House

Jeffries, Nadler showcase different NY styles in Trump trial

Call it their good cop-bad cop schtick.

Hakeem Jeffries and Jerrold Nadler, two New York City Democrats serving as House prosecutors in the Senate impeachment trial, have very different styles but the same objective: trying to persuade some Republicans to vote to convict President Trump.

Their contrasting styles have been on full display as lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff's (D-Calif.) Democratic prosecution team made its opening arguments during three long days in the upper chamber this week.

Nadler, a veteran Jewish American lawmaker from the Upper West Side, has been a pit bull for the prosecution, accusing the 53 GOP senators in the chamber of being accomplices in Trump's "cover-up" - an allegation that infuriated the very Republicans that Nadler's team is trying to cajole.

Jeffries, an African American lawmaker from Brooklyn, launched an impeachment charm offensive, disarming senators by quoting rapper Notorious B.I.G. and cracking a Derek Jeter joke that elicited chuckles on both sides of the aisle.

Neither Democratic approach appears to changing any GOP minds.

"I think they would be better as trial lawyers than in the business of Congress. They struck me as being somewhat polished, but I'm pretty astute in trying to distill if there is anything new, and I did not see it," Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) told The Hill on Friday.

Asked about Jeffries's Jeter joke, Braun quipped: "It's hard for me to laugh in such a somber setting. It was a nice attempt though."

Nadler and Jeffries are just two of the seven members of the Democratic team. But the pair of powerful New Yorkers generated scores of headlines this week after their presentations to the Senate, where they argued Trump should be removed from office for pressuring Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election and trying to hinder the House's investigation.

On Day One of opening arguments, Nadler was the last Democrat to speak but he came out swinging. In an impassioned speech, he accused GOP senators of voting for a "cover-up" if they block subpoenas for witnesses and documents; he called it "obviously a treacherous vote." 

White House counsel Pat Cipollone demanded an apology from Nadler. Moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), whom Democrats are trying to sway, was so upset she wrote a note to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts questioning whether Nadler had violated Senate rules with his pointed remarks, Politico reported. Roberts then intervened and admonished both sides - handing Trump allies an opening and putting Democratic colleagues back on their heels.

"It didn't help his cause. When you are getting admonished by the Supreme Court chief justice for what you say," Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), a Long Island lawmaker who serves on Trump's impeachment team, told The Hill. "That was a pretty rough start."

Rep. Elise Stefanik, another New York Republican who's part of Trump's team, called Nadler's unforced error "a weak moment for Democrats," one that caused "fissures" between Nadler and Schiff. Democrats have downplayed any divisions.

But Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chairman who cut his teeth decades ago as a state legislator in Albany, didn't back down from the fight. The very next day, he came at Trump's chief defenders again, playing old video clips of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz that contradicted their argument that only a violation of the criminal code could be considered an impeachable offense.

His Day Two performance won kudos from within his own party. One Democratic source involved with the impeachment team called Nadler's presentation "clear-eyed, smart and effective."

"I thought Rep. Nadler did an excellent job showing how the president doesn't need to have committed a criminal offense to be impeached and removed from office - reflecting on what impeachment meant to the Founding Fathers," added Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y), who has known Nadler for decades.

On Day Three of Democratic arguments, Nadler was back in attack mode, labeling Trump a "dictator" on the Senate floor.

"This is a determination by President Trump that he wants to be all powerful, he does not have to respect the Congress, he does not have to respect the representatives of the people. Only his will goes. He is a dictator," Nadler said as he concluded his remarks Friday. 

"This must not stand and that is another reason he must be removed from office."

For Nadler, 72, this historical political moment - the impeachment of his longtime adversary, Trump, as he holds the prized Judiciary gavel - probably represents the pinnacle of a remarkable 50-year career in law and politics. 

Jeffries, not yet 50, is still climbing. Viewed on Capitol Hill as Speaker Nancy Pelosi's possible heir apparent, the unflappable chairman of the House Democratic Caucus is a disciplined messenger and talented orator. His turn in the impeachment spotlight is helping to raise his national profile; Jeffries was prominently featured in a front-page photo in The New York Times on Friday. 

"If you don't know, now you know," Jeffries said on the Senate floor in his distinct staccato delivery, quoting the famous rap song "Juicy" in a reference that went over the heads of most of the grey-haired senators.

But senators and the American public also got a glimpse this week of Jeffries's disarming sense of humor. As senators began nodding off, Jeffries, a former corporate lawyer, tried to revive them with a light-hearted story about a fellow New Yorker who asked if he had heard the "latest outrage."

Was it about Trump? Jeffries asked. 

No, the man replied. One anonymous person "voted against Derek Jeter on his Hall of Fame ballot," depriving the Yankees slugger of a unanimous vote. 

Jeffries said he hoped the two parties could agree to subpoena witnesses like John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, "but perhaps we can all agree to subpoena the Baseball Hall of Fame."

The punchline drew hearty laughter from Democrats, polite laughter from Republicans. 

Zeldin's team has been watching the trial from Vice President Mike Pence's ceremonial office just off the Senate floor.

"I happen to be a Mets fan. I even have my Mets colors on," Zeldin said Friday, pointing to his bright orange tie. "Even as a Mets fan who despises the Yankees, everyone wants to know where that one vote came from."

 

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