The Memo: Democrats raise the stakes before first Jan. 6 hearing
Democrats have ramped up expectations for the first televised hearing of the Jan. 6 committee — and now they have to deliver.
The stakes could hardly be higher when the House select committee’s proceedings get underway at 8 p.m. Thursday.
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the committee, promised in April that there would be revelations that “will really blow the roof off the House.”
In a more recent interview, with The Washington Post, Raskin said that the panel had discovered evidence encompassing “a lot more than incitement” by former President Trump.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) has tweeted that the hearings will “fully expose the cult’s extreme effort to overthrow the U.S. government.”
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) has also insisted there is going to be new information about Trump’s role in one of the darkest days in American democracy.
“We’re going to see how much Trump was involved,” Cohen recently told CNN. “Trump ran this show.”
The sizzling rhetoric means the pressure is on the committee to show real substance. But Democrats are confident they have the goods.
They will certainly have an audience.
The big three broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, will preempt their regular programming to show the first hearing live, as will cable networks CNN and MSNBC. Fox News has stirred a media furor by declining to do the same, though its lower-profile sister network Fox Business will do so.
The panel has recruited former ABC News executive James Goldston to help fashion a compelling TV narrative out of an enormous mountain of information. The panel has testimony from more than 1,000 interviews and has reviewed around 140,000 records.
The Democrats have one sizable advantage going into the hearing: They will get to tell a story largely of their own choosing.
There are only two Republicans on the panel, Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), both of whom are strong Trump critics.
The makeup of the committee is the result of a squabble from almost a year ago between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
As the panel was being formed, McCarthy nominated five Republicans to join it, including two of Trump’s most ardent backers on Capitol Hill, Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Jim Banks (Ind.).
Both Jordan and Banks had voted against certifying the result of the 2020 election on the day of the insurrection, and Pelosi refused to accept their nominations. McCarthy responded by yanking all his choices off the committee, blasting its work as a “sham process.”
At the time, Republicans thought they could paint the panel as partisan theatrics. Many Trump supporters still hew to that view. However, come Thursday evening, there will be no defenders of the former president in the room to disrupt or dilute the accusations likely to be pressed by the panel.
Meanwhile, Cheney and Kinzinger’s presence gives a semblance of bipartisanship to the endeavor.
Cheney has joined the Democrats in predicting explosive revelations to come.
Asked by CBS News’s Robert Costa in an interview broadcast Sunday whether she was “confident that what you have found as a committee will somehow grab the American people by the lapels,” the Wyoming congresswoman replied, “I am.”
She also said that “people must watch” the hearings in order to “understand how easily our democratic system can unravel if we don’t defend it.”
But Democrats and Trump critics have been disappointed before when they have believed the former president would finally be consigned to ignominy. The Mueller report, and its relative lack of impact on Trump’s political standing, is the most obvious example. More recently, the impetus of a criminal probe into Trump in New York has seemed to peter out.
And while Congress can marshal some old-school drama to its proceedings, that in itself doesn’t mean much — as the GOP knows.
In 2015, House Republicans investigating the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, three years previously were at fever pitch about a scheduled appearance by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But the GOP drew virtually no new information or incriminating details from Clinton in 11 hours of questioning. The hearing was widely considered a bust.
This time around, the Biden White House is remaining circumspect.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked Tuesday whether the president saw the hearings as something that would “move the needle” in terms of public perception.
Jean-Pierre responded in mild terms, noting that Biden would “be following the news from the hearing” and that he supports the “vital work” undertaken by the panel.
From an electoral standpoint, moving the electoral needle is doubtful.
The reasons are plain. Most Democratic voters believe Trump’s culpability and the GOP’s complicity has already been proven. Likewise, the former president’s most fervent supporters show no sign of caring what the panel uncovers, one way or another.
But for the political world writ large, Thursday’s hearing will be the biggest political event since Trump left office all the same.
The biggest question of all still looms.
What has the panel found?
We’ll soon know the answer.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.