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An impeachment chronicle

L-r: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Eliot Engel and Rep. Adam Schiff. (Alex Wong/Getty)

WASHINGTON — For the third time in the Republic’s history, the US House of Representatives impeached a president.

There were a number of firsts on Dec. 18: Donald Trump became the first elected president to be impeached in his first term — Andrew Johnson had assumed the presidency following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln — and a female speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was leading the House during the proceedings.

And two Jewish lawmakers, both Democrats, led the 10 hours or so of debate on the pro-impeachment side: Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, handled the first part, and Rep. Adam Schiff of California was in charge of the second.

The impeachment debate was the closest I’ve seen Congress come to the rough-and-tumble, on-one-foot style of extemporized debate one sees in parliaments in Canada, Britain, Israel and Australia.

Zeldin time

All three debate masters — Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia handled the Republican side the whole time — adeptly parried points made by the other side, fluently citing witness testimony and the evidence while barely checking their notes.

If triggering the other side is to be considered a success, Schiff scored points, eliciting GOP groans when he said, “I think when the history of this time is written, it will record that when my colleagues found that they lacked the courage to stand up to this unethical president, they consoled themselves by attacking those who did.”

Each debate leader allocated time slots to speakers on their side; you could determine a lawmaker’s status within the party by how much time they received. By that standard, Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Jewish Republican from New York, is a rising star. Collins allocated three minutes to Zeldin, who was elected just five years ago, whereas most Republican members got 30 seconds or a minute.

Zeldin used his time to deliver a blistering attack on Schiff, even using one of Trump’s favored puns, calling the impeachment proceeding a “Schiff show.” That earned what seemed to be a sardonic chuckle from Schiff himself.

Playing the Israel card

There were no surprises in the debate. In the end, the vote to impeach on two articles — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — passed on partisan lines.

Like Trump, a number of Republican lawmakers positively cited the president’s moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, among other pro-Israel plays.(The overarching GOP argument is that the Democrats are trying to bring down a president who gets things done.)

Jesus also entered into the mix: Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., said Trump was getting a worse deal than the martyred Christian messiah.

“During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded to this president,” Loudermilk said.

Schumer vs. McConnell

When does impeachment go to the Senate? It’s not yet clear.

Pelosi said immediately after the vote that she isn’t ready to refer the inquiry until she is certain it will get a fair hearing.

Already battling over what “fair” means are Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Jewish Democratic minority leader.

Schumer wants four firsthand witnesses the White House blocked from testifying in the House; McConnell wants no witnesses. Each legislator held the diametrically opposite position during the Clinton impeachment.

The two laid down their talking points in speeches on Dec. 19 packed with tough accusations but delivered with typical Senate decorum.

Decorum, however, does not describe how Trump and Schumer are treating one another.

“You know, Chuck Schumer. Cryin’ Chuck. Cryin’ Chuck Schumer. I used to be a big contributor,” Trump said at a Michigan rally. “He would have done anything for me.”

Schumer kicked back in an interview on Dec. 19 with Joe Madison on Sirius XM.Schumer addressed Trump’s attack at the rally on John Dingell, the late Michigan congressman, by attacking Dingell’s widow, Debbie, who voted for impeachment. Trump suggested that John Dingell is in hell, spurring an anguished protest from Debbie Dingell and rare bipartisan rebukes.

“I’m preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love,” Dingell said on Twitter. “You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder.”

Moderates in the Hot Seat

Republicans have been targeting the 30 or so Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 traditionally held by Republicans, flipping the House.

Among them are a number of Jewish members, including Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a leader among the freshmen moderates who decided in September to join more liberal colleagues in backing an impeachment investigation.

On Dec. 17, ahead of her vote, a White House spokesman accused Slotkin of selling out, telling the Detroit Free Press that “Michiganders deserve a leader who puts their needs ahead of hyperpartisan politics, but Rep. Elissa Slotkin sold out her constituents for Nancy Pelosi’s sham impeachment process.”

One strategy for moderate Democrats in swing districts is to show that they stand with Trump on other issues. Slotkin in recent days has emphasized her backing for Trump’s North American trade policies.

In her floor speech on Dec. 18 voting for impeachment, Rep. Elaine Luria, a Jewish Democrat from a swing district in Virginia, alluded to standing with Trump on a Jewish policy.

Citing the oath she swore both as a US Navy commander and then as a congresswoman, Luria said it guided all her actions.

“I resolved to stand with the president last week and I resolve to stand against the president today,” she said. She was referring to her photo op with Trump last week when he signed an executive order instructing agencies to defund university campuses that tolerate anti-Semitism.

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