How do we know that the decision to put Robert Mueller in front of TV cameras all day Wednesday went badly for Democrats rather than Republicans? Look where the rifts have opened or are widening. The Daily Beast spots a major fault line between two top leaders in the House Democratic caucus — Jerrold Nadler, one of the architects of the Mueller stunt, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
Publicly, his colleagues and his party’s leadership praise [Nadler’s] handling of oversight into the Trump administration. But behind the scenes discontent is mounting over what some view as a less-than-smooth process in handling investigations into President Trump and his advisers.
“There is constant battling. The speaker is very much directing the major decisions,” said one Democratic lawmaker. “I think this is a strategy [by Nancy Pelosi] to try and slow-walk this process and shift some of the attention away from her not moving forward. She puts it on the Judiciary Committee, saying, ‘Oh they haven’t yet done all the investigative work yet. They are being meticulous and taking their time.’ It’s a way to slow-walk it.”
All committee chairs and House speakers have disagreements over jurisdiction, power, and strategic direction. But the relationship between Nadler and Pelosi is particularly sensitive now given the stakes of the issues they’re tackling. The special counsel’s office has closed, its report made public, and its director, Mueller, has testified on Capitol Hill about its contents. Now that the Russia investigation, as the American public understands it, has all but come to an end, both leaders are left answering questions about what comes next.
For Pelosi, the answer is simple: Stay the course. For Nadler, that course is becoming increasingly difficult to trek with members from his own committee, and constituents back home, calling not only for impeachment proceedings but for tougher posture toward a White House that seems hell-bent on making his oversight work impossible.
There’s been a lot of this excuse in the past 36 hours for the failure of Democrats’ Mueller stunt. Trump made us do it because he won’t cooperate! That’s a load of nonsense. Congress has legitimate oversight authority over the executive branch, but Democrats have (a) made it clear from Day 1 of their House majority their goal is impeachment, not good government, and (b) have stretched it so broadly as to attempt oversight over the Trump family’s businesses. Hostility has been met with hostility, which may not be entirely the fault of Democrats, but they own a large share of the blame.
Besides, Mueller’s report was the investigation that Democrats demanded. They still insisted — until Wednesday, anyway — that Mueller’s findings were all they needed. It only required the American people to watch a dramatic reading of it to generate a wave of outrage that would force impeachment and removal! Or so Nadler and Adam Schiff thought until their strategy blew up in their face on Wednesday.
Does Nadler really want to square off against Pelosi after this debacle? At the moment, his judgment looks much worse than hers. That’s not the question for the rest of us, though; it’s just worth noting that one side is about to have an internecine leadership fight after the Mueller stunt … and it ain’t the Republicans. That tells us all we need to know about how Wednesday worked out.
The rest of the Daily Beast’s report is well worth reading for more depth on the developing fight. Nadler’s defenders chafe at the restrictions Pelosi has put on him, while Pelosi’s defenders take aim at Nadler’s other questionable strategies. For instance, Nadler demanded that William Barr testify shortly after the release of the report, which Barr agreed to do — but then Nadler wanted Barr interrogated by staff attorneys rather than committee members. What was the point of that? No one’s quite sure:
In an interview, Cicilline defended the decision, saying it was important to establish that the committee controlled the construct of the hearings and not the witnesses. But months after the fracas, Barr still hasn’t spoken to the lower chamber and some wonder: What was gained?
“The whole thing about the staff interviewing Barr was stupid,” said the senior aide. “Was that a hill to die on? A hill that no one understands!”
Thanks to the seniority system and House Democrats’ need to project calm, Nadler won’t be going anywhere, so the caucus is stuck with both of them. But that just means that the meltdown will have no real end until at least the 2020 election, when both Nadler and Pelosi might well change jobs if this civil war continues — to ranking member and Minority Leader, respectively. Republicans will have to do more work than simply passing the popcorn to make that happen, but perhaps not a lot more work.