by Bob Barr
Efforts by Democrats in the House of Representatives to wound, if not remove, President Trump from office illustrate what many of us realized long ago — the Democrats are street fighters who battle without regard for rules. Republicans (with few exceptions) prefer to play as gentlemen, according to “Marquess of Queensberry” rules. Thankfully, Trump is a master street fighter himself.
I first became aware of this phenomenon in early 1995, the first year of my service in the House, and the first year in which the GOP enjoyed a majority since the 1950s. The occasion was a series of hearings to explore the manner by which the Clinton administration had conducted the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas two years before.
The raid was initially planned and carried out by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. However, the raid went horribly awry; a number of ATF agents and Branch Davidian members were shot. A lengthy standoff eventually involved the FBI and U.S. military equipment and advisers, as well as Texas Rangers and other agencies and personnel.
It ended weeks later in a fiery conflagration sparked by tanks inserting flammable gas into the compound’s main building, in which some six dozen men, women, children and babies perished.
The “Waco hearings” were the first major set of hearings conducted by the new Republican majority, and as a member of the Judiciary Committee subcommittee involved, I was a participant. Just prior to the start of the first day of the hearings, the subcommittee chairman convened a meeting of Republican members who would be participating in the questioning of witnesses. He concluded his remarks by stating (and I paraphrase here), that “at the conclusion of these hearings, I want the American people to see that we have conducted ourselves as gentlemen, as in the bipartisan manner by which the impeachment hearings against President Nixon were carried out.”
The folly of this approach became obvious in the very first day of the hearings. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, then a senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, tore into our witnesses, introduced evidence having nothing to do with the actual facts of the raid, and presented witnesses that soared off into tangential issues for which our leadership was ill-prepared to deal, to say the least. Things went largely south from that point on.
There were other examples of such ill-advised and rather naïve approaches to important and controversial hearings that I witnessed in the following years, which drove home to me a fundamental difference by which Democrats and Republicans conduct business in the Congress. Unlike Republicans, who strive generally to play fairly and with due regard for established rules, Democrats, almost to a person, play to win at whatever the cost and regardless of existing rules and precedents; they are true street fighters.
The Kavanaugh hearings last fall put on full display the manner by which Democrats and their proxies operate — full-out warfare regardless of the cost to the processes of government or to established precedent, and with no regard whatsoever for the target of their anger. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of her majority in the House, are continuing that strategy this year in their so-called “impeachment” drive against Trump and his administration.
Rather than following regular rules and procedures by which previous presidential impeachments were conducted, Pelosi has opted for a process designed to ensnare as many real and potential victims as possible, and with as little transparency as possible. All part of a strategy to keep Republicans off balance.
Statements by some of the more radical members of Pelosi’s team, threatening to jail members of the Trump administration who fail to respond appropriately to subpoenas issued by Democrat committee chairs, is but the most recent example of the scorched earth policy they are pursuing. The legal foundation for what these Democrats are threatening is sound, and reflects a U.S. Supreme Court opinion from 1927 (McGrain v. Daugherty) holding that a committee of the Congress, acting within its proper jurisdiction, has the inherent power to enforce a subpoena to obtain evidence from a recalcitrant executive branch official, by actually taking him into custody.
While this may or may not be a serious threat, it is telling that Republicans, when they held the majority in the House and were being stonewalled in their efforts to hold accountable Hillary Clinton and other Obama administration officials, never seemed to find the backbone to even threaten such a bold move.
Bob Barr (http://www.twitter.com/BobBarr) represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He currently serves as president and CEO of the https://laweef.org/.