Maybe they thought they were standing up for principle.
How else can you explain the Republican lawmakers who dramatically barged into a closed-door meeting of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday to protest an ever-expanding impeachment probe of President Donald Trump?
Whatever principle they were defending — in this case, the fairness and transparency of the Democrat-led impeachment probe — collapsed utterly in the media circus that quickly enveloped the proceedings.
“I led over 30 of my colleagues into the SCIF where Adam Schiff is holding secret impeachment depositions,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeted on Wednesday morning, referring to the “Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility” that is used when matters of the most urgent secrecy are being discussed. Democrats, not without reason, criticized Republicans for bringing their phones into an area where phones are explicitly banned for security reasons.
As it turned out, more than half of the self-styled “protesters,” who acted with Trump’s blessing, were free to attend the hearing and ask questions. Throughout the political sideshow, Gaetz sounded more like a cable news anchor than an elected member of the world’s greatest legislative body.
The stunt was visible confirmation that congressional Republicans have surrendered their constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities, and now simply serve as clueless adjuncts to an increasingly unstable chief executive who’s just one tweetstorm away from eviscerating them in the most public — and often most personal — of terms.
Somewhere, James Madison, who warned against the dangers of demagogues, is spinning in his grave at the legislative branch’s acquiescence to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
An Oct. 20 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute paints a vivid picture of the starkness of the current partisan divide of the impeachment debate.
While overall support for impeaching Trump and removing him from office has grown steadily since February 2017 (the month after he took office), when it was 30 percent, to the 47 percent where it has hung steadily since October 2018, the divides among the partisan faithful are far more stark.
Nearly eight in 10 Democrats (78 percent) say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, according to the PRRI poll.
Support among Republicans has remained steadfast, with 94 percent saying he should not be impeached and removed from office, the poll found. It adds that “feelings are essentially unanimous” among white evangelical Protestants and Republicans who turned to Fox News as their primary source of news.
Just a handful of elected Republicans have stepped up to criticize Trump for his now-infamous phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, where he sought a quid pro quo for dirt on Biden. It’s only gone downhill from there, with others in the White House’s orbit swept into the probe.
They include Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who has called Trump’s attempts to solicit foreign meddling in the 2020 election “wrong and appalling.”
Romney hasn’t made up his mind on impeachment. Romney told Axios’ Mike Allen that he’s looking for “as much information” as he can get, and wants to “make an assessment consistent with the law and the Constitution” if the House ends up sending impeachment articles to the Senate, which seems a pretty good bet at the moment.
Last week, Florida Republican Rep. Francis Rooney said he was open to impeaching Trump. A day later, he announced he’d retire in 2020. And Rep. Justin Amash, the Republican turned independent from Michigan, has said he’ll join House Democrats on impeachment.
Unfortunately, at least right now, there are more Republicans in the Gaetz camp and not enough on Romney’s side of the ledger — at least publicly. Republicans, who nurse grievances against Trump in their hearts while remaining publicly supportive of the president, may decide there’s a point of no return where they’ll have to be as loyal to Trump as the president has been to them.
Which is to say, not at all.
Because in Trumplandia, loyalty is a one-way street. And that’s the point at which Trump may become the third president to be impeached by the House — and the first in American history to be convicted in the Senate.
And maybe then Madison can rest easy again.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.