On a chilly restaurant patio in beautiful downtown Burbank, Democrat Adam Schiff stepped into the room to the warm applause and the hugs of about 100 supporters.
It was 8:16 p.m., and his party had just won back control of the House of Representatives. The mood in the room, happy satisfaction, was a stark contrast with his last election-night bash.
“Two years ago,” the congressman said, “this party was like a funeral procession.”
With the Democratic takeover of the House, President Trump’s one-party party is over.
Dismayed by the antics of the self-described “stable genius” in the Oval Office, voters repainted a red House blue.
As a result, things are about to get very uncomfortable for a president who has been able to subjugate Congress to his will. One of his most daunting antagonists will be Schiff, who has big brown puppy dog eyes, apple-red cheeks and the mildest manner you’ve ever seen in a former prosecutor with a killer instinct.
Depending, as he put it, “on what Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi wants,” Schiff is the likely future chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He has vowed to restore the checks and balances on a presidency that has not just run rampant over norms, but is also trying to upend the Constitution itself. (See: birthright citizenship.)
“We’ve had a Congress completely unwilling to do its job, to be a co-equal branch of government, unwilling to push back against the basic indecency of this person in the Oval Office,” Schiff had said earlier at a pep rally in Stevenson Ranch for Katie Hill, the homeless services advocate whose race to unseat Republican incumbent Steve Knight is still up in the air. “And it is this combination of unethical president and a cowardly, rubber-stamp Congress that has our republic trembling, and why so much rides on our ability to flip the House.”
On election night, as he stepped out on the sidewalk for a quick interview with MSNBC, I asked Schiff to finish this sentence: My first subpoena will go to ….”
He laughed but wouldn’t bite: “Thanks for the question.”
Schiff never came right out and said he plans to make life hell for Trump. But I’m sure in his own methodical, straightforward way, that’s exactly what he will do.
Oh, just count the ways.
Under Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee will start to examine in earnest Trump’s bizarre relationship with Russia. “We’re going to look at the work the GOP has obstructed,” he said.
A Democratic House will also become an enthusiastic brake on Trump’s basest impulses.
“No budget will get through without our approval,” Schiff said. “And through the budget, I think we can stop him from using the resources of the country in an unethical or unconstitutional way.”
Democrats may be able stop Trump from sending military troops to the border with Mexico by forbidding such political stunts in appropriations bills, Schiff said.
He is hopeful that the president might even turn on his own party once he realizes he needs Democrats.
“He is not a true conservative, he’s not a true progressive,” Schiff said. “What is in his naked self-interest is all that motivates him. And he may decide it’s in his naked self-interest to actually work with Democrats.”
Though Schiff is committed to setting a more civilized tone in the House, he’s under no illusions that the president will tone down the toxicity.
“As long as Donald Trump is the president, it will be a poisonous atmosphere because he’s all about division. Nonetheless, we need to do our best in Congress to get the people’s business done. We need to show that we are more than just being about being opposed to him. We are not going to abuse our power the way the Republicans did. We are going to be responsible and tenacious in pursuit of our policy.”
On Tuesday, Schiff roamed around Southern California making appearances in Orange County for Harley Rouda and Katie Porter, neophyte Democratic candidates whose races, against Dana Rohrabacher and Mimi Walters, were still undecided.
The musician Moby, a constituent of Schiff’s who often serves him vegan meals at his Little Pine bistro, joined Schiff on the trail Tuesday. He was elated at the prospect of a Democratic House.
“Checks and balances have not existed in any meaningful way in two years,” Moby said. “At the very least, we’ll have a check and a balance on the worst, most corrupt, most incompetent president ever in the history of the United States.”
Schiff, who was first elected to the House in 2000, became an unlikely political celebrity after the 2016 presidential election.
His relentlessly anti-Trump Twitter feed made him a presidential nemesis, while his dissenting takes on the work of the House Intelligence Committee made him a welcome presence on cable networks such as CNN and MSNBC.
In retaliation, Trump dubbed him “sleazy Adam Schiff,” which only endeared the congressman to Democrats more.
“Let me tell you just how famous I’ve become from TV,” Schiff told a group of Rouda volunteers Tuesday morning in Costa Mesa. “At Home Depot about a month ago, someone came up to me very excited and said, ‘I know you! You’re that TV preacher! I said, ‘Well, yes I am and bless you!’”
Despite his vow to bring a more civil tone to the House, he couldn’t help tweaking Trump as he spoke to Porter supporters in Tustin on Tuesday afternoon.
“When we think back to two years ago, and we saw that puny inauguration, and it was followed by that massive women’s march, we wondered could that passion, that commitment, that energy be sustained for the marathon ahead of us? For two years? Well, now that two years has passed and that question has been answered with a resounding yes!”
As I left the Porter rally in Tustin to drive to Schiff’s party in Burbank, I met Lydia Yang, a 52-year-old teacher’s aide from Orange.
“I love Adam Schiff,” she said. “He’s the voice of sanity on the Hill. Especially that committee. If he wasn’t there, I would be pulling my hair out. He makes me feel like everything is going to be OK.”