But the closed-door strategy runs counter to another goal Democrats have. The lack of televised hearings could limit their ability to capture attention and build voter support for the party’s case against Trump—which Pelosi had long made a prerequisite for pursuing impeachment in the first place. While public hearings haven’t always been a success for the Democrats since they won the House majority last year, they’re a potentially useful venue for compelling political theater.
In interviews, lawmakers pushed back on the suggestion that Americans have been cut out of the process. “I’m not aware that the public is experiencing any confusion,” Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in an interview yesterday. “I have zero concerns on that front.”
What the process has done, however, is open the party up to criticism from Republicans that it’s running an overly secretive operation, including from those who have not marched in lockstep with Trump.
“I want to get to the truth, just like everybody else,” said Representative Jaime Herrera-Beutler, a Republican from a competitive district in Washington State. “But this needs to happen out in the open, with full transparency, and right now that’s not happening.” Herrera-Beutler was speaking in a video she tweeted on Thursday, in which she stood outside the room where the Intelligence Committee has been hearing testimony in secret.
For days, Republican members who are not on the panel have been trying to get into the room, knowing full well they would be turned away, to highlight what they claim is a fundamentally unjust process. Yesterday, that was the subject of a heated exchange between the second-ranking members of each party, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, that devolved into a shouting match on the House floor.
“Are we going to finally get beyond this secret, closed-door star-chamber process of impeachment and get to something that is rooted in fairness?” Scalise asked Hoyer.
Read: The risks of impeachment are overblown
“I reject wholly and fully the premise underlying the whip’s representation,” the Democrat replied. “There is no unfairness in this process.
“The Republicans are pounding on process, Mr. Speaker, because they do not want to discuss the substance,” Hoyer continued, pounding loudly on his own lectern for effect.
As for why the Democrats are holding hearings behind closed doors, Hoyer added, “We do not want to turn it into a circus.”
That is probably more compelling a reason than many Democrats would care to admit. The party saw firsthand the downside of televised hearings when the House Judiciary Committee called Trump’s pugnacious former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to testify during the brief period when that panel had opened an impeachment probe. Bickering with members and stalling for time, Lewandowski tried to make a mockery of the proceedings. He largely succeeded in stymieing Democrats’ attempt to elicit useful information until the very end of the hearing, when a lawyer for the committee questioned him uninterrupted for a half hour.