Newsletter: The making of Adam Schiff


Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Dec. 19, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

On Wednesday, a sharply divided House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in a condemnation that only two other American presidents have faced in the nation’s history.

It has been a rough few months for the president. But impeachment — and the morass of investigations that preceded it — have rocketed the career of a 10-term Burbank congressman into the political stratosphere. Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a constant Twitter target of the president’s, has become “the Kenneth Starr of the Trump impeachment,” as my colleague Jennifer Haberkorn wrote a few weeks ago, taking on “the role of lead inquisitor and public face of the probe.”

Interestingly, it was also an impeachment — albeit a different one — that launched Schiff’s national political career.

Let’s rewind back to 1999, when Britney Spears was a hot new artist and America was debating the meaning of “is.”


Impeachment proceedings had minted a political star from the district now known as California’s 28th, springing him from “relative obscurity to headliner du jour.” But he was a Republican, and his name was Jim Rogan.

Rep. James E. Rogan, then a two-term Glendale congressman, had prosecuted President Bill Clinton with a zeal that made him a hero to the GOP faithful. It also made him vulnerable in his home district.

Enter David Geffen, naturally. Enraged by Rogan, the media mogul committed unlimited “time and money and effort” to ousting him. He rallied his Hollywood troops behind then-state Sen. Adam Schiff, and poured enough cash into the race to break House records.

Schiff won that 2000 race and hasn’t faced a serious election challenge since.

Born in Boston and bar mitzvahed in Northern California, Schiff attended Harvard Law, but also applied to medical schools. He first distinguished himself as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s L.A. office.

He’s been regarded as wonkish and steady in Congress, a deeply skilled tactician, with politics that ran relatively down the middle and expertise in foreign policy. A 2005 profile in this paper noted that “staffers joke about his lack of charisma.”

At the time, he was “carving out a position as a leader of a centrist Democratic national security bloc,” which is about as politically unsexy a phrase as ever uttered. A few years ago, a poll found that less than 1 out of every 5 California voters recognized the name “Adam Schiff.”

But he ascended to national prominence in 2017, with his position as the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. The very qualities that made him relatively anonymous in the past have been key to his rising Trump-era star.

“There’s such a desire for something you can hang on to in the midst of these gale-force winds, and there’s a solidity to Schiff that is really appealing,” former Obama advisor David Axelrod told California Sunday. “At a time when everything seems to be going crazy, there is a sense of bland is beautiful.”

And now? The California congressman has nearly 2 million followers on Twitter, self-proclaimed members of the #Resistance clamor for selfies with him, and “Saint Adam Schiff” prayer candles are being hawked on Etsy ($19.95, shipping included).

And there is more than a little chatter about where he plans to go next.

[See also: “It’s no secret that Rep. Adam Schiff has higher ambitions. What’s his next political move?” in the Los Angeles Times]


And now, here’s what else is happening:


More on impeachment: In a partisan vote on two articles of impeachment, the Democratic-controlled House charged Trump with committing high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard needed to warrant his removal from office. Every Republican voted no.

Though it’s unclear when the articles of impeachment will go to the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial, the president is expected to win acquittal there and remain in office — and become the first impeached president to run for reelection. Los Angeles Times

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi once resisted impeachment. Now it will stand as key part her legacy, along with becoming the country’s first female speaker of the House and shepherding the Affordable Care Act into law. Los Angeles Times

A federal appeals court in New Orleans ruled against part of the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday — providing a limited victory for Trump and his Republican allies but not overturning most parts of the sweeping 2010 healthcare law. Los Angeles Times

California businesses are breathing a sigh of relief over deal to update the NAFTA trade pact. There is little overall difference between the old North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trump administration’s replacement. But in a state where the economy has long depended on the flow of products, services, investments and people across borders, California businesses are relieved to finally at least have some certainty they can plan around. Los Angeles Times


Many Latin American consulates in L.A. are led by women. #MeToo is just one reason why. Los Angeles Times

The president of Ryan Murphy’s company moonlights as a downtown L.A. restaurateur. She and her chef husband just opened Red Herring on Grand. The Hollywood Reporter

How Kendall Jenner (of the Jenner/Kardashian clan) became an unlikely champion of “alt lit.” (Cult books tend to sell out on Amazon after Jenner is photographed with them, usually while poolside.) W Magazine

A new permit system for street vendors in Los Angeles goes into effect on Jan. 1, but vendors who don’t have permits won’t be fined for the first few months. LAist

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Alameda has become the latest city to ban the use of facial recognition technology. Fellow Bay Area cities Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have already issued their own bans. East Bay Times

Ventura County supervisors are backing an effort to change state law to keep death reports from the public. The legislation has not yet been drafted, so it is not clear what exceptions, if any, might apply. Ventura County Star


Christopher Darden, best known for prosecuting O.J. Simpson, is now representing Ed Buck, the Democratic donor accused of supplying fatal doses of narcotics to two men who died in his West Hollywood apartment. Los Angeles Times


A breakwater in Long Beach that blocks waves from reaching the shore won’t be removed. It was built decades ago. Los Angeles Times

A breakwater that was built years ago blocks the waves in Long Beach. Surfers would love to have the long, rocky structure removed, but it's not happening.
(Mark Boster/For The Times)


After the sudden death of their young daughter last week, one family has taken the unusual step of enlisting others at their Redding megachurch to attempt to bring the child back to life through resurrection. “Attempting to bring someone back to life is not widely accepted in the Christian faith, but may be more particular to Bethel Church, said Patrick Blewett, dean of A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary at Simpson University in Redding.” Redding Record Searchlight

The homeless moms who seized a vacant Oakland house are taking their fight to court. The court filing buys them more time before a potential eviction. East Bay Times

Meanwhile, a 350-square-foot studio with a shared bathroom rents for $1,490 in the dystopian heart of San Francisco. The “kitchenette” appears to be directly under the loft bed. SF Gate

Shopping mall valet parking has come to the Central Valley. “ ‘When we go to San Francisco or Santa Barbara, if there’s valet available, we valet,’ said Bakersfield resident Valerie Olson, who dropped off her Mercedes at a ‘self-park’ valet lot closer to Macy’s.” Bakersfield Californian

Here’s what it’s really like to take a flight on JSX, the public charter jet service formerly known as JetSuiteX. JSX operates flights out of Burbank, Orange County, Oakland and Concord, with seasonal service to Mammoth Lake. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: sunny, 68. San Diego: sunny, 64. San Francisco: cloudy, 57. San Jose: partly sunny, 60. Sacramento: cloudy, 59. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Nancy A. Schmitz:

“We lived on a hill in South Pasadena in a house built by my grandfather. The 52 acres were a child’s dream, and I explored it on Peggy, an old safe horse. A stable close by allowed family excursions into the Arroyo Seco with its baseball fields and horse trails. On the way to Monterey Road was an ostrich farm where one rented an animal to ride within an enclosed area. But better yet, further west, an ice cream store that sold triple scoop cones for 10 cents. The Southern Pacific roared by twice daily, and if you put a penny on the track and could find it later, it became your lucky squashed coin.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.