Remember all of that chatter on cable news these past few days about what would happen if the Republicans lost three senators in the vote that would decide whether to call witnesses?
Remember how Chief Justice John Roberts might have had to cast the deciding vote?
So, yes, about that chatter — it was the biggest rhetorical waste since CNN spent hours speculating what kind of Muscovite collusion the Mueller report would reveal. There will be no additional witnesses called. And, according to Sen. Ted Cruz, you can thank America’s favorite crypto-socialist pseudo-Native American for that.
If you were paying attention to the question portion of the impeachment hearings (I know that’s not all of you, given that most people don’t need a C-SPAN sedative during the daytime hours), Sen. Elizabeth Warren — Massachusetts Democrat, 1/11th of the remaining Democrat presidential field, 1/100th of the jury that’s deciding the fate of President Donald Trump and 1/1024th of a Cherokee — made a bit of splash with her written query.
The question was directed technically to the House impeachment managers, but unsubtly concerned Chief Justice Roberts — something that caused a curious bit of entertainment, given the fact that the chief justice had to read it.
“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?” Warren’s question read, according to The Hill.
Warren asks a question about the “loss of legitimacy of the chief justice, the supreme court and the constitution.”
— Zach Wolf (@zbyronwolf) January 30, 2020
I’m not even sure what that was supposed to mean, especially given the fact that the only people who have questioned Roberts’ impartiality are liberals who believe the only impartiality that can be shown is extreme partiality to their side.
(In fact, more conservatives seemed to get themselves worked up over Roberts’ performance after he disallowed a question from Sen. Rand Paul about the suspected whistleblower — neither here nor there when it came to Warren’s question, but it’s still worth pointing out.)
Anyhow, CNN described the scene thusly: “Roberts, as part of his prescribed duties, read Warren’s query from the dais. Word for word without expression.”
Roberts may have been expressionless, but Cruz wasn’t the only one who thought this was the turning point in the witness vote saga. The Texas Republican’s description of how much of an epic fail Warren’s question ended up being was among the best, though.
Cruz went on to say that Warren’s “stunt helped deliver the votes of Lisa and Lamar,” newspaper reported.
The explanation, according to The Times is simple:
“[‘T]he question seemed desired to boost Ms. Warren’s struggling presidential campaign, but its immediate effect was to irk key GOP senators who realized Democrat’s‘ strategy to prolong the trial was centered on trying to drag the chief justice ever deeper into the action,” the article stated.
If you haven’t been following the whole to-do over Democrats trying to line up votes to get their witnesses, Cruz was talking about Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
Murkowski is one of the most reliably liberal senators in the GOP caucus and has the electoral infrastructure to beat back challenges in her reliably Republican home state; in 2010, after losing the Republican primary to tea party candidate Joe Miller, Murkowski was able to mount a write-in campaign which led to a comfortable, if not considerable, 4-point victory.
Alexander, meanwhile, isn’t running for re-election in 2020 and, like fellow Volunteer State retiree Bob Corker, is following a zero-cares-given philosophy. He’s not as antagonistic to Trump as Corker was, but he was a potential vote for Democrats.
Only one of those senators would have been needed to force a 50-50 tie — reliable GOP Trump antagonists Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah had already decided they wanted to see John Bolton take the stand and give a dramatic pitch as to why you should buy his new book — which could have led to the prospect of Roberts being in a position to cast a deciding vote.
This was unlikely. Although Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York had argued that the chief justice had cast the deciding vote in the 1868 impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson, Roberts had made it clear he wouldn’t insert himself into a charged political process — but the mere prospect was enough to deter Murkowski from wanting to hear from witnesses.
And beyond that, she made it clear that Warren’s remarks had played into her decision.
“We have already degraded this institution for partisan political benefit, and I will not enable those who wish to pull down another,” Murkowski said, according to The Washington Times.
“I will not stand for nor support that effort. We are, sadly, at a low point of division in this country.”
Alexander also decided to vote against hearing witnesses, although he was always a less likely yes vote. The final vote ended up being 51-49 against.
So, in short: Have fun explaining that one to rabid Democrats in Iowa, Sen. Warren!
Knowing the true intentions of politicians is a difficult process of divination, but I’m pretty sure all the Democrats had to do was play it cool and they could persuade at least one more GOP senator not named Collins or Romney to hear their witnesses.
Colorado’s Cory Gardner is a moderate who’s facing a Rocky Mountain-esque uphill battle for re-election (sorry, couldn’t resist) and wouldn’t mind a chance to show an increasingly blue home-state electorate how bipartisan he is.
And then there’s Alexander (who didn’t have to care) and Murkowski (who’s faced no repercussions for not caring about similar issues in the past). All you had to do is get one of them. You had one job, as the kids like to say.
Perhaps Warren’s question gave Murkowski an easy way out of a predicament that she always planned to get out of anyway. In that case, why even give it to her? Or, perhaps the question really did raise the specter of a major constitutional crisis precipitated by a sitting senator running for president dragging the chief justice into the politics of impeachment.
In that case, Sen. Warren basically scuttled her party’s chance of getting to call witnesses. Excellent work, there.
Whatever the case, impugning the motives of the chief justice of the Supreme Court wasn’t just beyond the boundaries of good taste, although talking about that in the context of the impeachment hearing is laughable in and of itself.
It was also a decision Warren will live to regret. All her more moderate opponents have to do is point to how they were this close to hearing John Bolton trash the president in sworn Senate testimony and one ill-mannered, ill-conceived question from Warren blew it for them.
Is that true? Who knows. Does it matter? Possibly quite a bit.
Warren’s chances feel like they’re diminishing by the hour, but there are always opponents willing to pick at the carrion of her campaign to get votes. In this case, former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar are circling above like turkey buzzards, waiting for an opportunity to strike that Warren might have just given them.
Ted Cruz is absolutely right: To the extent the deal needed to be sealed for Alexander and Murkowski, Warren helped seal it. She helped save Donald Trump.
To the extent the death warrant for Warren’s campaign needed to be sealed, one guesses she did that, too.
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