Cohen on Capitol Hill could be crucial to understanding the direction of both parties before 2020
Zion Williamson’s shoe couldn’t hold together.
But a host of Trump Administration policies threaten to tear Congressional Republicans apart on a variety of domestic and foreign subjects.
We’ll wonder what Paul George might say.
GOPers have increasingly exercised independence from the party orthodoxy and President Trump over the past few months. A number of Republicans have bucked the President and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – in both statements and roll call votes on the Senate floor. Consider the positions some Republicans staked out on Mr. Trump’s plan for a hasty withdrawal from Syria.
A repeal of some sanctions on Russia; how the President handled Saudi Arabia after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi; whether the administration complied with the Magnitsky Act when it comes to disciplining those responsible for Khashoggi’s death; the President’s decision to declare a national emergency to go over the heads of lawmakers and shift Congressionally-targeted spending for his border wall. There are also GOP disagreements over trade and North Korea.
But the biggest GOP fissures could materialize once everyone digests what was said both in public and private by former presidential confidante Michael Cohen. Cohen’s spending most of the week sitting before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Oversight Committee and House Intelligence Committee. Certainly many Trump loyalists will form a rearguard around the President. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, have long protested the public Cohen hearing on Wednesday. They’ve derided it as a media circus and questioned the motives of Democrats scheduling the hearing.
Lawmakers from both sides will certainly find plenty of nuggets to mine to justify their positions on Cohen. But never before in the Trump presidency has a figure with ties so close to the commander in chief himself - let alone someone who is going to jail soon – testified at a Congressional hearing. There have been appearances by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. But Cohen’s testimony trifecta is different in context and scope. President Trump will certainly try to contour the Cohen narrative among his followers.
The outcomes from big hearings like the Cohen forum are always unpredictable. Look back to 1986 and the Iran-Contra hearings. Iran-Contra may have been the most-seminal set of hearings peering into the actions of an administration since Watergate. The Cohen sessions might not quite go that deep. But they hold the potential to provide a grand picture window into the Trump Administration.
The Iran-Contra hearings prompted no impeachment proceedings against President Reagan (as some was a distinct possibility at the time). Many Americans also were sympathetic to the conduct of Oliver North, the star witness of the hearings. There was a thought going into the hearings that lawmakers would pillory North.
We have no sense of how viewers of the Cohen forum may perceive him or interpret the actions of President Trump. But there’s always the chance that information which spills out during the sessions could actually bolster the President’s standing.
Congressional Democrats may not face the same divisive chasms as Republicans when it comes to the President. The first problem for GOPers is that Mr. Trump is in fact a Republican – and many Republicans on Capitol Hill remain wary of his conduct. However, there will inevitably be some Democrats who will use the Cohen appearances as a fulcrum to push for impeachment and the possible discipline of other administration officials.
Going to the mat with the President is great politics in the most-liberal of districts. But it’s a problem for moderate to conservative Democrats who represent districts or states where President Trump remains popular. Even some Democrats who hold nothing but contempt for the President are reluctant to go for broke. There’s concern that Democrats don’t want to overplay their hand. Others are just unwilling to wrestle with an issue as nettlesome as challenging President Trump and would prefer to focus on lower-hanging fruit and policy issues.
Then you have Democratic presidential hopefuls like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)m Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and possible candidate Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Will they all try to one-up each other on taking on the President? Or will some try to temper their message?
This is a challenge. After all, they are all running for President because they don’t want President Trump to return to the White House in 2021. The threats to rip apart Democrats aren’t quite in the same territory as Zion Williamson’s footwear. But the divides are distinct.
Either way, the next few days with Cohen on Capitol Hill could be crucial to understanding the direction of both parties as they cruise toward 2020. Congressional commentary and reactions to Cohen’s testimony could offer more clues on the state of politics than roll call votes to overturn a national emergency over the border wall or where lawmakers stand on the Magnitsky Act.
Democrats are already waging their own internecine battles. Consider how Democrats are tussling with one another over the Green New Deal. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is now lighting up Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for how she handled student activists who came to her office last week. Those are internal skirmishes. But properly addressing Cohen and his testimony requires more nuance and political savvy. Is this just a partisan point-scoring exercise? Or will information revealed in the sessions represent bona fide problems worthy of the most-serious scrutiny imaginable?
An outsider might suggest that both parties tread lightly. But that’s not usually the way these hearings go down. Lawmakers all wield agendas, predicated on the demands of their districts and states. That’s to say nothing of the penchant of some to secure a headline or a viral video clip on YouTube. Those at the margins may likely capture most of the attention. But the noise doesn’t necessarily reflect internal tiffs. That’s where the seams are stressed and tearing. And if either the Democrats or Republicans slash across the top of the key too hard, they’re likely to find themselves sprawled across the court, just like Zion Williamson.