This afternoon Elizabeth Warren decided to go full Leeroy Jenkins and toss a rhetorical bomb at Chief Justice John Roberts. She dragged the rest of the Supreme Court and the constitution in for good measure. Chief Justice Roberts read her question: “At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the Chief Justice is presiding over an impeachment trial in which Republican senators have thus far refused to allow witnesses or evidence contribute to the loss of legitimacy of the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court, and the constitution?”
What was the point of this exactly? A reporter for the Washington Post says others in the chamber were bewildered by it:
As @pkcapitol notes, the seeming attack on Roberts came a day ahead of a potential tie vote where Dems have been courting Roberts to intervene. Pelosi very solicitous today; D sens uniformly respectful.
— Mike DeBonis (@mikedebonis) January 30, 2020
Outside the chamber, some people on Twitter are suggesting maybe this was Warren’s attempt to push Roberts into siding with Dems on witnesses, i.e. by making this a question about his and the court’s legitimacy he might be more inclined to vote accordingly. For example:
It was a terrific question by Elizabeth Warren. Maybe it will serve to make Chief Justice Roberts think if the vote for witnesses is 50-50.
— Ron Waxman 🏳️🌈 (@RonWaxman) January 30, 2020
Warren knows how to leverage power. She knows that Roberts cares most about his legacy as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And she is laying down a marker that this trial will define him. Brilliant. https://t.co/hC41qM0k5E
— 🕷Dante Atkins🕷 (@DanteAtkins) January 30, 2020
Would it really help Roberts’ legitimacy if Americans are left with the impression that he was bullied into the corner by a far-left Senator currently running for president? I don’t think that’s how judicial independence and legitimacy work. Others on the left are just pleased Warren is taking a swing at Roberts:
I support this question. It's outside-the-box thinking—unconventional and cutting—but there's no other way for Chief Justice Roberts to be made to take *some* ownership of the fact that he's knowingly, as an attorney and judge, presiding over a sham trial. https://t.co/pKfDXnEYd7
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) January 30, 2020
Warren is the only Democrat so far to put Roberts on the spot.
— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) January 30, 2020
Of course not everyone was a fan of this stunt:
This is a bizarre question. It's hard to believe it's asked in good faith. She knows that Justice Roberts doesn't have trial judge-type powers over impeachment. Otherwise he could entertain a motion to dismiss the whole case. This is the senate's proceeding, not his. https://t.co/DSkVk1N2hE
— David French (@DavidAFrench) January 30, 2020
The fact that Senator Warren submitted this question, and the fact that Chief Justice Roberts read it unflinchingly, highlights how well and dutifully he executes his office, and how poorly and cynically she executes hers. https://t.co/mZJhmgf8nn
— Adam White (@adamjwhitedc) January 30, 2020
Rep. Schiff pretty quickly backed away from Warren’s question. “Senator, I would not say that it contributes to a loss of confidence in the Chief Justice. I think the Chief Justice has presided admirably.” He went on to say that if the Senate doesn’t call witnesses it would feed cynicism that “is corrosive to this institution and our democracy.”
So what point was Warren trying to make? Well, she’s been fading in the polls and she could really use a viral impeachment bump about now. I think that’s the most likely explanation. Here’s the clip showing the Chief Justice reading Warren’s question followed by the first part of Schiff’s response:
WATCH: Chief Justice Roberts reads an impeachment trial question from Sen. Warren that focuses on Republican senators, witnesses and the legitimacy of the chief justice, the US Supreme Court and the US Constitution. pic.twitter.com/rQpXcbkTnX
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 30, 2020
1/31 Update: Looks like Warren’s stunt backfired a bit.