Lawmakers Flex Impeachment Experience as Judiciary Panel Takes Charge

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., joined at left by Democratic counsel Norm Eisen, arrives at a Wednesday hearing on the constitutional grounds for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — When it comes to high crimes and misdemeanors, a small band of senior lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee have one message that crosses party lines: This ain’t our first rodeo.

Chairman Jerry Nadler and two other Democrats on the committee were sitting in Congress during the Clinton impeachment. On the other side of the aisle meanwhile, Republicans Steve Chabot and James Sensenbrenner both operated as House managers, effectively prosecutors, in Clinton’s 1999 trial at the Senate.

Chabot and Sensenbrenner both turned out Wednesday with a full-throated support for the president as the House Judiciary Committee opened its first hearing of the impeachment process.

The bells of impeachment tolled first for President Andrew Johnson in 1868, but that nineteenth century example has largely been overshadowed in the Trump proceedings by the investigations into President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Caif., listens as constitutional scholars testify Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee in the Longworth House Office Building. (Drew Angerer/Pool via AP)

Representative Zoe Lofgren was in office for Clinton’s impeachment but played a role in Nixon’s as well as a staffer for Congressman Don Edwards on the Judiciary Committee. The California Democrat said she was not looking forward to her third round in the partisan wringer. 

“It’s not an occasion for joy,” Lofgren said. “It’s one of solemn obligation. I hope and believe that every member of this committee is listening, keeping an open mind.”

Other lawmakers appeared to show more comfort with their experience, as when Sensenbrenner, himself a former Judiciary Committee chair, demonstrated his command of how to slow the hearing by pulling the levers of parliamentary procedure. 

Just seconds into Nadler’s opening statement, the senior GOP member cut off the chairman with a request for a minority hearing. Later, as the Democrats tabled a motion to postpone, Sensenbrenner talked loudly over Nadler: “Mr. Chairman, may we have the motion read, please? May we have the motion read, please?”

Sensenbrenner’s background includes not only the Clinton trial but also the impeachment of three judges. “That’s more than anyone else in history,” the congressman claimed. 

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., talks on the phone Wednesday during a break in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on the constitutional grounds for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

He accused Democrats of muddying the process, saying that Republicans during the Clinton trial “did not tie the country up for three months, and going on four now, effectively wrapping everyone in this town around the axel rod.”

But defending the Democrats’ efforts, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee emphasized that she was guided both by the facts and the Constitution during the Clinton trial. 

“If what we are talking about today is not impeachable then nothing is impeachable,” the Texas Democrat said. 

Chabot lobbed a heavily repeated grievance by Republicans that Democrats have not permitted them to take testimony from House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat the Republicans see as a puppeteer manipulating the whistleblower at the heart of the probe.

Roll Call reported both Sensenbrenner and Chabot were among the 14 Republican no-shows in the 17 impeachment witness depositions. 

Both senior GOP members steered clear of attacking the facts presented by career diplomats and budget officials in public testimony last month that revealed Trump directly ordered the freeze of aid to Ukraine.

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