New to the House Intelligence Committee this year, Maloney sits on the bottom row of the dais, third to last out of 22 members, so he has to work harder to ask probing questions in the investigation of President Trump.
All told, six members, four Democrats and two Republicans, are new to the panel, but only Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), installed this month by GOP leaders wary of the performance by their senior committee members, has a prime seat.
These are the lawmakers who have to wait, wondering whether their preferred topic will already be covered by someone with an earlier spot. That’s a normal tradition in any committee in Congress, but these stakes could not be higher, with cable news networks covering every single question late into the evening.
In addition, special rules for this inquiry gave the chairman and the ranking member a combined 90 minutes of questions at the top of the hearings, leaving members of this “kids table” stewing sometimes for four or five hours before getting a word in edgewise.
Still, these lawmakers have found a way to have an impact.
On Wednesday, Maloney sought to compel Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, to acknowledge that these proposed Ukrainian investigations were meant to damage former vice president Joe Biden politically, even if Sondland did not connect the Ukrainian energy company and Biden’s son Hunter, a former board member.
After admitting Trump would benefit politically from such a probe, Sondland boasted of how “very forthright” his testimony had been.
“This is your third try to do so, sir,” Maloney countered. “It didn’t work so well the first time, did it?”
The fourth-term Democrat then explained how Sondland had shifted his story three times, first in a closed-door deposition, then at a follow-up review of that testimony and finally Wednesday.
“So all due respect, sir, we appreciate your candor, but let’s be really clear on what it took to get it out of you,” Maloney said.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.), the most junior member on the GOP side, does not usually face the same wait as his low-ranking colleagues on the other side. A former federal prosecutor, Ratcliffe is well-liked by Trump, who briefly considered him to move into the White House as the director of national intelligence.
Therefore, Republicans often defer to him early, as they did Wednesday evening while hearing from top Defense and State department officials.
Ratcliffe used a rapid-fire series of questions to ask David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, whether other nations beyond Ukraine had military or diplomatic aid withheld. Ratcliffe rattled off questions about aid to Pakistan, Honduras and Lebanon, and in each instance Hale noted that aid had been withheld from each nation.
It was an attempt to undermine the idea that there was anything unusual about the hold on nearly $400 million to Kyiv. But Ratcliffe went too far and suggested it was normal, prompting Hale to say the Ukraine situation was “not the normal way” things were done.
No one has a harder task than Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), who is dead last in seniority and, based on Democratic adherence to seniority, is almost always the final questioner.
“I basically keep a running list of my questions and then I cross them off as they get asked,” Krishnamoorthi said Wednesday.
During that day’s first hearing, he had about 15 questions scrawled down on the paper in front of him, scratching them out one by one. He wasn’t happy with his final options.
But he forced Sondland to acknowledge that one of his discussions with Trump in which Trump denied a “quid pro quo” came the same day that the House Intelligence Committee learned of the whistleblower complaint regarding Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Which was interesting timing,” Krishnamoorthi said.
Sometimes junior committee members just have to pay close attention to the other side and then work off their points to counterpunch. “A lot of it is just listening,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said Wednesday between hearings.
On Nov. 13, Welch waited more than four hours to speak, coming after one of Jordan’s many rounds of questions. Jordan complained that Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) denied the panel a chance to question the whistleblower who filed the complaint that launched the inquiry.
“The guy who started it all,” Jordan said.
“Thank you,” Welch said. “I say to my colleague that I’d be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”
The moment drew laughter throughout the room and played in a near-endless loop across the prime-time cable news shows that are fixating on the impeachment inquiry.
Welch, in the second round of hearings Tuesday, faced witnesses who were friendlier to the Trump administration in Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison, experts on Russia and Ukraine for the State Department and the National Security Council, respectively.
So Welch made the most basic analogy possible: “Could a mayor of a city withhold funding for the police department budget unless the police chief agreed to open up an investigation on a political rival? Mr. Morrison?”
“In that hypothetical,” Morrison replied, “no, I don’t think he should do that.”
Welch asked Volker if he agreed. “Yes,” Volker said.
Late in Wednesday evening’s hearing, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) finally got his chance to ask questions of Hale and Laura Cooper, the Pentagon’s coordinator of U.S. assistance to Ukraine’s military.
A moderate Republican who has often challenged Trump, Hurd decided to skip questions related to this inquiry and instead focused on protecting Ukraine from Russian cyberattacks.
Cooper was confused, so Hurd politely asked if he could ask a “non-impeachment” question.
“My time is yours,” Cooper replied.
Music to the ears of Hurd and the rest of the “kids table.”