UPDATE, 1:54 PM PT: Republicans took aim at one of the Democrats’ legal scholar witnesses at the impeachment hearing: Pamela Karlan, professor of law at Stanford Law School.
Karlan used a line that seemed intended for a viral moment: “The Constitution says that there can be no titles of nobility. So while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.” She had been talking about how the framers had tried to put in safeguards to guard against monarchism.
But Donald Trump’s re-election campaign seized on Karlan’s comment. They sent out a press statement accusing Karlan of mocking the Trumps’ 13-year-old son on TV. “Disgusting,” Kayleigh McEnany said in the statement.
First Lady Melania Trump tweeted, “A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”
GOP Judiciary Committee members also referenced Karlan’s comment. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told her “it makes you look mean.” He also queried her about past donations of $1,000 to Elizabeth Warren, $1,200 to Barack Obama and $2,000 to Hillary Clinton. “Why so much more for Hillary than the other two?” he asked.
“Because of I have been giving a lot more to charity recently because of all the poor people in the United States,” she responded. She later said that it was her First Amendment right to give money to candidates.
Karlan later apologized for making the reference. “It was wrong of me to do that. I wish the president would apologize, obviously, for the things that he has done that [are] wrong, but I do regret having said that.”
As expected, the Barron/baron reference was a focal point of coverage on conservative news outlets, including Fox. Asked by Deadline what impact he thought it had, the Democrats’ counsel Norm Eisen declined to comment.
But conservative critics of the president had a term for it: fake outrage.
George Conway wrote on Twitter, “Given that the complaint is about ‘privacy,’ the question is how many people will know about the reference because of the fake outrage versus how many would have known about it in the absence of the fake outrage. And let’s leave out the fact that, in the ordinary course, there have been countless references to the young son in the media, including stories about how he was named, and about his life, to which no outrage was offered.”
He added, “So no one should be pretending that the president and his supporters weren’t using his youngest son today to distract from his crimes.”
UPDATE, 11:53 AM PT: The broadcast networks returned to regular programming after several hours of coverage of the impeachment hearing, which is likely to extend into the late afternoon or early evening and focus on legal rationales and constitutional scholarly arguments.
NBC, for instance, broke away at 1:26 p.m., after the Judiciary Committee took a break so members could vote on the floor. But NBC and the other broadcast networks did not return to coverage when the hearing resumed, as the committee moved to five-minute rounds of questions from almost 40 members.
In the hearing room itself, there were plenty of empty seats in the public gallery and the press area, after being filled in the morning.
But some Democrats said that the hearing was still important in making the public case for the impeachment process, even if it did not have the dramatic moments of fact-witness testimony.
“This is not a sideshow, so yes it is important for them to be attentive of this, and I am hoping that the American public is taking this as an opportunity to learn about our history, about our constitution, about what the framers had in mind, and about the significance and seriousness of what has happened so far,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) said during the break.
Andrew Napolitano was part of Fox News’ coverage, and said that the hearing “is probably not going to change anybody’s mind. There is no smoking gun. It does take a while to explain to the American public exactly what it is that Donald Trump did that is in the minds of the Democrats a threat to democracy.”
NBC News’ Chuck Todd said that the Democrats were in a “conundrum” have “where they look at the political calendar and the political situation and the road block on the Republican side and yet they follow these leads to pursue.”
UPDATE, 9:01 AM PT: A big question is how long the broadcast networks will stay with the House Judiciary impeachment hearing, given that it likely will stretch well into the afternoon and that it is dealing with constitutional law and legal theory, a contrast to previous sessions where a parade of witnesses were in the spotlight. In other words, this isn’t a hearing for jaw-dropping bombshells.
Nevertheless, the law professor witnesses did have some attention getting moments.
Pam Karlan, professor of law at Stanford Law School, was the most strident in arguing that President Donald Trump’s conduct rose to the level of impeachable offenses.
“Because this is an abuse that cuts to the heart of democracy, if you don’t impeach a president who has done what this president has done, or at least you don’t investigate and then impeach…then what you are saying is, ‘It’s fine to go and do this again.'”
One breakout moment was when she pushed back at criticisms from Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, telling him that she read all of the witness transcripts and that she was “insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor that I don’t care about those facts. But everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited, indeed demanded foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this republic to which we pledge allegiance.” Collins looked as if he was about to respond, but he did not.
Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington University, was the sole impeachment skeptic of the panel of witnesses. He said he was not a supporter of Trump’s and did not vote for him. But he said that he was concerned “about lowering standards to fit a paucity of evidence” and an excess of anger.
“In an age of rage, it’s appealing to listen to those saying forget the definitions of crimes, ‘just-do-it’, like this is some impulse buy Nike sneaker,” he said.
The White House and the Republican National Committee tweeted out some of his comments, but he was not exonerating the president. He was making the point that impeachment was premature without more evidence. He said that Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine was “far from perfect..” That contradicts the way that Trump has characterized the conversation as one that was “perfect.”
PREVIOUSLY, 8:05 AM PT: Viewers tuning in to the first House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment were very quickly treated to a wide partisan gulf on the motives behind the whole process.
Republicans sought to slow down the proceedings at several points with a series of motions, including ones to call the whistleblower and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) to testify, while Democrats framed the proceedings as urgent.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) declared at the outset that the “facts are undisputed” that President Donald Trump sought foreign help to investigate a potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden. He talked of the Ukraine scandal as just the type of presidential conduct that the Constitution’s framers warned about. “Those patriots still feared one threat above all: foreign interference in our elections,” he said.
At one point he quoted Alexander Hamilton, capitalizing on his new place in pop culture. “When such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity — to join the cry of danger of liberty — to take every opportunity of embarrassing the general government and bringing it under suspicion. [It] may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”
The GOP, however, tried to capitalize on what they predicted would be a puzzling and even dense day of testimony from four constitutional law professors. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), said in his opening statement, “We can be theoretical all we want but the American people are going to look at this and say, Huh? What are we doing?”
“The partisan coup d’etat will go down in infamy in the history of the nation,” he said.
Collins is well known to many in the entertainment industry. As the co-chair of the Creative Rights Caucus, he’s a go-to GOP lawmaker for filmmakers, producers and executives as they visit D.C. and urge greater action on issues like piracy and copyright.
The Republicans on the committee tried to fluster Nadler, seeking a repeat of earlier hearings featuring Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and Special Counsel Robert Mueller that failed to land a game-changing impact. Placed behind GOP members were a series of quotes form Democrats, including one from Nadler during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment: “An impeachment of a president is an undoing of a national election.”
With a series of procedural motions, the GOP members also tried to slow things down, but Democrats were expecting it.
Viewers likely were confused about what was happening, as Republicans sought to introduce motions to slow down the proceedings. At one point Nadler and Collins sparred over what was a “proper parliamentary inquiry.”
Some of the motions, including one to postpone the hearing until December 11, were tabled, but they required a consuming-taking roll call votes. Collins charged that the “clock and the calendar is driving impeachment, not the facts.” He claimed that Democrats were concerned of the political implications of impeachment and wanted to keep from spilling too far into the election year.
Trump and his attorneys were invited to the hearings, but declined to participate.
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to begin to draw up articles of impeachment after this hearing, and they are likely to include charges of obstructing Congress. In his opening statement, Nadler said that the White House’s refusal to comply with subpoenas for testimony and evidence was a “level of obstruction” that is unprecedented. Some Democrats want the articles to include charges not just related to Ukraine, but to the finding in Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Democrats want a House vote on impeachment before the Christmas holiday, after which the Senate would conduct a trial. If 2/3 vote to convict Trump, he would be removed from office, something that has never happened in U.S. history. But given the partisan divide on Capitol Hill, that scenario seems highly unlikely.