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Why today's impeachment hearing worked

Rep. Hank Johnson (D) took a not-so-subtle jab at his colleague, Rep. Matt Gaetz, after Gaetz criticized Hunter Biden's past struggles with substance abuse.

Posted: Dec 13, 2019 2:50 AM
Updated: Dec 13, 2019 2:50 AM

The House Judiciary Committee is in the midst of a marathon session that will, eventually, end with a final vote on the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

You might think that a hearing that began at 9 a.m. ET and could easily extend past the 12-hour mark might be overwhelming. Or filled with partisan vitriol and name-calling. And there was some of that! I mean, Republican Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is on this committee, after all!

But taken as a whole, the mark-up hearing -- essentially a series of attempts to change small or large parts of the language of the articles of impeachment -- was packed full of information. You had a constitutional law professor (Maryland Democratic Jamie Raskin) debating with a constitutional law litigator of the other party (Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson). You had an extended debate about the origins of executive privilege and how it should be understood in the context of this impeachment hearing against Trump. You had a long back-and-forth over the separation of powers and just how much the legislative (or executive) branch should have within our government.

Taken as a whole, it was a multi-hour, rollicking conversation between a lot of very powerful people about why they were there, what it meant for Trump and, most importantly, what it all means for the future of the country. For much of the time, a majority of the 40-plus members of the committee stayed in their seats in the hearing, listening to the arguments of their side and the other side -- and seeking to either prop up or rebut something they had heard.

It wasn't perfect. But it felt we were watching the way Congress should work -- a group of elected officials debating their colleagues in, generally speaking, a serious way. It felt like the sort of hearing we should have when the matter being debated is as grave as impeachment of a sitting president. And it felt a world away from the previous two impeachment hearings held by the House Judiciary Committee, in which members simply yelled one another and gave a series of pre-prepared five-minute speeches.

The Point: If more people wind up leaving this impeachment process with a better understanding of the "how and why" behind what Congress does, that will be a silver lining in what is quite clearly a very dark cloud over Washington these days.

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