Trump sent this command to Rupublicans at the start of the only two days that are necessarily and by design about process: Approving the rules and procedures for impeachment.
It was about as discordant as declaring the “Greatest Economy in American History” on the very morning the government reported that economic growth had slowed to a lackluster 1.9 percent. Yet Trump did that Wednesday, too. When the government reported the identical rate of growth in 2012, Trump had declared: “The economy is in deep trouble.”
“It’s not a fair process, it’s not an open process, it’s certainly not been a transparent process,” complained Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).
Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) joined in, denouncing “a process that continues to happen behind closed doors” and one lacking in “fair play and due process.”
Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.) needled the Republicans for their process complaints. “What we are getting more and more of is complaints about process,” he said. “It almost seems as if we don’t want to deal with the substance of the president’s conduct.”
Cole, the ranking Republican, wasn’t having it. “A debate over process — that’s what the Rules Committee is,” he said. “We are going to debate process. . . . You are setting up a process, so please, no more complaints about debating due process.”
Of course, Republicans have another reason not to heed Trump’s advice to shift from process to the substance of his conduct: Each day seems to dismantle another one of his substantive defenses.
“Where’s the whistleblower?” lost its relevance after other officials corroborated the complaint.
That left Trump with “Read the transcript” (a claim that the rough transcript of the infamous Ukraine call wasn’t as damning as advertised), a phrase he deployed at least 55 times in October.
But now it turns out the rough transcript was really rough.
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the New York Times reported, told the impeachment inquiry Tuesday that the transcript, reconstructed by the White House, omitted key details, such as the Ukrainian president specifically mentioning Burisma, the company Hunter Biden advised, and Trump saying there were tapes of Joe Biden talking about Ukraine corruption.
Lordy, he said there were tapes — again?
Hence the relative safety for Republicans in continued complaints about the process — even as Democrats introduced a resolution modeling impeachment procedures, in large part, after previous impeachments and answering Republican demands for an official vote, public sessions, subpoena power and right to counsel.
The Rules Committee, a 13-member panel that meets in a tiny hearing room on the third floor of the Capitol, has a custom of decorum, and lawmakers greeted the first public skirmish of impeachment with exaggerated collegiality: “My good friend from Florida speaks with years of experience. . . . As is so often true I don’t disagree with a thing my friend said. . . . I understand the history to be exactly as my friend from Colorado described it.”
But soon they were hooked on bickering.
“An expanded fishing expedition,” said Cole.
“Continuing a fishing expedition,” said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.). “Nothing more than a fishing expedition.”
Countered Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.): “Some call it a fishing expedition, like you. Others call it oversight.”
Added Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.): “This is not a fishing expedition.”
“If it’s a fishing expedition,” proposed Raskin, “there are a lot of fish and there may even be some whales.”
That was genteel compared with what’s coming, and Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) gave the committee a taste. Lesko, who had joined the group of GOP lawmakers who stormed impeachment proceedings last week, used her time to allege, without evidence, that Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) leaked depositions — and to engage the committee in a sandbox-level lecture on fairness:
“I mean, that’s not fair.”
“I mean, if you think this is fair, this is not.”
Lesko has a keen sense of propriety for a lawmaker who just tweeted a GIF of a man throwing spaghetti marinara at a map of North America, with the description: “A live look at House Democrats trying to impeach President @realDonaldTrump.” Trump retweeted it.
This is about as much “substance” as we’re likely to see.