‘It’s time … that we stop assuming that everybody has horrible motives in a puritanical rage of everybody’s doing something wrong except for you…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., swapped her stump speeches Thursday for a question that stumped even smooth talking House impeachment manager Adam Schiff—and jeopardized one of Democrats’ few remaining hopes for a favorable verdict in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Ignoring the issue of whether it is appropriate for Democratic candidates running against Trump to sit in judgment of the president in a left-wing ploy to remove his name from the ballot, around 5:40 p.m. Warren submitted her talking point— framed as a question—hoping to further erode confidence in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Warren asked: “At a time when large majorities of Americans have lost faith in government, does the fact that the chief justice’s 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?”
That put Chief Justice John Roberts in the awkward position of reading aloud the nasty missive, directed at him personally, in the final hours of questions and answers.
The Senate is expected to vote Friday on whether to call additional witnesses and extend the trial or, as is currently anticipated, move to dismiss the charges and/or vote to acquit the president.
It is unclear what end she hoped to achieve attacking the process outlined in the Constitution that stipulates the chief justice will preside over impeachment.
However, the question implicitly criticized House Democrats for bringing the charges to begin with, instead supporting the argument of Trump’s defense team that it should be the voters’ decision and that the divisive, baseless trial did, indeed, threaten to erode public faith in government.
Worse, Warren’s personal attack on the chief justice and his impartiality could potentially influence the outcome.
Should the Senate be divided in a 50–50 vote, the tie-breaking decision would fall to the chief justice (a power normally delegated to the vice president).
Schiff, ever the consummate lawyer, seemed to recognize these implications—and his rhetorical showboating, for once, seemed to be thrown off rhythm with a stilted response.
“Senator, I would not say that it contributes to, uh, a loss of confidence in the chief justice. Uh, I think the chief justice has presided admirably,” Schiff began.
The California congressman quickly steered his response away from any sort of criticism of Roberts and offered, instead, a long-winded deflection that touched on the Clintons and the Bidens before landing with a demand for more witnesses and whining about the inherent unfairness that the partisan House Democrats faced in the GOP-led Senate.
“We can’t even get a fair shake for the American people,” he griped. “… God forbid we should hear a relevant witness and what he has to say. Hear no evil. It cannot reflect well on any of us.”
Shortly before the question, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone landed a shot across the bow at the House impeachment manager, denouncing his “calumny in dulcet tones” for accusing Trump, the defense team and GOP senators of conspiring in a cover-up.
“I think it’s time in this country that we start—that we stop—assuming that everybody has horrible motives in a puritanical rage of everybody’s doing something wrong except for you,” Cipollone told Schiff. “You cannot be questioned—that’s part of the problem.”
Schiff attempted to address the blow during his response to Warren, but only seemed to dig himself in deeper.
“I wouldn’t describe myself as a puritan, but I do believe in right and wrong—and I think right matters,” he said in faux earnestness.
“I think a fair trial matters,” he continued. “And I think the country deserves a fair trial—and yes, senator, if they don’t get that fair trial it will just further the cynicism that is corrosive to this institution and to our democracy.”
Warren’s attack was not the first time tensions in the upper chamber have created discomfort for Roberts.
During the first day of opening arguments, which ran well into the wee hours, House manager Jerrold Nadler targeted GOP senators—accusing them of a cover-up—which prompted a rebuke from potential swing vote Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and also from Roberts.
Chief Justice John Roberts “I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the president’s counsel in equal to terms. To remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body…” pic.twitter.com/iO3AmQSnrq
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 22, 2020
Shortly thereafter, Nadler took several days leave of absence, ostensibly to care for his wife, who had received a bad cancer diagnosis.
Paul issued an announcement saying he would challenge Roberts, but that exchange did not appear to happen on Thursday.
As Schiff menacingly noted during the trial last week, the Constitution provides that senators who disrupt the order of the proceedings can be sanctioned, up to and including imprisonment.
“I’m not sure that chief justice is fully aware of just how rare it is, how extraordinary it is for the House members to be able to command the attention of senators sitting silently for hours—or even four minutes, for that matter,” Schiff said.
“Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the morning starts out every day with the sergeant-of-arms warning you that if you don’t, you will be imprisoned,” he added.