Poor, dumb Kevin McCarthy. He would have been House Speaker in 2015, except that, like so many political bumblers, he repeatedly got caught saying the quiet part of his posse’s evil strategery out loud. First, he boasted that thanks to the GOP’s endless and pointless Benghazi investigations, Hillary Clinton’s poll “numbers are dropping” and her campaign for president was stumbling. Mission accomplished! But it sounded pretty bad, even for a Republican.
In another moment of adorable candor, McCarthy told Speaker Paul Ryan and pals in 2016 that he suspected the Russians were actually paying Donald Trump and Representative Dana Rohrabacher, “swear to God”; Ryan hushed him and insisted that such musings stay in the “family,” but someone in the family leaked the comments. Suddenly there was intriguing evidence that the GOP leadership knew about Russian meddling in US politics—which was “listened to and verified by The Washington Post” in 2017, according to the paper—but wouldn’t acknowledge it to the rest of the country.
That was just a passing story, though; the media seemed to find it distasteful that members of the House GOP “family” were betrayed by a leaker, and the shocking revelation dropped out of rotation when it came to Trump-Russia political news. In the end, it all turned out fine for McCarthy: Paul Ryan wound up with the thankless job of Speaker under Trump; the Bakersfield Republican got to be majority leader. Now Ryan’s leaving, with his legacy in ruins, and McCarthy’s been nominated to succeed him. Although, now that Democrats have taken the House, he’s likely to stay minority leader—and that’s probably A-OK with McCarthy. He doesn’t really want to be responsible for trying to pass the GOP’s unpopular political agenda, against the backdrop of nonstop Trump scandals, anyway. Would you?
But now that he’s in the minority, McCarthy has changed his tune on two major issues: on the congressional mandate to investigate wrongdoing in high government places—you know, like Benghazi—and on the problem of Russian interference in American politics. The new House Democratic leadership “is going to focus on…more investigations,” McCarthy warned Fox News on Sunday. “I think America is too great a nation to have such a small agenda.” (I guess America wasn’t great back when McCarthy and friends wasted months on Benghazi.) He dismissed the notion that Michael Cohen’s payments to Trump’s paramours, an apparent campaign-finance violation at minimum, mattered at all. “To go forward and say there’s an impeachable offense because of a campaign finance problem, there’s a lot of members in Congress who would have to leave for that.” (Good to know.)
And the man who once worried that Trump and Rohrabacher were being paid by Russia downplayed reports that up to 16 members of Trump’s campaign team interacted with Russians, spinning ludicrously, “If you’re in an international city, people interact with a lot of individuals.” (That one McCarthy didn’t sound like even he believed.)
McCarthy is particularly shameless, but he is, sadly, not alone. Former GOP elder statesman turned grumpy partisan Orrin Hatch, the Utah senator, dismissed the last week of awful legal news for Trump by claiming “Democrats will do anything to hurt this president.” Informed that the Cohen collusion charges were coming from the Southern District of New York, run by a Trump appointee, Hatch snarled at CNN’s Manu Raju, “Okay, but I don’t care; all I can say is he’s doing a good job as president.”
This is likely to be the default of most Republicans, from transactional partisan lightweights like McCarthy to purported former statesmen like Hatch. What do Democrats do in response? I think they can duck the media’s push to make them immediately commit to impeachment—which the media would then trash as partisan and impossible—the way incoming House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler chair did on Sunday: by committing to thoroughgoing investigations and to following them where they lead. Nadler acknowledged the problem of bringing impeachment charges when Republicans are stonewalling, but here’s the way he laid out the challenge so far:
We have to find out exactly what was going on. We have to look at these crimes, and what did the president know and when did he know about these crimes? You have to look at the Russian interference with the campaign, and what did the president know about that, and to what extent did he cooperate with that, if he did?
We have to look at his business dealings and his lying about that. We have to look at the fact that he surrounded himself with crooks. His campaign manager, his deputy campaign manager, his national security adviser, all of them, and a host, a bunch of other people, they all were meeting with the Russians. They all expressed interest in meeting again.
None of them reported it to the proper authorities. They have all been indicted for one crime or another. The president created his own swamp and brought it to the White House. These are all very serious things.
And we have to get to the bottom of this, find out what all the facts are, we and the special counsel, and then make decisions.
Meanwhile, Democrats must not cave to growing media and GOP insistence that House impeachment moves must be bipartisan. Given the statements of McCarthy and Hatch in the wake of all of the wrongdoing exposed last week, that would be letting Republicans hold them hostage. Even Jennifer Rubin, a former conservative who now mostly sides with Democrats, now argues that impeachment “must be a truly bipartisan action.” But given the corruption of her former party, it may never be one (which Rubin acknowledges, making her most recent column one of her most disappointing since circa 2012). The self-important James Comey insists Democrats should avoid impeachment and allow Trump to be rejected by a decisive majority of voters in 2020 (which might have occurred in the last election without Comey’s unfortunate anti-Clinton intervention in October 2016).
In fact, those two things aren’t mutually exclusive; an impeachment indictment in the House, even if rejected by the Senate, could nonetheless lay the groundwork for the American people to have the facts at hand to overwhelmingly reject Trump at the polls in 2020.
But Democrats have to take their responsibility to investigate—and if necessary, to impeach—very seriously, even if Republicans continue to shame themselves by defending Trump. The largest voter cohort since World War II turned out in last month’s midterms. The 8 million more Democrats among them did not do so to allow their party to be held hostage by corrupt Republicans like McCarthy and Hatch. That’s been their game for the last 20 years, at least.
“The GOP is born anew each morning,” the blogger Digby joked darkly on Monday. The Democratic class of 2019 must have a much, much longer view.