President Trump should not underestimate Jerry Nadler

Conversations with Representative Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who this week has launched a sweeping demand for documents from associates of President Trump, are rarely brisk. The New York Democrat is loquacious on just about any topic. I once sat with him, badly jet lagged, during a congressional delegation to Israel. The topics covered Israeli ballistic missile capabilities, the Arab Spring, and several thousand years of lengthy biblical archaeology. At a meeting in my office on the topics of mass transit and rail freight, he dominated with statistics on vehicular traffic flows east and west on the Long Island Expressway.

He is not the flashiest member of Congress, but is easily one of the most substantive. He is also a tempting target for adversaries with a flare for underestimation. There is an ignominious roster of people who thought that Nadler was easy prey. I watched how he arrived at his decision to support the nuclear deal with Iran. The expedient politics would have been to oppose it, especially because he was being threatened with a Democratic primary. However, he chose the more challenging path of questioning President Obama, mastering the details of the negotiations, and challenging positions on both sides of the issue. Ultimately, Nadler supported the deal, while I took an opposite position, and received a nasty primary opponent. But for Nadler, principles outweighed politics.

{mosads}This is not to say to say that he is a “Mister Smith Goes to Washington” character who operates on the high oxygen content of principles alone. The man is wily. You have to be to survive the bare knuckle politics of New York Democrats. Nadler has a career of outfoxing and outthinking his adversaries. Within the electoral Darwinian politics of New York City, survival of the fittest is established in the dark trenches where battles are waged over Democratic district leaders and clubhouse power. That is where Nadler shaped his political muscle and sharpened his instincts.

Nadler has suffered his share of defeats. He lost a primary for Manhattan Borough president to David Dinkins in 1985. Four years later, Nadler lost a race for New York City comptroller to former Representative Elizabeth Holtzman. There is an elegant irony to the latter race. In 1974, Holtzman was serving as a young Democratic lawmaker with a seat on the House Judiciary Committee. She recommended three articles of impeachment for President Nixon on charges of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. Now, Nadler chairs that very same committee, and he may very well pursue that same course of action against Trump.

On Monday, Nadler opened what the New York Times called “perhaps the most perilous front to date for Trump. It is an inquiry that takes aim at the heart of his norm-bending presidency and could conceivably form the basis of a future impeachment proceeding.” He demanded documents from 81 agencies and individuals, including relatives and associates of Trump. Whether this is a prelude to impeachment is sheer speculation. What we can count on is a Trumpian counterattack. The president can assert his executive privilege or go on a Twitter tirade against Nadler.

I suspect Trump will become “detractor in chief” against Nadler. There is Crooked Hillary, Crazy Maxine, Shifty Adam Schiff, and who knows what pejorative the president will apply. But Trump is a New Yorker who knows something that adversaries of Nadler might not. He is a survivor. He may not have mastered the art of the deal, but he is pretty darn good at using politics in pursuit of principles. My advice to Trump and all those gearing up to discredit Nadler is this: You underestimate him at your own peril.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Adam Schiff Congress Democrats Donald Trump Finance Government Investigation Jerry Nadler New York President Republicans Steve Israel White House

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