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Infighting In House Judiciary Committee As Members Prepare To Vote On Impeachment


Today is the day that members of the House Judiciary Committee vote on impeachment. The committee has spent much of the last 24 hours arguing, debating, speechifying about the articles that will guide the impeachment of the 45th president of the United States. To say that things have been contentious is probably an understatement.


DOUG COLLINS: I would like, for the sake of history...

JERRY NADLER: As the gentlemen wish to...

COLLINS: I'd like, for the sake of history, the chairman take one more minute...


COLLINS: Did the gentleman just say I didn't request witnesses?


COLLINS: That is wrong.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Will the gentleman answer my question?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No, I'm - I didn't interrupt you.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That makes - I'm sorry, I'm not yielding. I am not yielding. I am not yielding.

CHANG: All that just over the course of three hours this morning - the tone of the impeachment proceedings before the House Judiciary Committee stands in stark contrast to the more tightly run, more buttoned-down impeachment hearings that the House Intelligence Committee presided over last month. So why has this phase been so loud and so messy? Well, to help us answer that question, we're joined now by Julian Epstein. He had firsthand experience with the impeachment process when he was counsel for the House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.


JULIAN EPSTEIN: Glad to be here.

CHANG: So let me ask you, what is inherently different about the House Judiciary Committee that might make these proceedings a little more raucous than they were before the House Intelligence Committee? What do you think?

EPSTEIN: It's the culture wars. In 1998 and even going back to 1974, it used to be the judiciary committee was kind of a buttoned-up, oak-paneled lawyers room - place where lawyers, elected members of Congress who were primarily lawyers would disagree about issues. But it would be very polite. It would be very respectful. And there would be a uniform set of facts that people would agree on.

CHANG: Sounds like a lost time (laughter).

EPSTEIN: There would be a - it is a bygone time. And then what happened in - really, at the beginning of - you can point to the Clinton impeachment as the beginning of this era...

CHANG: Yeah.

EPSTEIN: ...Where the culture wars really exploded. And what you saw were kind of the culture wars on issues that really divided the country almost irreparably...

CHANG: Like...

EPSTEIN: ...Things like immigration and the civil rights debate...

CHANG: Criminal justice.

EPSTEIN: ...Criminal justice and a whole host of issues like that. You had that. You had cable news that hit. You had social media and kind of the increasingly fractured nature of our news industry and our information industry. The cocooning...

CHANG: Sure, but that applies to both committees.

EPSTEIN: Sure. So what happened was in the judiciary committee, it tended to attract - rather than the lawyers, the old buttoned-up lawyers, it intended to attract the culture warriors, the far left and the far right. And they were much more interested in kind of pontificating and posturing than, really, in kind of getting things done as much. What happened at the intelligence committees, you attract a different type of member. You attract people who are interested in foreign affairs and national security. And they tend to govern more from the center.

CHANG: That said, there are some overlapping members. Like...

EPSTEIN: There are some.

CHANG: There's been Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, Texas Republican John Ratcliffe, California Democrat Eric Swalwell. But let me ask you this. I'm curious. When you think back to President Clinton's impeachment, which wasn't exactly a model of bipartisanship on the House side, do you really believe that the divisiveness we're seeing before this House Judiciary Committee is all that different from what we saw back then?

EPSTEIN: It's night and day. During the...

CHANG: How so?

EPSTEIN: Well, so during the Clinton impeachment, we - again, we very much disagreed with our Republican counterparts, but it was always respectful. The communication was good, and it wasn't as personal. Today it really seems to be very personal. Today - and it's part of what Arthur Brooks, who's a great writer, refers to as a culture of contempt. Both sides have adopted a contemptuous view towards the other, where the other side is not just irredeemably - is not just wrong. They're kind of irredeemably wrong. They are - they - there's no place for the two to kind of meet in the center.

CHANG: Do you think that the chairman of this judiciary committee, Jerry Nadler, is setting a different tone than, say, Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee at all?

EPSTEIN: So, again, it's a different committee, and it's a much more unruly committee.

CHANG: Yeah.

EPSTEIN: So Jerry Nadler has a much more difficult job. And Nadler is much more old-school than chairman Schiff is, so he's doing the best he can with a committee that, really, represents the bases - the far-left and the far-right bases on both sides.

CHANG: That's Julian Epstein, former chief counsel for the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.

Thank you.

EPSTEIN: Thank you; good to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.