Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings

As he made his closing argument for the impeachment of President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse erupts in anger over Jan. 6 and Trump's role Six takeaways: What the FEC reports tell us about the midterm elections Lobbying world MORE’s voice began to rise.

The California Democrat’s eyes became moist and his bottom lip quivered as he invoked the late Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee MORE (D-Md.), who unexpectedly died last month in the middle of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

“In my view, there is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who believes they are above the law,” said Schiff, jabbing at the air with his forefinger for emphasis. “And I would just say to people watching here at home and around the world, in the words of my great colleague, ‘We are better than that.’”

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The moment marked a rare flash of emotion for a man known on Capitol Hill for his vegan diet and his reserved, disciplined — some would even say boring — disposition.

But it is precisely Shiff's sober demeanor and steady hand guiding the two-month impeachment investigation — including two weeks of televised public hearings — that have made him a national political figure, a household name and unlikely progressive rock star.

He has become a regular presence on the Sunday shows, delivering the party’s message on impeachment, and he recently received a standing ovation at the California Democratic Party convention in Long Beach.

And while the impeachment process is far from over — he and his committee are writing an impeachment report over the Thanksgiving recess — his colleagues on Capitol Hill are speculating how high the 59-year-old chairman can climb after his star turn in the Trump-Ukraine saga.

Some Democrats see him as the natural heir to 86-year-old Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBiden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Stripping opportunity from DC's children Progressive groups ask for town hall with Feinstein to talk filibuster MORE (D-Calif.); others say the 19-year Southern California congressman is a House guy through and through and could one day run to succeed Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel MORE (D-Calif.), his close ally. One of his House colleagues from the Golden State said she saw a president in the making as Schiff led the televised hearings these past two weeks.

“When we look at the characteristics of what we want to see in a president, it is somebody who is not going to lose composure because he’s been poked. And we’re seeing that on display from Adam Schiff every single day,” said the California Democratic lawmaker. “He’s not too vanilla. But I kind of want that now after Trump. We need boring; boring is good.”

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Schiff in control

A dozen fact witnesses. Seven hearings. Five days. With Schiff at the helm, Democrats have always felt comfortably in control of the historic impeachment hearings examining whether Trump tried to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election.

When the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesSunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe Lawmakers spend more on personal security in wake of insurrection Tucker Carlson claims NSA leaked private emails to journalists MORE (Calif.), tried to yield time to his GOP colleague Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikGOP's Banks burnishes brand with Pelosi veto Former speed skater launches bid for Stefanik seat House GOP leaders say vaccine works but shouldn't be mandated MORE (N.Y.), Schiff gaveled her down and firmly but politely explained that she was not permitted to speak during Nunes’s 45-minute allotment under House rules — rules that Schiff himself helped write.

And when GOP questions appeared to go down a path that could out the whistleblower who prompted the impeachment inquiry, Schiff shut down that line of inquiry and warned Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanVindman says he doesn't regret testimony against Trump Esper: If my replacement is 'a real yes man' then 'God help us' Ukrainian president whose call with Trump sparked impeachment congratulates Biden MORE and other witnesses not to say anything that could reveal the individual’s identity.

“Steady, balanced, objective, clear about the Constitution and very focused,” Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeOvernight Defense: 6B Pentagon spending bill advances | Navy secretary nominee glides through hearing | Obstacles mount in Capitol security funding fight House panel advances 6B Pentagon bill on party-line vote House panel votes to repeal 2001, 2002 war authorizations MORE, a fellow California progressive and a former Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman, said of Schiff.

“I think he’s a brilliant mind. I think he’s a thoughtful leader,” added Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), who serves alongside Schiff on the Intelligence panel. “I found myself looking to him for counsel and guidance, and I’ve even taken some cues from his style.”

“Preparation is so critical, understanding the content, surrounding yourself with people who are smart so that you can learn from them — that strategy for Schiff has proven to be effective,” he added.

Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickDemocrats confront difficult prospects for midterms Surgeon who treated Gabby Giffords after shooting launches House bid in Arizona These House lawmakers aren't seeking reelection in 2022 MORE (D-Ariz.), a former prosecutor and a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, also heaped praise on Schiff: “He’s a former prosecutor, and I think he is perfect for this job.”


‘A lot of options’

The good news for Schiff is that he has plenty of doors open to him. He could probably stay on as Intelligence chairman for another two-year term after the 2020 election; it’s a post appointed by the Speaker. Or he could exercise his “right to return” to the House Appropriations Committee, where he could replace retiring Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyLobbying world Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Biden needs to tear down bureaucratic walls and refocus Middle East programs MORE (D-N.Y.) as chair of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee.

“He has a lot of options,” said one senior Democratic aide who’s been following Schiff.

Most Democrats think he will aim higher, though Schiff has kept his cards close to the vest.

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Through a spokesman, Schiff declined to comment for this story.

Colleagues from California and elsewhere say Schiff would be a strong contender to succeed Feinstein, the state’s senior senator who in 2018 won her sixth and likely last Senate election. There’s also the possibility Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisWill Pence primary Trump — and win? Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law 'CON laws' limit the health care competition Biden aims to deliver MORE (D-Calif.), now a long-shot presidential hopeful, could be tapped for vice president or a top Cabinet post in a Democratic administration.

“I think he would be a good senator,” Rep. Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresHouse Democrat says she sleeps with gun nearby after clashing with El Salvador's president Harris, Hispanic Caucus meet on Central America House Democrats call for paid legal representation in immigration court MORE, a member of the Hispanic Caucus and a fellow Southern California Democrat, told The Hill. “I think how he’s handled himself is very admirable, that he’s been able to keep his composure even though he’s been personally attacked. This is not easy for him.”

Trump has singled out Schiff at campaign rallies and on Twitter, nicknaming him “pencil neck” and “Shifty Schiff.” The president’s allies on Capitol Hill have called for Schiff to be ousted as Intelligence chairman and censured on the House floor. And Nunes has ridiculed Schiff’s impeachment hearings, calling them a “circus,” “sham” and “show trial.”

But the same qualities that have made him a target of the right have made Schiff a hero of the left. At a speech at the California Democratic Party convention in Long Beach this month, Schiff stood on stage and declared to the party faithful, "We will send that charlatan in the White House back to the golden throne he came from."

The speech was met with a roaring standing ovation.

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“I think he needed that, and I think we needed to see him there,” said Torres, who was in attendance.

But in the nation’s most populous state with no shortage of ambitious politicians, a Senate race could be a crowded affair. One former 2020 presidential candidate who serves on Schiff’s committee, Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellTech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Justice in legal knot in Mo Brooks, Trump case Mo Brooks's Jan. 6 defense raises questions about official immunity and DOJ strategy MORE (D-Calif.), could run for an open seat, as could Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuPost-Trump, Biden seeks to restore US relations with Holy See California Democrats clash over tech antitrust fight Tech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup MORE (D-Calif.), a House Judiciary Committee member and colonel in the Air Force Reserve.

Both have become outspoken Trump critics on cable news and Twitter.

Others who could run for Senate down the road include a pair of Democrats who have already won statewide: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraFlorida asks Supreme Court to block CDC's limits on cruise ship industry White House announces new funds for COVID-19 testing and vaccination amid delta surge Lawmakers introduce bipartisan Free Britney Act MORE, who served with Schiff in the House and briefly overlapped with him at Stanford University. But many think Becerra has his sights set on the governor’s office.


Schiff fundraising kicks into high gear 

Just as a Senate bid would be no sure bet, neither would a run for Speaker of the House. First, there’s the question of whether a House Democratic Caucus that is more diverse and more female than ever would elect a white male.

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But if the caucus were deadlocked and no candidate could secure the necessary 218 votes, some Democrats said they could envision Schiff as a consensus pick or “white knight,” just as former Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece Cutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Juan Williams: Trump's GOP descends into farce MORE (R-Wis.) was drafted to run for Speaker in 2015 after then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyMcCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel MORE (R-Calif.) abruptly abandoned his bid.

And while some Democrats describe him as socially “awkward” and hardly a back-slapper who excels at the inside game in the Capitol, Schiff has been showering his colleagues with campaign cash through his leadership PAC, United for a Strong America.

In the 2018 cycle, he kicked his fundraising operation into high gear, raising $537,000 for front-line Democrats, including incoming freshman Reps. Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathCritical race theory becomes focus of midterms Overnight Health Care: Fauci clashes with Paul - again | New York reaches .1B settlement with opioid distributors | Delta variant accounts for 83 percent of US COVID-19 cases Abortion rights group endorsing 12 House Democrats ahead of midterms MORE (Ga.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Ben McAdams (Utah) and Katie Porter (Calif.). During the 2016 cycle, he gave only $13,500 to fellow House Democrats.

“I think he’s a House person. The public sees him as in control, even-keeled, doesn’t lose it. What he has done is marshal us all together, keep us all on this one track. He’s been pragmatic,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a progressive leader who attends weekly chairman’s meetings with Schiff, told The Hill.

“People are bristling about the fact that we were not moving fast enough, but at the end of the day, I think how he has handled this and the public face he has given to this issue has certainly enhanced his reputation, not just here but across the country and certainly in California," he added.

"Whatever position he was in, he’s above it now," Grijalva said.