Whether today is the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s presidency or the end of its beginning, one’s thing for sure: partisan political warfare got real fast Wednesday as the House impeachment hearings went live on TV.
Besides a hairspray-defying strong wind, Trumps worst nightmare started promptly at 10 AM ET/7 AM PT as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence kicked off its first public hearing, and within minutes the Republican minority aimed to knock the Democrats off their game.
Starting with a very real reality-TV moment of an interrupting question from Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) as chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) tried to methodically lay out how the heavily televised day would go, the GOP looked to defang the proceeds citing a thousand parliamentary procedures. Clearly well-scripted for his big turn in the media glare, Sunday show regular and Hollywood congressman Schiff appeared ruffled by the rupture – it wouldn’t be the first time in the first hour of the hearing.
Knowing perfectly well that America and the occupant of the Oval Office was watching, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) and pitbull Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) all took bites out of Schiff and the Democrats on the committee. Having just been appointed to the committee after it was announced the previously closed-door probe was going public, Jordan threw out a number of allegations against the Dems with the obvious intention to derail the process fast and early.
Horrible for the Constitutional proceedings, the debut of what can best be called Impeachment Apprentice made for riveting TV in what was already shaping up to be a staid affair. With seven C-SPAN cameras filming every move in the committee room at the Capitol and CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, PBS, the broadcast networks and social media platforms all taking the feed live, this was showtime for an audience of one in many ways.
Joining Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton in the impeachment pantheon, and after tweeting up a storm in the early morning, that audience of one Donald Trump was retweeting up a hurricane, including footage of false premised Jordan’s dust-up with Schiff from House Minority Leader and local water carrier Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
.@Jim_Jordan to Chairman Schiff: “Of the 435 members of Congress, you are the only Member who knows who the whistleblower is, and your staff is the only staff who has had a chance to talk with that individual.
“We would like that opportunity. When might that happen?” pic.twitter.com/UBzmorAbOR
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) November 13, 2019
Throwing more gasoline on the partisan fire, the White House Press Secretary took to social media along with Vice-President Mike Pence and several other Trump lieutenants in a quick TV critique:
This sham hearing is not only boring, it is a colossal waste of taxpayer time & money. Congress should be working on passing USMCA, funding our govt & military, working on reduced drug pricing & so much more. @realDonaldTrump is working right now-the dems should follow his lead!
— Stephanie Grisham (@PressSec) November 13, 2019
Next to a CNN graphic that described him as an “ardent defender of Trump,” former House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) came out swinging for POTUS and seemingly willing to throw everything against the wall to smear the Democratic majority, the Biden family and the media in the process. Among his political invectives in his opening statement after the interrupted Schiff’s turn at the microphone was the resurrection of long-disregarded claims that it was Ukraine not Putin’s Russia that meddled in America’s 2016 election.
In a performance that certainly would have earned him another visit to the boardroom on The Apprentice, Nunes also railed against what he called the Democrats’ “scorched Earth war against President Trump.” Slagging the Dems for what he deemed a failed probe into connections between the Russians and the 2016 Trump campaign, Nunes showed the Dems how it is done in the digital era with soundbites charging a “carefully orchestrated media smear campaign” against Trump and that “this spectacle is doing great damage to our country.”
Slagging this “low-rent Ukrainian sequel” to the Russia investigation by ex-FBI director Robert Mueller, Nunes’ center-stage stint was a stark contrast to the measured and often bloodless opening remarks by usually more media-savvy Schiff. Anointed as the impeachment lead by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi early on, Schiff seemed more intent on doing a good job as an elected representative as opposed to a player in a media circus – a wound that the GOP looks intent on poking over and over as the hearings go on today and in the coming weeks.
With CNN commentary from ex-Nixon aide John Dean and Wolf Blitzer throwing out clichés like the hearing being “true history unfolding,” the partisan divide was apparent on cable in the hours before today’s hearing began.
On the split-screened Fox News, Chris Wallace warned that the Democrats have to “make this look like a search for the truth” and not an attempt to “overthrow” Trump. One of the Murdoch-owned cable newer’s more even-keeled voices, Wallace was succeeded by fellow FNCer Martha MacCallum warning of “fireworks off the bat” once the hearings got started – an accurate prediction.
Expected to continue for several hours today and pick up again Friday, the impeachment hearing just finished taking opening statements from William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state and the State Department’s lead career official focused on that country. Not a single Republican member of Congress interrupted them, but questioning has just started, so stay tuned.
BTW – if you are watching the hearings in Los Angeles, you might have noticed that the local FOX station isn’t carrying the matter live like everyone else. The Murdoch-owned network has provided an FNC feed to its affiliates but leaving it up to local stations if they want to preempt their programming. Having played the first part of Rep. Schiff’s opening statement, Good Day L.A. cut away from the hearings, with a tiny live look off to the side of the screen, with the promise that “we’ll dip in and out of what’s happening in D.C.” No dipping so far.
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