Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) knows most California Democrats want to impeach President Trump. In a poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California, two-thirds of Democrats surveyed in California said they supported impeaching the president.
When Schiff took the stage Saturday night to address hundreds of California Democratic Party activists at their annual spring convention, the crowd was still chanting, “Impeach 45,” egged on by Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles who had preceded him.
Schiff knows how to read a crowd. He told them the president lacks morality and basic decency and called Trump unethical, dangerous and buffoonish. But he stopped short, again, of saying he should be impeached.
With a Republican-led Senate unlikely to convict Trump, he argued, the only way to “end this nightmare and to send Mr. Trump packing is to vote the bums out of office.”
In an interview following his remarks, Schiff talked impeachment politics, his own ambitions and why he thinks Democrats care much more about uniting behind a presidential nominee than trying to remove Trump. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Why is it so important to you and to Speaker Pelosi to hold the line against impeachment talk?
I think this is too big, too important, too consequential to be driven by the politics of it. Whether it energizes our base or their base or whatever the case may be. I don’t know what the answer is, politically. I just know that, for us, it’s not the right question. We in Congress need to ask ourselves: What’s best for the country? Do we go through that wrenching, divisive experience, particularly if we know what the result is likely to be? And there are powerful arguments that we should, and damn the consequences. I’m not there yet. And I may get there.
What do you think it would take to get you there?
Well, if at the end of the day when the litigation is over, and the court orders the administration to comply with the oversight requests of the Congress, and he still refuses and ignores the third branch of government as well as our own, then he will leave us no choice. But we may get there before then. The administration does seem to be pushing us in that direction.
Some have argued Congress has a responsibility to open up hearings so the American public can see what’s been going on in this presidency. What’s your response to that?
That presumes that if we announce an impeachment proceeding tomorrow, all of a sudden (former White House Counsel) Don McGahn decides he’s going to testify, and the Justice Department says, “OK, I guess now we’ll give you documents.” And that’s just not how it works. They are obstructing any kind of oversight, and they would obstruct it in the impeachment context, too. People need to understand even if we end up going down that road, it’s not a panacea.
I think the most powerful arguments both for and against impeachment are really mirror images of each other. If we don’t impeach him, what does that say to future Congresses and presidents about whether this kind of conduct is compatible with office? And by the same token, if we do impeach him, and he’s acquitted in the Senate, and there is an adjudication that that conduct is not impeachable, that may be a worse precedent. So I think before we go down the road of something that would absorb the whole Congress and whole country and lead to a very predictable result, we should be sure that this is the right thing to do for the country.
Tom Steyer has spent millions of dollars pushing his impeachment agenda. Does that make Congress’ job harder?
I’ve met Tom a number of times, I like him, I think he’s deeply passionate about this and thinks it’s the best thing for the country. And that’s how the democratic process works. People can devote their time, their energy, their resources, to advancing causes they think are important, and I think it’s why we’re a healthy democracy. So I would never suggest that he shouldn’t be as forceful and supportive of what he thinks is right.
What’s the fallout for Democrats, politically, if the president is impeached and acquitted?
I think the downside for the country is that we spend the next year absorbed in an impeachment proceeding leading to a predictable result, and all the costs that are associated with it. I think that’s the real downside.
You spent a lot of time raising a lot of money for Democrats last year. What are your plans for higher office?
Well, my plan over the next two years — I’ve been asked to chair the effort to make sure these wonderful people we got elected will get reelected. [Schiff has been tapped as finance chair for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program, which is focused on protecting vulnerable Democratic incumbents.] So I’m going to be focused on that and am working on it already. And at some point, I’ll get involved in the presidential campaign and want to do everything I can to make sure our candidate wins. Beyond that, when Trump is defeated, I plan to take a nice vacation. And in terms of my own future I really don’t know. I thought seriously about running for the Senate when Barbara [Boxer] retired, but I’d just become the ranking member on the [House Intelligence] Committee. I honestly don’t know what the future holds. But I have a pretty clear understanding of what I need to do right now, and that’ll keep me busy for the next couple years.
Do you see yourself running for U.S. Senate in the near future?
You know, we have two great [U.S.] senators [in California]; one of them may become president. And so I don’t know. You know, this is a business that is completely fortuitous, or almost so. So I really can’t say, but it’s really something I would be interested in if the right opportunity came up.