Melinda Henneberger

Kansas and Missouri Republicans fought back with an impeachment inquiry pizza party

The mostly male pranksters blew past Capitol Police, as quickened by their own naughtiness as that weekend freshman year when they put a bra on the statue in the main quad. Even protesters have to eat, so when lunchtime came, they ordered out for pizza and Chick-fil-A. Just a little more planning and surely someone would have thought to get a keg.

Among those chanting “Let us in!” as they took the hill known as a SCIF — the previously sacrosanct Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility in the U.S. Capitol, where a Pentagon official had been about to testify in the impeachment inquiry — was Rep. Roger Marshall, Republican front-runner-for-now in the race to succeed Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts.

Post-stunt, Marshall flew to the microphone but then was almost too pumped to speak: “So we just all, maybe 15, 20 Republicans, maybe 30, the Whip led us in there to the Star Room,” he told reporters. Star Chamber, I’m guessing he meant to say.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam “Schiff walks out,” Marshall went on. “They all walk out, they’re not going to let us hear anything, the whole thing is a sham. The people of Kansas are sick and tired of this impeachment hearing. We have impeachment fatigue. We’re sick and tired of all this. Now we’re just sitting there yelling and screaming at each other.” We see that.

Schiff and other Democrats have repeatedly explained that only members of the House Oversight, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees, both Republicans and Democrats, are conducting this initial phase of questioning. It would normally have been done by the Justice Department, but Attorney General William Barr refused.

The group photos the SCIF-occupiers posed for later, to document their willingness to compromise national security for job security, also included Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler, whose pinned tweet notes her distaste for “political theatrics.”

Like others who joined the five-hour siege, she has a more competitive than usual 2020 race to worry about. Freshman Kansas Rep. Steve Watkins, who will face Republican Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner in a primary, wanted in on the action, too, though he could have attended and asked questions at the deposition anyway, as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Fear of impeachment may also have inspired the perfect Trump 2020 bumper sticker: “Abuse of power is not a crime,” President Donald Trump’s former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker insisted this week on Fox News. Yes, abuse of power was one of the articles of impeachment against his predecessor paranoiac, Richard Nixon, who resigned rather than face the rejection of his fellow Republicans. This, of course, was back when shame existed.

And speaking of crime, even murder is not a transgression for which Trump could be prosecuted while in office, or so his lawyer argued in New York on Wednesday.

Twenty-one years ago, Republicans made the case — convincingly, I thought — that Congress had no choice but to impeach Bill Clinton for lying about sex under oath, in order to uphold the rule of law.

But now, armed only with their cellphones and their internal polling, a couple dozen of the most panicked congressional Republicans were answering Trump’s call to “get tougher and fight” for him. To fight against Democrats who happen to think the rule of law also prohibits holding some $400 million in desperately needed and already approved security aid hostage in an effort to undermine a political rival and resurrect a conspiracy theory.

“This is nuts, they’re making a run on the SCIF,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who made the strongest case for the rule of law during Clinton’s impeachment. “That’s not the way to do it.”

Later, he apparently remembered that he’s not that guy anymore, and tweeted a “correction.

“I understand their frustration,” he said, “and they have good reason to be upset.”

So just how scary was the Battle of the SCIF? Not very, according to Rep. Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat who told reporters, “All they basically did here was to storm a castle that they already occupied.”

Still, Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly called the situation “intimidating” and “threatening.”

“I was frankly worried,” he said, “about where this was going to head.”

It does make you wonder what the president, who reportedly signed off on the disruption, would encourage his followers to do if he really were impeached or removed.

But we know now who would follow him anywhere. And along with distracting from the substance of testimony from long-serving diplomats, that was the point of the exercise.

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Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of The Star’s editorial board. She has covered crime, local and state government, hospitals, social services, prisons and national politics. For 10 years, she was a reporter for The New York Times in New York, Washington, D.C. and Rome. In 2019, she was a Pulitzer finalist for commentary and received the Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Column Writing from the News Leaders Association.
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