by Tom Sullivan
Wednesday’s national news, of course, was the House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing on the impeachment of President Donald Trump. But is news yesterday from far outside the Beltway evidence the president’s welcome is wearing thin with his own party?
Stanford Law School professor Pamela S. Karlan came in scorching with her opening statement during Wednesday’s House Judiciary hearing on the Trump impeachment. She quickly made what might have been an academic discussion a polemical one:
Karlan emerged Wednesday as a new hero for liberal law professors across the country for her ability to joust with House members all the while ticking off why she believes Donald Trump should be impeached, making complicated legal philosophies understandable, and raising the ire of supporters of the President. Her testimony also evoked a rare tweet from first lady Melania Trump castigating her for a comment she made that invoked the Trumps’ 13-year-old son, for which Karlan later apologized.
Karlan clearly made a splash in her opening statement, first among many noteworthy moments. Democrats hammered away at Trump’s perfidies while Republicans, lacking any defense for them, attacked the process or tried to change the subject.
Republicans whined about the lack of “fact witnesses” with direct knowledge of Trump’s actions, then demanded to hear from Ukraine-connected witnesses with no direct knowledge of Trump’s actions. No Republicans asked the president to allow over a dozen executive branch officials with direct involvement to testify. (Image at top.)
Comments in the last hour of the nine-hour hearing are worth attention for the broader picture they paint of the Trump presidency. Broader, that is, than Trump pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations of potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) pointed out that during the Clinton impeachment, members of that White House testified before Congress and Clinton provided answers to 81 written interrogatories. Conversely, Trump has refused. He has intimidated witnesses and issued a blanket order that none of his subpoenaed executive branch officials testify. Trump praised others for refusing to cooperate with the House inquiry. He has refused to produce subpoenaed documents. Both Nixon and Clinton allowed the White House counsel and chief of staff to testify, Neguse observed. Trump has not.
Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) offered that Trump has not only refused to cooperate with normal congressional oversight, but with its constitutional obligation to oversee impeachment.
Noah Feldman, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, responded:
For the president to refuse to participate in any way in the House’s constitutional obligation of supervising him to impeach him breaks the Constitution. It basically says, nobody can oversee me. Nobody can impeach me. First, I’ll block witnesses from appearing. Then, I’ll refuse to participate in any way. And then I’ll say you don’t have enough evidence to impeach me. And ultimately, the effect of that is to guarantee that the president is above the law and can’t be checked. And since we know the framers put impeachment in the constitution to check the president, if the president can’t be checked he is no longer subject to the law.
Stanton asked Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina’s law school about the president’s refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas. Isn’t that the framers’ worst nightmare?
One way in which to understand that is to put all of his arguments together and then see what the ramifications are. He says he’s entitled not to comply with all subpoenas. He says he’s not subject to any kind of criminal investigation while he’s President of the United States. He’s immune to that. He’s entitled to keep all information confidential from Congress. Doesn’t even have to give a reason. Well, when you put all those things together, he’s blocked off every way in which to hold himself accountable except for elections. And the critical thing to understand here is that is precisely what he was trying to undermine in the Ukraine situation.
Trump holds himself above any legal constraints on his actions. That is clear from his history both in business and in public office. He refuses to recognize the legislative branch’s constitutionally defined oversight authority. He refuses to comply with legal subpoenas. Those actions themselves, aside from the Ukraine affair, demonstrate the need to end his presidency and his efforts to undermine the rule of law.
At the end of the day, this item from the heart of Rep. Mark Meadows’ NC-11 (home to your truly) came over the transom: Three County Commissioners Leave GOP – Transylvania County, NC:
“This is not an action we do happily, and it is not a choice we take lightly,” the announcement said. “It comes after much prayer, reflection and discussion among us and with our loved ones. In leaving, we are ending a long association that is deeply personal. Between us, we have won 20 different elections as Republicans in Transylvania County.”
The announcement noted three “broad areas” for their decision to leave the party: “First, we have clear notions of conservatism. To be conservative is to honor and preserve the fundamental institutions, processes, structures and rule of law, which have enabled the United States to be history’s greatest success story. To be conservative is to be financially prudent while also investing in common ground works that support individual success for all citizens. To be conservative is to be welcoming and inclusive, understanding that all of us share the same human aspirations; conservative tenets of self-determination cannot be exclusive. To be conservative is to have a strong moral compass and the willingness to challenge wrong regardless of its source. We believe all of these are not merely conservative principles but American principles.
Their statement does not mention Donald Trump by name. But the trio must find it difficult to square those principles with the actions of their leaders in Washington, D.C. and in Raleigh. Their leaving the Republican Party was obviously a long time coming. They left in a coordinated fashion for cover. (New state and federal district lines won’t affect officials at this level in this county.)
It is far too early to know if these officials abandoning the Party of Trump as a group is an isolated event or a sea change. But it won’t reflect well on Meadows who faces reelection in a district more like the one Heath Shuler won from a Republican in 2006 before the post-2011 gerrymander pushed it to R+14. What may make this announcement from a rural red county disquieting for national Republicans is the template it sets for Republicans elsewhere to follow.
Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.