As Wednesday’s impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee approach, it is difficult to resist comparing committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) with former congressman Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), who chaired the committee during President Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment process in 1973 and 1974.

By most accounts, Rodino handled Nixon’s impeachment process with dignity and fairness. During a 1989 interview, he said that although he and Nixon were in different parties, “he was our president.” Rodino observed that Nixon had achieved the highest office in the land, “and you’re bringing down the presidency of the United States, and it was a sad, sad commentary on our whole history, and, of course, on Richard Nixon.” So the congressman from Newark, who saw it as his duty to bring about the committee action which approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon, went into a back room after the hearing and cried in anguish over the thought of what they had just done.

Fast forward to the present.

Asked by CNBC’s John Harwood in Maywhether he would go in his office and cry should the Judiciary Committee vote for the impeachment of President Trump, Nadler said, “I don’t think I’ll cry. I’m not that emotional.” He added: “If we succeed in doing that, maybe I’ll cry out of happiness.”

My views of the Trump presidency are well chronicled. If Trump’s service to the country has any redeeming value, I have missed it. However, what I think of the president is of little moment since I am neither participating in Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing nor leading the drive to impeach the president. Not so with Nadler, who leads this historic proceeding. Nadler’s publicly expressed views of Trump make it all the more important that he project evenhandedness in an effort to protect the dignity and integrity of the impeachment process.

Nadler has said on the record that Trump “is very impulsive, he’s very willful, and he’s very ignorant. . . . He doesn’t know what the law is. He doesn’t know what the constitutional history is. He doesn’t know the implications or half of what he does.”

And there’s plenty more from Nadler where that came from:

  • On the Trump campaign and Putin’s interference: “They knew the Russians were interfering with the election on their behalf. They welcomed it, they wanted it, and they coordinated with it. Colluded, in a word.”
  • On the Mueller report and Trump’s obstruction of justice: “There are 12 episodes of obstruction of justice. . . . [White House lawyers are] trying to say that Congress, representing the American people, can’t get information, and therefore, can’t function. The effect of that is to make the president a monarch, to make him a dictator. And that’s what we’ve got to fight.”
  • Do you believe Trump committed crimes while in office? “Yes, I do. Yes, of course he did.”
  • Do you agree with former Republican congressman William Cohen, who was in the House during the Nixon impeachment, that Trump’s actions are worse than anything Nixon did? “Yeah, I do. Nixon never posed the kind of existential challenge to separation of powers and to limit government that Trump does.”

We should expect that Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, using Nadler as a foil, will attempt to disrupt and delay Wednesday’s proceedings. They will weep, wail and thunder that the process is rigged and unfair, that impeachment is part of a campaign to nullify the 2016 presidential election results and to undercut the Trump presidency, and that it is all the work of the devil.

Sure, Republican theatrics and tantrums come with the territory. With little defense against the charges, what else do they have? But Nadler offers fodder.

Nadler’s task, given his thoughts on Trump, is to not give the president’s allies any grounds to complain that the impeachment proceedings are unwarranted, improper or constitutionally offensive.

Maturity, self-control and focus of the sort displayed by Rodino nearly five decades ago are much in demand this week. Is Jerry Nadler up to the task?

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