The Memo: McConnell and Feinstein’s stumbles raise awkward questions on age

Two high-profile incidents in quick succession involving Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have put the issue of aging politicians front and center.

But the questions raised around mental capacity and fitness for office have no easy answers.

Proposals that might begin to address the issue, such as term limits or cognitive tests beyond a certain age, confront an instant Catch-22. In order to be enacted, they need the support of politicians who might be negatively impacted by them. 

Meanwhile, the people around those politicians have generally no incentive to nudge them to change their minds.

“I think some of what drives these people to stay on forever is a personal power thing that they can’t let go of," progressive strategist Jonathan Tasini said. “The second thing that drives this, though, is the staff. I think what really gets ignored is how the staff cover for people who clearly can’t function, because they themselves don’t want to lose their power.”

This week’s incidents involved two of five current senators who are 80 or older.

First, McConnell appeared to freeze up, for unexplained reasons, while delivering remarks to reporters Wednesday.

The following day, Feinstein seemed confused during a committee roll-call vote. Feinstein started giving general remarks, when all that was required was that she cast her vote. “Just say ‘Aye,’” her colleague, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), could be heard telling Feinstein.

Feinstein, 90, is the oldest sitting senator. McConnell is 81.

There are specific concerns about both senators, separate and apart from the broader issue of elected officials seeking to remain in office in their ninth decade.

McConnell suffered a concussion earlier this year in a fall at a Washington hotel — an incident in which he also suffered a broken rib. The accident kept McConnell away from the Senate of almost six weeks while he recuperated.

In the wake of Wednesday’s incident, it has also been reported by multiple outlets that McConnell suffered two other falls this year — one in Helsinki, and one at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport.

Medical professionals have speculated as to whether what happened Wednesday may have been a seizure or mini-stroke.

The majority leader himself has professed to be “fine.” His staff have said of the incident that he felt “lightheaded.”

The Feinstein incident was, in some ways, more worrisome, given that concerns have been raised about her cognitive abilities for some time.

In late 2020, she asked the same question twice in succession, apparently unaware she was repeating herself, in a hearing with then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Last year, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that four senators, including three Democrats, had told its reporters about their worries regarding Feinstein. One congressional Democrat representing California anonymously described a meeting at which he or she had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein repeatedly.

Feinstein, who is retiring at the next election, has defended her own capabilities. Her staff has said she was “preoccupied” during Thursday’s roll call vote. 

Other allies have suggested there is an element of sexism in the apparent desire to push Feinstein out. They note examples of past male senators, including Sens. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), whose capacities were widely believed to be diminished late in life but who did not face the same public pressure to step down.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 83, was one of Feinstein’s most vigorous defenders in that regard. Pelosi announced she was stepping down as the leader of House Democrats last year, having spent 20 years atop her conference.

But the McConnell and Feinstein episodes are also important because of the way in which they illuminate a larger picture.

President Biden is 80 and prone to slips-ups, as when he recently twice referred to the war in "Iraq” when he clearly meant “Ukraine.”

Former President Trump is 77 and, while rarely hesitant in the Biden fashion, he often launches into bizarre asides during his long campaign speeches.

It’s not as if the issue of aging politicians is off-limits. GOP presidential contender Nikki Haley has proposed mandatory cognitive tests for office-holders 75 and older.

Her proposal was seen more as a shot across the bow of Biden and Trump specifically rather than an idea that had any real chance of being enacted. Haley, 51, talks often on the campaign trail about the need for “new generational leaders.”

Talk also bubbles up intermittently about term limits for senators and House members.

Term limits face the philosophical question of whether voters should be denied the chance to reelect who they wish for as long as they wish — presidency excepted. There is also the practical difficulty that politicians are not eager to vote to, in effect, abbreviate their own careers.

“The fact is, politicians — like pretty much everyone else — are living to older ages, and some people stay physically and mentally sharp and other people deteriorate somewhat,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor emeritus who specialized in political communications.

“The question is, should it be up to the voters or up to the doctors to decide when someone should be out of office.”

There is also the question of how any restriction on age or mental abilities would be codified or enforced. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is 81, and even his most staunch ideological opponents don’t seriously question his mental capacity.

For the moment, it seems most likely that the issue of aging politicians will remain a conundrum without an obvious solution.

“It’s not that you reach 75 and you should be gone,” said Tasini.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

The Memo: Boebert’s ‘frankly stupid’ impeachment push leads to GOP groans, Dem glee

A quixotic push by Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) to impeach President Biden was placed on the back burner Thursday. But even some Republican insiders fear the damage might already have been done.

Boebert, one of the fiercest among the GOP’s right-wing firebrands, surprised many of her colleagues by introducing an impeachment resolution earlier this week. The move caused disarray in the House Republican conference, and the furor was only defused with a deal to send the resolution for consideration by committees.

The move, passed in a 219-208 vote Thursday, places no obligation on the committees to do anything to advance Boebert’s proposal. But she is insistent that, if it becomes clear the gambit is solely about delay, she will bring up her resolution “every day for the rest of my time here in Congress.”

Meanwhile, more moderate Republicans are wincing at what they consider an unforced political error that will give Democrats ammunition to attack the GOP as extreme and out of touch.

Republican strategist Dan Judy described the move as “frankly stupid,” adding, “the party needs to be focused on the problems facing Americans rather than this sideshow.”

Most polls, to be sure, show American voters' main concerns are the economy and inflation, as well as a host of other matters barely related to the effort to impeach the president.

But that doesn’t mean there will be an end to impeachment efforts, given that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga) has her own efforts to impeach not only Biden, but Attorney General Merrick Garland, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Matthew Graves, the U.S. district attorney for the District of Columbia.

Adding to this week’s spectacle, Boebert and Greene got into a heated verbal exchange on the House floor Wednesday. Several observers contended Greene called Boebert a “little bitch.” Greene also reportedly accused Boebert of copying her on impeachment. 

Boebert, for her part, has shot back that she doesn’t want to get involved in “middle school” antics.

Democrats are agog at disputes like that one — but also convinced that the politics of the matter will play to their advantage.

Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh declared himself amazed at “the degree to which the Republicans will figure out a way to self-destruct.”

He argued the specific danger was that performative efforts such as a push to impeach Biden would turn off independent and moderate voters. 

While he acknowledged such voters have become fewer as the United States has become more polarized, he contended that they "still are a decisive part of winning any general election. And it’s very, very clear that those moderate, swing voters are just not interested in all these Republican shenanigans.”

Some Republicans shoot back that Democrats twice impeached then-President Trump — and they note that, separate from those moves, some Democratic members made solo runs aimed at the same goal.

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) tried at least three times to impeach Trump, for example. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced five articles of impeachment against Trump in November 2017, before the 45th president had even rung up a full year in office.

But Democrats note that such measures died swiftly, and further contend that the MAGA wing of the GOP has a firmer grip on today’s Republican Party than the progressive left has on congressional Democrats.

They point not only to Boebert’s impeachment effort but to the mini-uprising that stalled normal business in the House recently, after hard-right members including Rep. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) balked at issues including the compromises Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had made on spending in order to win a debt ceiling deal with Biden.

There is still the possibility that ultraconservative unhappiness over those compromises could result in a government shutdown closer to the end of the year.

“It’s not just the impeachment, but this whole pattern of things,” said Democratic strategist Robert Shrum. 

He included allegations of “Deep State” malfeasance, as well as attacks even on some judges and investigators appointed by former Trump, as evidence of this pattern.

Shrum added that any government shutdown would be “catastrophic for the Republican Party.”

Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), speaking in the House on Thursday, accused Republicans involved in bringing the impeachment resolution to the floor of “dishonoring this House and dishonoring themselves.”

According to The Associated Press, McGovern added that the House had "become a place where extreme, outlandish and nutty issues get debated passionately, and important ones not at all.”

Even some Republicans who are uneasy with Boebert’s actions argue that the political impact should not be exaggerated. They contend the episode might fade from voters’ minds fast enough.

But it’s notable that the effort was seen as causing severe discomfort for the 18 House Republicans who represent districts won by Biden in the 2020 presidential election.

And Boebert’s push also gives more fuel to the president’s argument about the supposed extremism of “ultra-MAGA Republicans” — a label that was effective during last year’s midterms.

Still, there seems no chance of Boebert backing down. 

“Last Congress, I watched my impeachment articles collect dust in Pelosi’s office,” she tweeted Thursday afternoon. “This Congress, action had to be taken!”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

The Memo: Texas killing sparks outrage from Biden’s border critics

A horrific mass killing in Texas has opened new sores in the national debate over illegal immigration and crime.

Five people, including a young boy whose age has been reported as 8 or 9, were killed Friday in Cleveland, Texas. The shooting in the small community about 45 miles north of Houston happened after neighbors reportedly told a man to stop shooting in his yard and he became enraged. 

The alleged shooter has been named as Francisco Oropeza, 38. As of Monday afternoon, law enforcement agencies have been unable to apprehend Oropeza, despite a massive manhunt.

The case has taken on political power for reasons beyond the gruesome nature of the killing.

Oropeza is a Mexican national who appears to have been in the United States illegally. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have confirmed that he was deported on at least four previous occasions stretching back more than a decade.

His previous deportations, those officials said, took place in March 2009, September 2009, January 2012 and July 2016.

That record, and the terrible crime of which he stands accused, has outraged those who want a stricter border policy.

Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents rank-and-file Border Patrol agents, noted that seeking to illegally reenter the United States having previously been deported is a felony.

“Had we prosecuted him for that felony, he would not have been able to kill” his alleged victims, Judd said.

Judd also made a wider point about border policy under President Biden.

“When you hear people like [Homeland Security] Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas say the border is not open, you have to look at this particular case … If somebody was able to reenter this country five different times despite being deported, that clearly shows the border is, in fact, open.”

Liberal advocates hit back, arguing that, historically, immigrants commit crime at lower rates than native-born Americans — and that attempts to draw a cause-and-effect line between immigration policy and the latest killing are raw demagoguery.

It’s a point that finds support from some independent observers.

Rhetoric linking illegal immigration and violent crime “has been used for a long time,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

“None of the social science data confirms that is true and it quite often shows the opposite — that neighborhoods with a lot of immigration are safer,” said Zelizer. “But politically it has been very powerful. It creates the idea of an enemy coming from outside who is now inside.”

The political battle is only growing more intense.

“This illegal alien brutally murdered 5 individuals in an ‘execution-style’ shooting,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) tweeted Monday. “He was previously deported and has been arrested numerous times. Why was he in our country roaming around freely?”

Biggs called for the impeachment of Mayorkas.

Kari Lake, the defeated GOP candidate in last November’s Arizona gubernatorial election, tweeted, “How do we continue to let these criminals into the country?”

At Monday’s media briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre characterized the events in Cleveland as “yet another shocking, horrific act of gun violence.” 

Jean-Pierre noted that while President Biden was “praying” for those affected, “the president believes prayers alone are not enough.” 

The press secretary noted Biden’s desire for Congress to pass stricter gun-control legislation — a long-held wish that has almost no chance of being fulfilled anytime soon.

Continuing the political back-and-forth, the Republican National Committee tweeted within minutes of Jean-Pierre’s opening remarks that she did “not mention” that Oropeza is “an illegal immigrant who has been deported FIVE TIMES.”

The atrocity in Texas arises at an especially febrile time when it comes to debates about the border.

Encounters between unauthorized migrants and Customs and Border Protection agents at the southwestern border hit their highest figure ever recorded last December, at more than 252,000. 

The figure declined significantly in January and February, to fewer than 160,000 in each month. But in March, the most recent month for which data is available, those encounters rose again, to almost 192,000.

It is widely expected that those numbers will surge once Title 42 ends in less than two weeks. That Trump-era policy, continued under Biden, was used to quickly expel migrants and is expected to end on May 11.

Immigration has long been one of Biden’s weakest political issues and Republicans are sure to want to press their advantage on the topic as the presidential campaign heats up. 

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll in mid-April, just 27 percent of Americans approved of Biden’s handling of immigration — tying for the lowest approval number in any of the 11 issues tested in that survey.

Advocates of a stricter immigration policy see the shooting in Texas as evidence of how badly the current policy is falling.

“It’s just another example of what happens when we fail to enforse our laws, when you fail to enforce the border,” said Ira Mehlman, the media director of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors a stricter immigration system. “Virtually nobody is deported anymore.”

But Mehlman distanced himself from a controversial statement from the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, which referred to the victims of the Cleveland shooting as “five illegal immigrants.”

“It doesn’t matter what the immigration states of the victims is,” Mehlman said. “Nobody should be killed for asking a guy to stop shooting in his backyard.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

The Memo: What the latest dramatic twists mean in the Trump-FBI saga

The 45th president of the United States is under investigation for potential violations of the Espionage Act.

That one potent fact was the most explosive bombshell on Friday as the saga of the FBI investigation into former President Trump took several new turns.

The story has sidelined every other piece of news in the political world this week. The starting gun was fired when Trump himself confirmed early reports of a search of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Monday. The pace of developments has not eased since.

Trump being Trump, even news of possible crimes committed by him had a downside for Democrats. The passage of a major piece of legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, long sought by President Biden and his party, became a sideshow to the Trump-centric main event.

Political insiders of every stripe are wondering what to make of the most recent discoveries — and where the story goes from here.

The possible crimes

We now know the FBI search of Trump’s estate was premised on an investigation of three potential offenses. 

One of those possible charges had been widely predicted: it pertains to the concealment or removal of official documents.

Another covers the destruction, alteration or concealment of records "with the intent to impede, obstruct or influence" an investigation — an intriguing charge given the number of other probes directed at Trump. 

The biggest shock came with the inclusion of a third possible offense under section 793 of Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code.

The language of the statute is complicated, but its main thrust is that it is a criminal offense for someone to misuse, mishandle or fail to guard national security information that they believe “could be to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”

What that means, exactly, in relation to Trump is so far unknown — though it appears on its face plausibly consistent with a Thursday evening Washington Post scoop that asserted investigators were looking for information about nuclear weapons.

The things we don’t know

The feverish speculation that has gripped Washington is partly the result of the extraordinary nature of an FBI search of a former president’s home — something that has never happened before. 

But it is also a consequence of a situation in which many key details have been revealed in part, but not entirely.

The revelation about the Espionage Act came with the release of two documents Friday — the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago and the inventory of items seized. 

The previous day, Attorney General Merrick Garland had announced at a brief press conference that he wanted those documents unsealed. His request met with no opposition from the former president and his legal team.

Importantly, however, neither the Department of Justice nor Trump’s team expressed any wish to make the affidavit that underlies the search public. 

That document would give much more insight into investigators’ thinking, since it made their case to a federal magistrate for believing that a crime or crimes had been committed.

The inventory is key nevertheless. It asserts that among the items seized were numerous instances of classified material, including “various classified/TS/SCI documents” — an abbreviation that refers to one of the highest levels of classification: Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information.

The list also included such intriguing entries as “Info re: President of France,” “Handwritten note” and “Leatherbound box of documents.” An executive order granting clemency to longtime Trump ally Roger Stone was also among the items taken.

The broader view

The 30,000-ft view is one in which every new tidbit becomes ammunition in the nation’s increasingly bellicose partisan wars. 

The past week has seen Trump critics gleeful at what they imagine to be his imminent indictment, if not imprisonment; and his diehard supporters just as adamant that he is the victim of a nefarious plot by the ill-defined “Deep State.”

Trump is arguing that the information in his possession at Mar-a-Lago was already declassified. That claim is sure to be scrutinized and tested.

The usual coterie of his staunchest allies is rallying around. Late Friday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) told reporters at the Capitol that she was on her way to file articles of impeachment against Garland. She accused the attorney general of using his powers “to politically persecute Joe Biden’s enemies.” 

The current moment is only likely to become more febrile with that kind of rhetoric. It's dangerous enough as is.

On Thursday, a man was shot and killed by law enforcement in Ohio after allegedly trying to breach security at the FBI office in Cincinnati.

The man was identified as Ricky Shiffer. A social media account in that name had encouraged attacks on the FBI. Another post, on the day of the Mar-a-Lago raid, alluded to a crossing of the rubicon against which citizens should rise up.

"We must not tolerate this one," the post said. "This time we must respond with force."

One account bearing Shiffer's name also appeared to indicate its author had been in or around the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

As for Trump, he faces legal dangers on several fronts. He repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment earlier this week during a deposition in a civil case in New York. At least three other criminal probes could endanger him.

Legal experts say that, when it comes to the Mar-a-Lago matter, charges could be months away if they are pressed at all. 

The former president has skated away from trouble many times before. He remains, in spite of it all, the favorite to win the GOP nomination in 2024, should he enter the race.

But right now, the former president is once again sailing in uncharted waters.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Five questions that hang over the Jan. 6 committee’s public hearings

The biggest moment of the Jan. 6 House Select Committee’s existence is about to arrive. 

On Thursday evening, the panel will hold the first of its televised hearings. The event will take place in prime time and be broadcast by almost every major network and news channel. 

For some, it will be the most dramatic congressional investigation since the Watergate hearings a half-century ago. 

Others — committed supporters of former President Trump, in particular — will likely tune out the hearings. 

Here are five big questions that have yet to be answered. 

What will we learn that’s new about Trump? 

Democrats are promising explosive revelations about the former president’s role in fomenting the attack on the Capitol. 

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) on Tuesday promised in a CNN interview, “We’re going to see how much Trump was involved. Trump ran this show. He ran it from the time he lost the election in November, and he did it with his son, or sons, and all of his henchmen up there.” 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the committee, told The Washington Post in a Monday interview that the panel had “found evidence about a lot more than incitement here.”  

Raskin added, “I think that Donald Trump and the White House were at the center of these events. That’s the only way of really making sense of them all.” 

Ironically, the main difficulty Democrats may face in making the case against Trump is the vast amount that is already known. 

Trump was, after all, impeached by the House only one week after the insurrection, becoming the only president in history to be impeached on two separate occasions.  

At a rally at the Ellipse near the White House, immediately before the assault on the Capitol, he told supporters, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” And he also told them that President Biden, if certified as the election’s winner, would be an illegitimate president. 

There have also been subsequent media leaks about other things the panel may have uncovered — including, recently, the suggestion that Trump was sympathetic to the demands of some of his supporters to “hang Mike Pence,” then the sitting vice president. 

There could be more shocking evidence to come. But the knowledge already in existence sets a high bar. 

Can the panel incriminate the Republican Party more broadly? 

The committee famously features just two Republicans — Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), who serves as vice chair, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — both of whom are vigorous Trump critics. 

That leaves the wider GOP in the panel’s crosshairs, especially if it can pin culpability for specific misdeeds on other members of the party. 

No fewer than 147 Republican members of Congress voted to invalidate the election results in some shape or form on the evening of the insurrection, with debris still littering the Capitol’s hallways.

Yet, at that time, senior members of the GOP were willing to acknowledge Trump’s culpability. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in February 2021 said on the Senate floor that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” In a recorded call with colleagues later obtained by two reporters for The New York Times, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called Trump’s actions “atrocious and totally wrong.” 

But McConnell voted to acquit Trump on the impeachment charge in the Senate and McCarthy made his peace much more publicly, traveling to Mar-a-Lago to meet Trump. Last week, Trump endorsed McCarthy for reelection to the House. 

The GOP would far rather talk about the issues bedeviling Biden than Jan. 6.  

But if the committee can make a compelling case with fresh and additional evidence, Republicans may have little choice. 

Can the Democrats put on a show? 

For good or for bad, the theater of politics matters. 

So, one question will be how compelling Democrats can make the hearings. 

The first hearing is likely to be the most important of all, much as the first presidential debate in a series tends also to be the most vital.  

All three major broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, have said they will shelve their regular programming and replace it with live coverage of the Thursday hearing. So too have CNN and MSNBC. Controversially, Fox News will not air the hearing live, instead confining such coverage to Fox Business. 

Conservatives have taken umbrage at the decision by the committee to turn to a former president of ABC News, James Goldston, to help make Thursday’s presentation as compelling as possible.  

Axios, which first reported Goldston’s involvement, wrote that he was “busily producing” the hearing “as if it were a blockbuster investigative special.” 

We’re about to see the results. 

Do the hearings change the political agenda? 

There is little doubt that Thursday’s hearing will eclipse almost all the political news out of Washington. For that night at least, it will be the only show in town. 

But how long will that effect last? 

Trump allies have promised “counterprogramming” to push back on the narrative being advanced by the committee. 

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) is kicking off that effort Wednesday, at a morning news conference with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and ardent Trump allies Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).  

Stefanik told Fox News that she and her colleagues were “pushing back against lame-duck Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi’s sham political witch hunt.” 

More broadly, the White House has spent months on the defensive, embattled by a host of problems including inflation, high gas prices, an infant formula shortage and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The hearings will give Democrats a chance to put the GOP on the back foot — but for how long? 

Can the panel shift public opinion? 

Politically, this is the biggest question of all. 

Many independent experts, and even some liberals, aren’t at all sure the answer is yes. 

For all kinds of reasons, opinions around Jan. 6 have calcified.  

While Democrats see Trump’s culpability as self-evident, many Republicans seem willing to dismiss anything the panel uncovers. 

Meanwhile, a politically segmented media environment combines with the bias-reinforcing dynamics of social media to deepen those divisions. 

That doesn’t mean the committee is wasting its time. New evidence regarding Jan. 6 is important by its nature. 

But it may not be enough to change many minds. 

The Memo: Navarro drama ramps up stakes for Jan. 6 hearings

The drama surrounding the work of the Jan. 6 committee ramped up Friday with the news that former Trump adviser Peter Navarro had been indicted on two charges of contempt of Congress. 

The charges, each of which carries a maximum penalty of a $100,000 fine and one year of jail time, stem from Navarro’s refusal to cooperate with the House panel’s inquiries.

The new twist comes as the panel moves to the cusp of beginning public hearings. The first such event is due for Thursday.

Navarro, who on Friday initially announced his intention to defend himself, blasted the committee’s work and the manner in which he was arrested.

During his court appearance, he complained, “Who are these people? … This is not America. I mean, I was a distinguished public servant for four years, and nobody ever questioned my ethics. And they’re treating me in this fashion.”

Shortly afterward, speaking to reporters, he said he had been “intercepted” en route to Tennessee and placed in handcuffs and “leg irons.” He also sought to suggest his plight was simply an outgrowth of his support for former President Trump.

“They are not coming for me and Trump. They are coming for you,” he said, going on to detail the approximately 74 million people who voted for Trump at the 2020 election.

In fact, Navarro has been at the fore of propagating false theories of election fraud. He was also the leading proponent of a strategy known as the “Green Bay Sweep,” which was intended to reverse the election’s result.

Navarro’s next court appearance is scheduled for June 17, by which time the public hearings of the Jan. 6 panel will be well underway.

The effectiveness of those hearings will be judged according to two quite different criteria — the substantive information that is uncovered and the likely political effect.

On one hand, the importance of an investigation to look at such a serious assault on American democracy seems self-evident. 

Back in April, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the committee, promised that the public hearings would “really blow the roof off the House.”

“This was not a coup directed at the president,” Raskin added in his remarks at a Georgetown University event. “It was a coup directed by the president against the vice president and against the Congress.”

On the other, there is deep skepticism, even among those who are supportive of the committee’s work, that the hearings will move the political needle.

That skepticism is rooted in the reality that there is plenty already known about the insurrection. 

Trump was impeached 17 months ago for his role in inciting the riot. Given that a significant minority of the overall population — and a large majority of Republicans — continues to hold a favorable view of the former president, there is no obvious reason to believe the hearings will change their mind.

“Nothing they come up with is going to shift Trump or Trump’s base,” said Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University who authored a 2017 book making the case for the then-president’s impeachment. 

“Look at all the things that have come out, and, if anything, Trump’s approval has ticked upward, not downward.”

Lichtman argued that critics of the former president are being overly optimistic in believing that the impact of the forthcoming hearings could be analogous to the Watergate hearings in 1973 and 1974 that transfixed the public and culminated in former President Nixon’s resignation. 

In today’s hyperpolarized media and political environment, he added, Trump and his supporters will simply “say it’s a witch hunt” — and largely escape political consequence.

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, took a similar view. 

“The hearings will give a lot more depth and sense of intentionality in terms of what the public knows,” he said. “Having that on the record and having more knowledge is a good thing. Whether it affects anything politically is pretty dubious. So much of it happened in front of everyone’s eyes.”

Democrats can at least hope that the hearings will focus public attention on Trump, the insurrection and the complicity of other Republicans in it. Such subjects are more favorable terrain for President Biden’s party than current troubles such as inflation, soaring gas prices and a baby formula shortage.

But Republicans will go all-out to blast the committee, just as Navarro did on Friday. 

The only other person indicted for refusing to comply with a subpoena in similar circumstances — former Trump chief strategist Stephen Bannon — used his initial court appearances in a similar way, promising that his charge would end up being “the misdemeanor from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.”

With Navarro and Bannon indicted and the public hearings looming, another act in the insurrection drama is about to begin.

But most of the public has already made up its mind as to who are the heroes and the villains.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.