by Keith Mines
Winners and Losers
Time to take stock of the winners and losers in the impeachment inquiry hearings. Here is my take:
Despite clear and compelling evidence of attempted use of security assistance and the cachet of a presidential meeting as a tool for personal political gain, there is no evidence that Republicans in the Senate, themselves watching public opinion closely, will vote against the President.
So, impeachment – yes, removal from office – likely not. The President survives, battered to some, emboldened to others, to fight another 11 months.
The Foreign Service, Civil Service, and uniformed military came across well in the hearings. They were serious, well-versed in their subject area, and appeared to put country above personal ambition. Outside of the “Madam Secretary” and the “West Wing” televised tropes, this was probably the most play this sort of public servant has ever gotten. Can we start to trust the experts again? Yeah ok, let’s not get carried away.
Politics in America is rarely a zero-sum game these days and this was no exception. The Republican base may have been energized further against the Democrats for their “attempted coup,” but one doubts these are the same people who are in play come November anyway. Among groups that are in play, women may react negatively to the President’s demeaning attacks on a female Ambassador (Yovanovitch).
And while it might not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, seeing the juvenile way the Ukraine policy was handled by the Republican team, can only bolster the argument for change at the ballot box. This all could change if the next phase drags on and on, though, which would distract front runner candidates from the primaries.
The Congressman from California’s 28th may be roasted for being boring on the talk shows but in this case boring, and unflappable, was what was called for. He held steady as a laser beam to his purpose, not letting the ankle biters from the other side of the aisle distract or frustrate him.
And Schiff‘s final speech, laying out the case for what had transpired, was the closure the hearing needed after all the complex back and forth. But he will now need to remain steady, and tactically astute, as the team passes off to the Senate.
Elise Stefanik (R-NY):
Jim Jordan started to look clownish after a while, and Devin Nunes may have Ukraine problems of his own, given the company he has kept. But New York Congresswoman Stefanik’s willingness to take up the attack dog role was appreciated by the party and gained her a national following — her fundraising is apparently way up. She does, however, have to hang on come November — her opponent’s fundraising is also way up.
There is no ducking the fact that the Bidens were involved in some questionable stuff in Ukraine. The hearings allowed enough of that to play out that it can only hurt Biden nationally, but also within the party. Even if they managed to put the pin back in the Biden Ukraine grenade, who wants a live grenade in the room come October. Anyone remember the “home brew” server grenade in 2016?
Political-Civil Servant Cooperation:
I cringed a bit at the testimony of a career Foreign Service Officer as he revealed the content of a private call between the President and his envoy.
I have been in such situations and while in this case he might have felt compelled to come forward, the long-term impact will be for his peers to never again be “in the room” with their political appointee bosses, who will use their own people, or no one, rather than rely on the professionals. Relations in this realm have been better than one might expect, but it is going to be a much tighter circle from here on out.
It is the last thing a vulnerable, struggling democracy wants – to be the noun in a highly politicized sentence that includes such verbs as impeach, corrupt, and collude. And there was no exit, it involved both sides of the political spectrum in the U.S., and neither side was going to be fully satisfied at the conclusion.
Most unfortunately Zelensky came across personally weak in some of the testimonies. The only silver lining might be broader American and especially Congressional attention to the struggle of Ukraine, and to Russian perfidy, neither of which was common knowledge before the hearings.
It was not a good week for a Russian government that has determined to undermine American institutions and considered them too weak to respond.
It is not clear if the response will be derailed by the very partisan bickering that the Russians have been actively promoting in America for the past five years, but at least those calling out the Russians have had a hearing and now have a platform. Fiona Hill’s plea for focus should not be lost in the coming year.
In the end, the event reinforced what so many of the witnesses decried, America is as polarized as it has ever been. The two sides mounted up for a fight, bloodied each other, and withdrew to regroup and get ready for the next fight.
One side’s missile marked “high level misconduct” was intercepted and returned with a missile marked “attempted coup.” There is no routine business anymore, the two fighters are locked in a cage and no one has the key. How many more metaphors can I think of to describe this?
What is demoralizing to most Americans, is the knowledge that November 2020 will not settle anything, it will only again send the sides back to the barricades. (Sorry, there I go again).
Keith Mines recently retired from the Foreign Service after 33 years of federal service.
His final assignment was as Director of the Venezuela Working Group at the State Department and prior to that he was Political Counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he helped manage the political and security aspects of U.S. Israel relations.…
Prior to joining the Foreign Service, Mr. Mines was a U.S. Army Special Forces Officer with service in Grenada and Central America.
Keith also held various diplomatic posts with the State Department, including El Salvador, Somalia, Haiti, Mexico, Hungary, Afghanistan, Iraq and Darfur. His book “Why Nation Building Matters”, is due out from the University of Nebraska in the summer of 2020.