Defenders of President Trump often describe the impeachment inquiry as a “circus.”

But after the partisan theatrics expected during Wednesday’s first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, they might need a stronger word.

When Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) gavels the room to order at 10 a.m., some of Capitol Hill’s most aggressive and colorful characters — Republicans and Democrats — will be seated on the dais, ready to inject new friction and hostility into the second phase of the inquiry.

There could be disruptions from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the Fox News favorite who led a conservative revolt against impeachment in mid-October by storming the secure room where depositions were taking place.

There could be conspiracy theories from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who nearly named the intelligence community whistleblower during a recent speech on the House floor.

And there could be antics from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a vocal Trump critic who brought a bucket of fried chicken to a hearing in May to highlight the absence of Attorney General William P. Barr, who was scheduled to testify.

Add to these another 38 lawmakers — many Trump loyalists or pro-impeachment Democrats ready to do battle — and you have a potentially explosive mix of personalities whose excesses could dominate the proceedings.

“It’s a bunch of brawlers sometimes on the Judiciary Committee, so it should get pretty hot under the collar as we go along,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the panel, during an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

“I don’t think things have been done the way they’ve been done in the past . . . so it causes some rancor and it should be much more feisty, I would say, than the Intel Committee was,” he said.

The potential for drama underscores the rising stakes for Democrats as the spotlight shifts from the Intelligence Committee and toward Nadler’s panel. More than two months into the impeachment inquiry, public opinion remains divided, and recent polls show that few voters were swayed in either direction by last month’s public hearings. Now, with the Christmas holiday fast approaching and a possible floor vote looming, Democrats face renewed pressure to make their case while avoiding delays or partisan provocations that could alienate more moderate members of the party.

The Judiciary Committee, by its nature, makes this more difficult. Though it has a constitutional responsibility for impeachment, the panel hasn’t had the clout of other committees in recent years and tends to attract political instigators who desire a platform for advocacy on abortion, immigration and law enforcement issues. These members benefit from the panel’s role overseeing the Department of Justice, which brings widely covered hearings and ample opportunity to raise their public profiles.

Lawmakers and aides from both parties predicted a dramatic shift in tone from the earlier spate of hearings run by the more sober Intelligence Committee, whose members are handpicked by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). This is in part because the two panels play different roles in the impeachment process, with Intelligence focused on fact-finding and Judiciary on making the case to the public that Trump’s actions constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) was also known for keeping lawmakers on a tight leash, while Nadler has let his members — even those prone to partisan outbursts — operate more freely.

Republicans believe these differences will offer them a chance to derail Wednesday’s hearing and are planning procedural roadblocks to throw at Nadler and his members, according to a GOP aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private party strategy. The party has already found success with this approach, disrupting a September hearing with former Trump campaign aide Corey Lewandowski to such a degree that Democratic leaders sidelined the Judiciary Committee from the impeachment inquiry for a time. Last month, Schiff managed to thwart Republican efforts to delay the public hearings, but it was unclear if Nadler will be able to do the same.

An antagonist of Trump since his days in the New York State Assembly, Nadler has been one of the House’s most aggressive backers of impeachment this year. In May, he said that if Trump was impeached, “maybe I’ll cry out of happiness.”

Nadler's Republican counterpart is Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), a fast-talking veteran who has come up with inventive talking points aimed at attacking Democrats and defending Trump.

The other personalities on the panel will determine much of the outcome Wednesday.

On the Democratic side, there is Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (Tex.), never one to shy from conflict, and Cohen, who caused an uproar with his references to “chicken” after Barr failed to show in May. (That day, the Tennessee Democrat ate Kentucky Fried Chicken on the dais and placed a ceramic chicken next to Barr’s name card at the witness table.

The majority also includes several members who agitated for starting impeachment proceedings as far back as early spring: Reps. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) has become one of his party’s most effective Trump critics on Twitter, going from fewer than 10,000 followers at the beginning of 2017 to 1.2 million as of Tuesday afternoon. And Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), famous for his onetime suggestion that the U.S. military presence on Guam could cause it to capsize, could add an eccentric note.

The Republican side is dominated by members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee.

It includes Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a combative Trump supporter whose stinging, rapid-fire rebukes set the tone for GOP questions during last month’s impeachment hearings.

Biggs and Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) were both part of Gaetz’s incursion into the basement of the Capitol on Oct. 14, when Republicans occupied a deposition room for several hours in violation of long-standing and bipartisan rules governing secure areas.

“Reporting from Adam Schiff’s secret chamber . . .” Biggs tweeted that day, apparently breaking the rule barring phones from the room. Later, he tweeted that his messages were being posted by staff.

Gaetz himself has been called “Trumpiest Congressman in Trump’s Washington” and received a personal rebuke from Schiff when he led members into the secure room.

“Mr. Gaetz, why don’t you take your spectacle outside? This is not how we conduct ourselves in this committee,” Schiff said, according to a transcript released by the Intelligence Committee.

“I’ve seen how you’ve conducted yourself in this committee, and I’d like to be here to observe,” Gaetz replied.

Some of the Judiciary Committee’s chief Republican rabble-rousers made up a peanut gallery of sorts through many of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, sitting in the first row of the audience and muttering responses to what transpired on the dais.

Gohmert was a vocal presence.

When acting ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. stated that he was “not here to take one side or the other or to advocate for any particular outcome of these proceedings,” Gohmert chuckled and told his seatmates that no, Taylor was just “here to spread gossip.”

And when Schiff “cautioned” Taylor, and witnesses generally, against taking a lawmaker’s word on “facts not in evidence,” Gohmert raised his voice.

“Are you kidding me? You have the nerve to say that?” he blurted out, presumably at Schiff, who was far away and likely couldn’t hear the commentary.

Karoun Demirjian and Paul Kane contributed to this report.