One of the most surprising things about the first week of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial was the frequency with which Senate Republicans wanted to talk about their feelings being hurt.
After House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.J.) suggested GOP senators were helping participate in a “cover-up” for the White House, Republican lawmakers were reportedly ‘livid.” After House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) reminded senators a day later that they “can’t trust this president to do what’s right,” Republicans claimed to be “absolutely offended.”
And after Schiff had the temerity the next day to reference a CBS News report, they were practically apoplectic.
Schiff, who delivered closing arguments for the prosecution, was holding Republican senators rapt as he called for removing Trump from office for abusing his power and obstructing Congress. Doing anything else, he argued, would be to let the president bully Senate Republicans into ignoring his pressure on Ukraine for political help.
“CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, ‘Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.’ I don’t know if that’s true,” Schiff said.
After that remark, the generally respectful mood in the Senate immediately changed.
“Whatever gains he may have made, he lost all of it – plus some – tonight,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) declared after Schiff’s remarks. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) described himself as “visibly upset” by the comment he described as “demeaning.”
So let me get this straight. CBS News reported that the White House warned its allies that the president would be vindictive toward any Senate Republicans who broke party ranks. Schiff mentioned the reporting. Republicans not only said the reporting was inaccurate, but said that Schiff had done lasting harm to his efforts, his reputation, and his case by daring to reference what CBS News had said.
Perhaps we’re supposed to believe that GOP senators were seriously weighing the House impeachment manager’s arguments and evidence, but Schiff lost them with a stray, easy-to-believe sentence, which hurt Republicans’ feelings.
Look, we’re talking about a group of adults who are weighing what to do with a president who was caught orchestrating an illegal extortion scheme. As part of the endeavor, Republicans didn’t exactly spend last week playing by polite rules: when they weren’t ignoring presentations, they spent days whining about the proceedings and attacking the impeachment managers. Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) went so far as to tell a reporter that Schiff is “a known liar – a public liar.”
At that point, Democrats could’ve said they were “livid,” “offended,” and “incensed,” but instead they shrugged off the baseless GOP insults and continued to do real work.
And in response, GOP senators reached for the fainting couch, shocked by the Democrats’ capacity for being big meanies.
I realize there are some who took the Republicans’ faux outrage seriously. I’m less sure why. Schiff cited a news report from a major independent outlet, drawing attention to behind-the-scenes partisan pressure – which has been a staple of Trump’s presidency for three years.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but given the circumstances, the most likely explanation for Republicans pretending to be insulted is that they intend to look the other way in response to their president’s illegal scheme, and they want to blame their indifference on Democrats for being uncivil.
It was against this backdrop that Trump published a related tweet yesterday, insisting that Schiff has “not paid the price, yet, for what he has done” to the United States. It sounded like a not-so-subtle threat about a Democratic congressman who’d referenced the president’s vindictive streak during his Friday presentation.
I’m still looking for GOP senators who were “visibly upset” about Trump targeting a lawmaker who hurt Republicans’ feelings by suggesting Trump might target lawmakers. So far, Republicans seem unfazed. Imagine that.