McCarthy to Pelosi: Time to suspend and retool your whole approach to impeachment

Alea iacta est in haste, repent at leisure. Kevin McCarthy’s trying to toss Nancy Pelosi a lifeline here, but she’ll never grab at it. As House Democrats careen from one rationalization to the next on impeachment and refuse to explicitly authorize an inquiry at all, the House Minority Leader called for a halt to the chaos. Either put together a “transparent and equitable” process for evidence and testimony, he tells Pelosi in a letter released earlier this morning, or hang it up altogether:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is asking Speaker Nancy Pelosi on to suspend the House impeachment inquiry until she establishes more “transparent and equitable rules and procedures” to govern the probe.

“Unfortunately, you have given no clear indication as to how your impeachment inquiry will proceed — including whether key historical precedents or basic standards of due process will be observed,” McCarthy wrote in a letter to Pelosi, D-Calif., on Thursday.

“In addition, the swiftness and recklessness with which you have proceeded has already resulted in committee chairs attempting to limit minority participation in scheduled interviews, calling into question the integrity of such an inquiry,” he continued.

Put simply, Pelosi’s impeachment Rubicon has become an impassable mess. Her chair for the effort, Adam Schiff, just got exposed by the New York Times as misrepresenting his role in cultivating the whistleblower complaint that has been its catalyst. Schiff has now had to backpedal from his earlier public denials that he or his staff having had contact with the whistleblower well before he claimed that the White House had withheld that information from him. Having cast her die without bothering to wait for the evidence Schiff claimed the White House was covering up, she has tossed her caucus into the proverbial Rubicon creek without a paddle.

McCarthy wants Pelosi to commit to a credible process that allows for a true judicial approach to the question of impeachment. That includes an extensive resolution adopted by the whole House outlining “transparent and equitable rules and procedures,” including the following:

  • Co-equal subpoena power to the committee chair and ranking member
  • Right for Donald Trump’s counsel to attend all committee hearings and depositions, to present evidence, and to cross-examine witnesses
  • Allow the president’s legal team to present its own evidence

“By answering ‘no’ to any of the above,” McCarthy concludes, “you would create a process completely devoid of any merit or legitimacy.” That’s going to be a major problem for Pelosi, not just for a Senate trial but just to get impeachment past a floor vote. She has at least a couple dozen caucus members who have to run next year in Trump-friendly districts who won’t be happy with any kind of impeachment process. If Pelosi allows Schiff to run a kangaroo court without any appearance of due process to produce articles of impeachment, it will only make that situation worse — and it will give Senate Republicans plenty of justification for a quick dismissal to its impeachment trial afterward.

Frankly, McCarthy might be doing Pelosi a favor with this letter, in at least two ways. The bigger favor would be that this would allow Pelosi to dump Schiff from leadership of the impeachment push, and probably Jerrold Nadler as well. Both have undermined their credibility to lead a fair investigation into Trump over the past two years, especially Schiff. Pelosi could use the resolution process McCarthy suggests to put a more credible figure in charge — perhaps Foreign Affairs chair Eliot Engel, or maybe even House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer — while appointing Schiff and Nadler to the select committee. A select committee would make it easier to meet McCarthy’s other demands too, rather than retool existing rules for the standing committees. It would be a fresh start to crossing the Rubicon, a do-over of iacta-ing the alea, so to speak.

The smaller favor would be extracting some of the obvious politicization from the process. If Pelosi adopts McCarthy’s approach, she at least has some nominal buy-in from the GOP caucus leader on an impeachment process modeled on his recommendations. That would help protect her moderates while giving up nothing of substance to the GOP except — and this is not unimportant — the several weeks it would add to any passage of impeachment articles. The closer this gets to the primaries, the more political impeachment looks, and Pelosi knows it.

Will she take this opportunity to solve this problem? Based on Pelosi’s lack of care to keep from conflating impeachment and re-election this morning on ABC, I’m betting … naaah.

Addendum: Here’s yet another reason to find a way, any way, to get rid of Schiff’s leadership on impeachment:

Schiff’s not even abiding by the normal rules of his committee. He’s going to be a disaster as an impeachment manager, and Pelosi should realize that by now.

Update: In the original version of the post, I referred to Steny Hoyer as “deputy speaker,” but the correct and official title for Hoyer is House Majority Leader. I have corrected it above.