Raskin launches bid to lead House Oversight panel

The race for the top Democratic seat on the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee got more crowded on Friday when Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) entered the contest to replace the outgoing chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Maloney lost her primary race on Tuesday to Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), ending a 30-year career on Capitol Hill and opening up the top panel seat in the next Congress.

Raskin's decision to seek the spot pits him against two other, more veteran Oversight Democrats — Reps. Stephen Lynch (Mass.) and Gerry Connolly (Va.), who launched their candidacies on Wednesday.

Democrats have traditionally favored seniority when choosing top committee spots, which would seem to place Raskin at a disadvantage in the race.

Still, the three-term congressman has built a sturdy national profile in his short time on Capitol Hill, leading the House's second impeachment of former President Trump after last year's attack on the U.S. Capitol, and now playing a high-profile role in the investigation of the attacks.

A former professor of constitutional law, Raskin is now making the case that his legal background makes him the best candidate to lead the Democrats on the Oversight panel.

"We are still in the fight of our lives to defend American constitutional democracy and—by extension—political freedom and human rights all over the world," Raskin wrote Friday to his fellow Democrats in a letter obtained by The Hill.

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. 

Jan. 6 panel seeks to break through with prime-time programming

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is preparing for a crucial week as it prepares to finally share with the public the fruits of its months-long investigation into the riot in prime time on Thursday. 

The 8 p.m. hearing kicking off a series of meetings shows the committee is eager to reach a broad segment of Americans and relay the extent to which democracy itself was at stake that day. 

“The goal here is to construct this narrative,” said Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies with Brookings.  

“What they want to do is go through the countless depositions that they've taken and other evidence that they gathered and figure out a way to try and convey a story to the public.” 

The challenge is making a captivating case for a wide audience, particularly those who feel they already know what happened that day or who are ready to move on from the attack. 

According to polling from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the country is nearly evenly divided on how much it wants to reflect on the day. 

While 52 percent said it’s important to learn more about what happened, 48 percent said it was “time to move on.” The divide is almost entirely partisan. 

“I do think that the committee will have difficulties in communicating messages because of the kind of segregated information environment in which a lot of the American public exists,” Ryan Goodman, co-director of the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, told The Hill. 

“That said, I do think the visual of a solemn public hearing and live testimony plus, in all likelihood video material, could focus attention in a way [for] the members of the American public are otherwise not thinking about these issues.” 

Putting the hearing in prime-time shows the committee doesn’t want to just reach those who already view the attack as a grievous assault on democracy. It wants to reach independents and even conservatives who have heard GOP leaders brand the panel as a partisan witch hunt. 

Jesse Rhodes, a political science professor who helped craft the UMass poll, said even with the sharp partisan divide, there are those who don’t have strong feelings about the attack. 

“We're finding in the poll that about 19 percent of people are purely independent. And then there's another 9 percent who lean Democratic and another 8 percent lean Republican. So there is a little bit of mushiness in the middle. And those people potentially can be shifted,” he said, noting that just one-third of Americans strongly identify as conservative. 

“If there really is damning evidence of long-term planning, involvement in collusion by the president or his top advisers … that does have the potential to move some people.” 

Rhodes and others have warned the committee must be careful in how it frames such messaging. 

“I think the most important [thing] might be this is not perceived as a Trump versus Biden frame, which the first impeachment hearing pretty much was, but rather it imparts a Trump versus Pence framework. I think that there are many people that are concerned about the direct threat to Mike Pence that occurred on Jan. 6,” Goodman said.  

“I think that captures attention in a very different way. It’s not as political or partisan.” 

There are signs the committee could be leaning in that direction. Multiple outlets reported the panel has been in discussions about inviting Pence’s legal advisers and chief of staff to testify. 

“As soon as this is perceived as or appears to be a strictly partisan affair and an attack on the Republican Party as an institution, then you're going to get a lot of resistance or skepticism,” Rhodes said. 

“To the degree that the messages can be about upholding and maintaining institutions and values that benefit people, regardless of party, the more you will get at least a willingness to hear some of these concerns.” 

The panel’s makeup could help it.  

Republicans in the House objected during the two committee impeachment proceedings on Trump, but the two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel agree with its objectives.

“Each hearing is going to be different than I think a lot of what we're used to seeing because everyone is rowing in the same direction. So you have the Democrats and you have [Rep. Liz] Cheney [R-Wyo.] and [Rep. Adam] Kinzinger [R-Ill.], so the committee is bipartisan, but they are all in pursuit of a shared goal in a way that just is not true of other recent high profile investigations, whether it be the Trump impeachment or Benghazi,” Reynolds said. 

“That’s going to make for a serious exposition of the facts that's just going to feel different than what we’ve gotten used to.”    

Goodman said the absence of Republicans opposed to the committee’s mission will not just change the tone but even the way in which information is presented. 

“I do not think that the hearings are going to be anything like the circus that has existed in hearings — and the impeachment hearings — in that past in which some members of Congress were simply playing to kind of a right-wing media. And so this will be a more solemn hearing which is going to be truth seeking, [that’s] the way in which I see it. And I don't think that hearings are going to be a source of disinformation. I think they're going to be a source of information,” he said. 

The committee has not yet announced who will testify at the first hearing, but it has pledged to release never before seen footage from Jan. 6. 

“The committee will present previously unseen material documenting January 6th, receive witness testimony, preview additional hearings, and provide the American people a summary of its findings about the coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and prevent the transfer of power,” it said in a Thursday statement. 

It’s not clear what type of footage the committee plans to present at the hearing. 

While in the past it’s relied on visceral imagery — including an officer being smashed by rioters in a doorway and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) barely escaping as the mob closed in on the Senate chamber — even new footage of the attack may seem repetitive to those who watched it unfold live on television. 

But Goodman said video recordings from some of the committee’s more than 1,000 depositions could be captivating for the public. 

Rhodes also said new information will be key, especially to break through in an unusually busy summer news cycle. 

“It can be a challenge to get people to refocus on events that occurred in the past, especially when there's going to be a lot of elite disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about what happened and who was involved in with what culpability,” he said. “I think that's a real challenge even though it sounds like the committee is going to have a lot of really juicy and damning information to share.”  

“They may be able to bring attention especially if they come out with some really shocking new revelations but it is going to be a challenge to break through everything that's going on right now.” 

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.