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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Freshmen Democrats work to turn Biden impeachment effort on its head

Reps. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), center, and Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 13, 2024. Garcia peppers remarks with sassy pop culture references; Goldman regularly beats Republicans to the microphones outside of closed-door interviews. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Luke Broadwater

Rep. Jasmine Crockett was sitting in a House Oversight Committee hearing last fall, growing increasingly frustrated as she listened to Republicans accuse President Joe Biden of impeachable offenses without producing any evidence, when she had an idea.

Crockett, a freshman Democrat from Texas and former defense attorney, summoned an aide and asked them to quickly print out a stack of photos showing the boxes of sensitive government documents stashed by a toilet at Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Moments later, Crockett was brandishing the photos above her head, accusing Republicans of ignoring clear evidence that Trump had violated the law while pushing allegations against Biden for which they had shown no proof.

“When we start talking about things that look like evidence, they want to act like they blind,” Crockett said of Republicans, spitting her words with a mix of outrage and bemusement. “These are our national secrets,” apparently in a toilet, she added, using an expletive to describe the plumbing.

The moment circulated widely on social media. The White House took notice. So did senior House Democrats. Suddenly, it was Crockett, not the Republicans pursuing Biden, who was capturing the public’s attention.

The performance has become something of a hallmark of the sputtering Republican effort to impeach Biden, which has faltered in recent weeks as the GOP has come up empty in its efforts to back up its claims of wrongdoing by the president.

As the Republicans have pressed their case against Biden, Democrats on the Oversight panel — including an unusually large crop of freshman — have matched them sound bite for sound bite and stunt for political stunt, establishing themselves as feisty defenders of the president.

It’s a strategy that Democrats began planning out more than a year ago. Back in January 2023, they selected seven freshmen to sit on the Oversight panel, the most of any committee. The group included lawyers with debate experience and members who had a sense for how to communicate in a way that could catch fire on social media and break through the noise of a highly polarized environment.

The result has been that the impeachment proceedings that were designed by Republicans to damage Biden politically have instead elevated the profiles of a group of battle-ready first-term Democrats who have become fixtures of the partisan scrum that is the House Oversight Committee.

In addition to Crockett, there is Rep. Dan Goldman, a former federal prosecutor from New York, who has made it his mission to beat Republicans to the microphones outside of closed-door interviews, framing the testimony before his GOP rivals can.

Rep. Robert Garcia of California has peppered his remarks with sassy pop culture references that have gained traction on social media, drawing attention to the Democrats’ defense.

And Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Florida has gained a reputation as the chief antagonist of Rep. James Comer, who as chair of the committee is leading the investigation. Moskowitz has repeatedly gotten under Comer’s skin with irreverent tactics, including once wearing a mask of President Vladimir Putin to a hearing to mock him as a puppet of Russia.

Even without a concerted campaign by Democrats, the Republican drive to impeach Biden would likely have struggled to gain momentum. Its leaders have never been able to establish the kind of evidence needed to convince mainstream and swing-district members to move forward with impeachment, a critical task given their tiny majority. And their investigation was dealt a near-fatal blow when a key informant was charged with fabricating his story of Biden accepting bribes.

Many Republicans are now conceding that their push to impeach Biden is all but dead, and Comer has pivoted to exploring possible criminal referrals instead, which he has called “the culmination of my investigation.”

Democrats argue their strategy has been critical to derailing the enterprise. They battled Republicans on the facts, sought to shift the focus to Trump’s misdeeds and — perhaps most importantly — mirrored the GOP’s incendiary tactics.

“I think it’s clear that we out-messaged them, which is why now they’re coming out and admitting that they’re not going to be impeaching Joe Biden,” Moskowitz said.

Garcia’s moment of social-media fame — planned in advance, by his own admission — came during a January hearing in which he mocked Republicans’ Biden impeachment drive by quoting, nearly verbatim, a famously dramatic and detailed takedown from an episode of the “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” reality television show.

Democrats, Garcia said from his seat on the dais on Capitol Hill, “have receipts. Proof. A timeline. Screenshots. We have everything we need to prove conclusively that foreign governments were funneling money through Trump properties and into Donald Trump’s pockets, all in violation of the Constitution.”

Trump has denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with foreign governments. But the moment had its intended effect. The “Real Housewives” delighted over Garcia’s remarks and circulated them widely on social media, and Bravo host Andy Cohen featured them on his popular nightly “Watch What Happens Live” program.

Goldman has taken a different approach. As the lead counsel for the first impeachment inquiry against Trump, Goldman knows the evidence on Ukraine and Hunter Biden better than most.

He has made it his business to publicly push back against Republican efforts to twist facts to fit their allegations of wrongdoing by the president and members of his family.

“I knew that the Republicans were going to have closed-door depositions, and then selectively leak parts of those out to try to frame a false narrative. And so I was not going to allow them to do that,” Goldman said.

It is clear that Comer has lost patience with the Democrats and their tactics.

He has complained about the freshmen, saying that they intimidate his witnesses. He has called Moskowitz a “Smurf,” prompting the freshman to dress like one, wearing blue shoes and a Smurf tie to the next hearing.

Crockett is no stranger to partisan battles. She came out of the Texas state House, where, at one point, Republicans issued a warrant for her arrest amid a dispute over Texas voting laws. (The framed warrant now hangs in her Dallas office.)

She and other freshmen have found themselves frequently in battle with Republican bomb throwers, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. One of the first assignments Crockett and Garcia got was to tour the D.C. jail with Greene to counter her narrative that the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were political prisoners being held in inhumane conditions.

Then Crockett found herself seated near Greene at a congressional hearing as the Georgia congresswoman displayed naked photos of the president’s son Hunter Biden engaging in sex acts.

“It was one of those ‘We’re frozen’ moments. Like, what do we do?” Crockett recalled. “We were all looking at each other, like, did that just happen? We were all in shock and awe.”

But Crockett is almost never at a loss for words. Her committee speeches have repeatedly made headlines in left-leaning outlets.

“With all the viral moments and all of the antics, people assume, ‘Oh she wanted that.’ Actually I did not,” Crockett said of her assignment on the Oversight Committee. “But it’s worked out for sure.”

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Anna Myagkaya
May 14

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