At long last, consensus. Even after it became plainly apparent that Robert Mueller’s testimony displayed an unsettling lack of familiarity with the report and actually set back Democrats’ arguments about its meaning, some people insisted that nearly everyone had somehow witnessed a major breakthrough. Renato Mariotti spent an entire Politico column rewriting The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome” in an attempt to salvage Wednesday’s debacle.
By late yesterday, even House Democrats had thrown in the towel, although readers have to traverse through several paragraphs of this Washington Post article to find it out. Among the most disappointed were the Democrats on the very committees that demanded to hear from Mueller, who now claim they were “blindsided”:
Mueller’s six hours of testimony did not help their case, many Democrats said privately. Some wondered whether they had miscalculated in focusing so much on the former FBI director and less on subpoenaing witnesses in Mueller’s report and asking the courts to force them to testify.
“I didn’t see anything amazing. I mean, did you?” said centrist Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.). “He looked tired.”
Among Democrats, perhaps the most disappointed in Mueller’s performance were members of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, who questioned the former special counsel, according to conversations with several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. Many felt blindsided that no one warned them how much Mueller had aged — and regretful that they had forced a decorated Vietnam veteran and longtime civil servant into testifying when he was so reluctant in the first place.
“I was beyond shocked,” one lawmaker said of Mueller’s occasional confusion and seeming unfamiliarity with details of the report.
Just how much were they “blindsided”? The New York Times had a report later that same evening discussing how Mueller had not been, shall we say, immersed in the day to day business of his special counsel office. According to the report, aides started asking questions about Mueller’s energy and ability almost from the start, as well as his decision to delegate most of his inherent authority to deputies. Mueller’s condition might not have been common knowledge, but the special counsel office was under the purview of the House Judiciary Committee as part of its oversight of the Department of Justice. Are we to believe that Jerrold Nadler never once checked in on the office’s operation, including whether Mueller was an engaged special counsel?
Maybe so, but one would have thought Nadler would have requested a private meeting with Mueller before grandstanding on getting him to appear in public. Remember, Mueller insisted at first that there was no point in testifying at all, but then his next position was that he would make a public statement in open session followed by questioning in closed session. Nadler immediately rejected that idea (as did Republicans on the panel). Didn’t Nadler think to check in with Mueller to see why he didn’t want to testify publicly?
If Democrats were blindsided, they put the blinders on themselves.
At any rate, now centrist Democrats feel emboldened to demand an end to Impeachapalooza, the Post reports:
“Anyone who was looking for the smoking gun yesterday didn’t get it,” said Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), who ousted a Republican incumbent by fewer than 500 votes in last year’s midterm elections. “It’s time to move on and focus on getting some bills passed here that can get signed into law.”
So far, though, that argument’s not winning the day. However, Democrats will now take the August recess, which makes their fierce urgency of now argument on impeachment look rather foolish. They’re hoping to gin up outrage over Mueller’s report, but that’s a very tall order after Wednesday’s debacle:
Their most immediate issue is how to keep the impeachment ball rolling during the next 46 days as lawmakers are spread across the nation in their districts, on vacation with their families or on official foreign travel.
Some Democrats had hoped that Mueller’s testimony would have been compelling enough to create a liberal echo to the 2009 August recess, when conservative activists flooded town halls to oppose the emerging Affordable Care Act and other large-spending items from the early days of the Obama administration.
After Wednesday, pro-impeachment Democrats think that is unlikely and instead they must make the pitch themselves, aggressively selling it to their constituents.
Paul Kane points out just how tall an order that will be:
A Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month found 59 percent of Americans said the House should not begin impeachment proceedings, slightly higher than earlier this year when support ranged from 54 percent to 56 percent. Only 49 percent of Democrats “strongly” support impeachment, while 83 percent of Republicans “strongly” oppose beginning impeachment.
As has been seen in other town halls in recent months, these Democrats are more likely to be asked why they haven’t moved any significant legislative items more than they will be about impeachment. The recess might just as well be a dismissal bell for impeachment hopes.