe last month, she was vague about a concrete deadline to resolve the matter. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., noted, “We don’t want this to drag on for months and months, which appears to be the administration’s strategy.”
“We don’t want this to drag on for months and months, which appears to be the administration’s strategy.”
It was thought as recently as last weekend that the House could burn a couple of months investigating the Ukraine issue -- and then turn to crafting articles of impeachment. But the lack of compliance poured accelerant on the entire process. If House Democrats don’t get the materials they want soon, it’s not outside the question the House could expedite articles of impeachment late this month or early November.
Next Tuesday is the deadline for most of the House’s requests. That coincides with the day the House returns to session. Pelosi will take the temperature of her caucus when lawmakers return.
But in some respects, Pelosi already knows the temperature. Democrats are seething over the administration failing to meet congressional demands. They think they have a robust case against the president when it comes to obstruction of Congress.
Pelosi could grant the administration more time to comply. That would let the issue marinate in public for a bit – and demonstrate that Democrats aren’t hasty to impeach. But after that, the House Judiciary Committee could begin drafting articles of impeachment.
Pelosi doesn’t travel roads like this unless she already knows the outcome. She doesn’t lose votes on the floor – especially something of this magnitude.
Yes, there may be some Democrats who lose their seats over this. But to Pelosi, this isn’t about politics. If it was, she wouldn’t push to impeach. Pelosi thinks President Trump crossed a constitutional line and it’s up to the House to rebuke him – electoral consequences be damned.
In the House, one party or the other doesn’t win a sizable majority only to sit on it. They get these majorities to do big things. Look at what Democrats did in passing ObamaCare. Sure, it cost them seats. But ObamaCare remains the law of the land.
Granted, in Pelosi’s heart of hearts, she doesn’t like the idea of impeachment. She described this as a “sad time.” But the speaker also views this as something Democrats must pursue to check the presidency and preserve the Constitution. To Pelosi, this is way bigger than ObamaCare.
Meantime, Republicans are crowing about “process” and the House not taking a formal vote to launch an impeachment inquiry. Republicans want to squeeze vulnerable Democrats by voting to initiate an impeachment inquiry.
But, one wonders if that tactic could backfire. Would Republicans on shaky turf either A) vote to launch a probe, or, B) face the wrath of voters if they oppose the inquest?
The “lack of a vote to start an impeachment investigation” is a process debate. It is said on Capitol Hill that once you start arguing about “process” to the public, you’ve already lost the fight.
It’s kind of like working the refs in basketball. You can’t beat the team on the court -- so it must be the fault of the officials.
“What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo court,” thundered one of President Trump’s most vocal defenders, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “Adam Schiff is acting like a malicious Captain Kangaroo.”
“What we see in this impeachment is a kangaroo court. Adam Schiff is acting like a malicious Captain Kangaroo.”
This may be the first time that a children’s television icon was roped into a debate over impeaching the president of the United States. What’s next? Mister Rogers on North Korea’s weapons program? Bert and Ernie tackling Brexit? Maybe someone could enlist Mr. Moose to tell a knock-knock joke and drop a stockpile of ping-pong balls on everyone’s head.
Some Republicans like Gaetz are more than happy to form a rear-guard for the president. Others aren’t so sure.
“Once you light that fuse,” said one seasoned GOP source of impeachment, “anything can happen.”
It may depend how long the fuse runs.
Most congressional Republicans back Trump – at least for now. But remember: This was a marriage of convenience. Few GOPers ardently supported the president during the 2016 campaign. But they quickly switched their allegiances after the election.
Some people marry for money, others for prestige. Congressional Republicans married Donald Trump for tax reform and to repeal and replace ObamaCare. They’ve achieved half of that.
Could Republicans abandon the president if impeachment gets too hot?
Impeachment shouldn’t have anything to do with U.S. policy toward Syria. But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle howled when Trump abruptly decided to yank U.S. forces out of northeast Syria. This exposed the Syrian Kurds to an assault from Turkey. Lawmakers were apoplectic, condemning the president’s rash tactic. There are concerns that Trump’s decision could fuel ISIS and diminish global security.
Again, impeachment has nothing to do with Syria. But it does. If some Republicans are willing to break with the president on that issue, their support could erode on others. This doesn’t mean there will be a Republican jailbreak.
But GOP frustration over the Syria policy could quickly morph into other areas. After all, what will Republicans campaign on next year? Sure, some can beat up impeachment and talk about “The Squad.” But Republicans privately concede their cupboard is bare when campaigning on a policy agenda. They can’t roll out “repeal and replace ObamaCare” for the umpteenth time.
And so the fuse is lit. Impeachment may come sooner rather than later. Gordon Sondland is accruing frequent-flyer miles.
Maybe it’s time for Mr. Moose to drop some ping-pong balls on someone.