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Why The Impeachment Hearings Are Getting So Much Messier

It's all in the committee

On Tuesday (December 3), the impeachment proceedings leapt from the House Intelligence Committee to the House Judiciary Committee — and if you thought the last few weeks of impeachment hearings were rough, buckle up. It’s about to get a lot messier.

The Intelligence Committee has spent the past few weeks researching and interviewing witnesses in order to prepare two reports intended to serve as the foundation for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump: one prepared by Democrats, and another prepared by Republicans. The Judiciary Committee now needs to study those reports, and hold hearings on the “constitutional grounds for Presidential impeachment.” A panel of expert witnesses — including Professors Noah Feldman of Harvard University, Pamela Karlan of Stanford University, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina, and Jonathan Turley of George Washington University — will publicly testify starting on Wednesday (December 4). (Shivering with anticipation? They’ve already released their opening statements here.)

The Judiciary Committee is one of the final stops in the House’s long, meandering road to impeachment. Their task is to use these hearings and the Intelligence Committee’s report to decide if they can charge the President with the “bribery, treason, and high crimes and misdemeanors” that are required for impeachment. If they can, they'll create the final articles of impeachment and vote on those articles — if it passes the committee (which has a Democratic majority), the vote will go to the entire House of Representatives (which also has a Democratic majority) and could lead to an impeachment by Christmas. But remember: Just because the president is impeached, doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be booted from office. That’s where the Senate comes in.

At first glance, it would appear that there isn’t much difference between the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee: Both are bipartisan, both include a lot of white male representatives, Democrats have the majority in both committees, and both groups participate in some public hearings.

But there’s a big distinction between how each committee handles hearings in general, and that’s likely to be amplified as they handle one of the most-watched hearings of the decade.  The Intelligence Committee is known for being bookish and quiet, since so much of the information they handle must be done in private to keep national security information secret, according to the New York Times podcast The Daily. The Judiciary Committee, on the other hand, is raucous — they publicly oversee the federal courts and judiciary system, so vocal members like Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) have their hands on social issues like abortion rights and gun rights.

Typically, the Intelligence Committee gives the minority party fewer opportunities to take over the proceedings than the Judiciary Committee does. We saw this when, during an impeachment proceeding on November 15, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) attempted to question former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, but was pretty quickly shut down by Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) for violating the rules of the Intelligence Committee that the House approved for the impeachment hearings. Schiff had a lot of control over the witness list, too. Obviously, Republicans do not love that the majority (in this case, Democrats) have considerably more power here, because, well — they’re not the majority this time around. But such rules created far less space for partisan arguments, since most members weren’t allowed to speak.

In the Judiciary Committee, it’s quite a bit more open: Most members on the Committee gets the chance to speak and it’s unlikely that many representatives would pass that up. But because so many people have the chance to speak at such a crucial time in American history, you’ll likely hear Representatives on both sides of the aisle trying to get in good sound bites rather than investigate the inquiry.

The hearings began on Wednesday morning, the day after Chairman Nadler told Democrats in a closed-door prep session Tuesday that he isn’t “going to take any shit” from Republicans or Democrats who might scrutinize his role in the impeachment probe, according to Politico. But that vow was tested almost immediately, as the Judiciary Committee wasted no time in launching into more arguments than during nearly all of the live hearings in the Intelligence Committee. Republicans tried to interrupt opening statements with a procedural motion, and Chairman Nadler attempted to quiet everyone down.