As he made his closing argument for the impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpKamala Harris aide says in resignation letter: ‘I’ve never seen staff treated so poorly’ New Iowa ad compares Booker to the ‘other Rhodes Scholar mayor’ Lawmakers bypass embattled Mulvaney in spending talks MORE, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCNN: Ukrainian government could announce probes beneficial to Trump Nadler sets Dec. 6 deadline for White House to say if it will take part in impeachment hearings Five questions looming over impeachment MORE’s voice began to rise.
The California Democrat’s eyes became moist and his bottom lip quivered as he invoked his friend, Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsTucker Carlson calls Trump ‘full-blown BS artist’ in segment defending him from media coverage Elijah Cummings’s daughters back former aide over widow in race to fill seat Melania Trump booed at opioids event MORE (D-Md.), who unexpectedly died last month in the middle of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
“In my view, there is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who believes they are above the law,” said Schiff, jabbing at the air with his forefinger for emphasis. “And I would just say to people watching here at home and around the world: In the words of my great colleague, ‘We are better than that!’”
The moment marked a rare flash of emotion for a man known on Capitol Hill for his vegan diet and his reserved, disciplined — some would even say boring — disposition.
But it is precisely that sober demeanor and steady hand guiding the two-month impeachment investigation — including two weeks of televised public hearings — that has made Schiff a national political figure, a household name and unlikely progressive rock star.
He has become a regular presence on the Sunday shows, delivering the party’s message on impeachment, and he recently received a standing ovation at the California Democratic Convention in Long Beach.
And while the impeachment process is far from over — he and his committee are writing an impeachment report over the Thanksgiving recess — colleagues on Capitol Hill are speculating how high the 59-year-old chairman can climb after his star turn in the Trump-Ukraine saga.
Some Democrats see him as the natural heir to 86-year-old Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP senator blocks vote on House-passed Violence Against Women Act Congress feels heat to act on youth vaping GOP senator wants Violence Against Women Act passage by year end MORE; others say the 19-year Southern California congressman is a House guy through and through and could one day run to succeed fellow California lawmaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLawmakers bypass embattled Mulvaney in spending talks Ex-GOP lawmaker: Former colleagues privately say they’re ‘disgusted and exhausted’ by Trump Five questions looming over impeachment MORE, his close ally, as Speaker. One of his House colleagues from the Golden State said she saw a president in the making as Schiff led the televised hearings these past two weeks.
“When we look at the characteristics of what we want to see in a president, it is somebody who is not going to lose composure because he’s been poked. And we’re seeing that on display from Adam Schiff every single day,” said the California Democratic lawmaker. “He’s not too vanilla. But I kind of want that now after Trump. We need boring; boring is good.”
A dozen fact witnesses. Seven hearings. Five days. With Schiff at the helm, Democrats have always felt comfortably in control of the historic impeachment hearings examining whether Trump tried to pressure Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election.
When the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesWhat if impeachment fails? Memo to Democrats: What’s the rush? Ex-DNC employee’s lawyer defends Nunes parody accounts: Cows can’t ‘operate a Twitter account’ MORE (Calif.), tried to yield time to his GOP colleague Rep. Elise Stafanik (N.Y.), Schiff gaveled her down and firmly but politely explained that she was not permitted to speak during Nunes’s 45-minute allotment under House rules — rules that Schiff himself helped write.
And when GOP questions appeared to go down a path that could out the whistleblower who prompted the impeachment inquiry, Schiff shut down that line of inquiry and warned Lt. Col. Alexander VindmanAlexander VindmanFormer GOP senator to Republicans: Trump subjected Ukraine leader to a ‘shakedown’ Impeachment inquiry: It’s a question of who should run the show Juan Williams: Trump has nothing left but smears MORE and other witnesses not to say anything that could reveal the individual’s identity.
“Steady, balanced, objective, clear about the Constitution, and very focused,” Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeLawmakers visit African migrants at US-Mexico border Hillicon Valley: FCC moves against Huawei, ZTE | Dem groups ask Google to reconsider ads policy | Bill introduced to increase data access during probes Dems call out Oracle for lack of diversity on its board MORE, a fellow California progressive and a former Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman, said of Schiff.
“I think he’s a brilliant mind, I think he’s a thoughtful leader,” added Rep. Andre CarsonAndré CarsonLive coverage: Schiff closes with speech highlighting claims of Trump’s corruption Live coverage: House holds first public impeachment hearing Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (D-Ind.), who serves alongside Schiff on the Intelligence panel. “I found myself looking to him for counsel and guidance, and I’ve even taken some cues from his style.
“Preparation is so critical, understanding the content, surrounding yourself with people who are smart so that you can learn from them — that strategy for Schiff has proven to be effective.”
Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickSwing-seat Democrats oppose impeachment, handing Pelosi leverage McSally gets new primary challenger Two Democrats vow to press forward on Trump impeachment MORE (D-Ariz.), a former prosecutor and a member of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, also heaped praise on Schiff: “He’s a former prosecutor and I think he is perfect for this job.”
‘A lot of options’
The good news for Schiff is that he has plenty of doors open to him. He could probably stay on as Intelligence chairman for another two-year term after the 2020 election; it’s a post appointed by the Speaker. Or he could exercise his “right to return” to the Appropriations Committee, where he could replace retiring Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyLawmakers bypass embattled Mulvaney in spending talks Family caregivers are financially penalized for providing care House, Senate reach deal on fiscal 2020 spending figures MORE (D-N.Y.) as chair of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee.
“He has a lot of options,” said one senior Democratic aide who’s been following Schiff.
Most Democrats think he will aim higher, though Schiff has kept his cards close to the vest.
Through a spokesman, Schiff declined to comment for this story.
Colleagues from California and elsewhere say Schiff would be a strong contender to succeed Feinstein, the state’s senior senator who in 2018 won her sixth and likely last Senate election. There’s also the possibility Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris aide says in resignation letter: ‘I’ve never seen staff treated so poorly’ The Senate jury pool is tainted Five questions looming over impeachment MORE (D-Calif.), now a long-shot presidential hopeful, could be tapped for vice president or a top Cabinet post in a Democratic administration.
“I think he would be a good senator,” Rep. Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresSanders doubles down on Bolivia ‘coup,’ few follow suit Our commitment to veterans can help us lead for all Americans Let’s provide help to college students struggling to meet their day-to-day needs MORE, a member of the Hispanic Caucus and a fellow Southern California Democrat, told The Hill. “I think how he’s handled himself is very admirable, that he’s been able to keep his composure even though he’s been personally attacked. This is not easy for him.”
Trump has singled out Schiff at campaign rallies and on Twitter, nicknaming him “pencil neck” and “Shifty Schiff.” The president’s allies on Capitol Hill have called for Schiff to be ousted as Intelligence chair and censured on the House floor. And Nunes has ridiculed Schiff’s impeachment hearings, calling them a “circus,” “sham” and “show trial.”
But the same qualities that have made him a target of the right have made Schiff a hero of the left. At a speech at the California Democratic Party convention in Long Beach this month, Schiff stood on stage and declared to the party faithful: “We will send that charlatan in the White House back to the golden throne he came from.”
The speech was met with a roaring standing ovation.
“I think he needed that, and I think we needed to see him there,” said Torres, who was in attendance.
But in the nation’s most populous state with no shortage of ambitious politicians, a Senate race could be a crowded affair. One former 2020 presidential candidate who serves on Schiff’s committee, Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocrats look to next steps in impeachment Sunday shows – Democrats look forward on impeachment Swalwell on pace of impeachment: ‘There’s an urgency to make sure the election and the ballot box have integrity’ MORE (D-Calif.), could run for an open seat, as could Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuHill, Holmes offer damaging impeachment testimony: Five takeaways Wyden urges FCC to secure 5G networks against cyber threats Democrat hits White House spokeswoman after Trump appointee changes testimony MORE (D-Calif.), a Judiciary Committee member and colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
Both have become outspoken Trump critics on cable news and Twitter.
Others who could run for Senate down the road include a pair of Democrats who have already won statewide: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and state Attorney General Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraFacebook unveils market research app that pays users to take surveys Overnight Health Care: Democratic group to only endorse AG candidates who back abortion rights | Protect Our Care launches seven-figure ad buy to boost vulnerable Dems | California sues Juul California sues Juul for allegedly marketing to young people MORE, who served with Schiff in the House and briefly overlapped with him at Stanford University. But many think Becerra has his sights set on the governor’s office.
Schiff fundraising kicks into high gear
Just as a Senate bid would be no sure bet, neither would a run for Speaker of the House. First, there’s the question of whether a Democratic Caucus that is more diverse and more female than ever would elect a white male.
But if the caucus was deadlocked and no candidate could secure the necessary 218 votes, some Democrats said they could envision Schiff as a consensus pick or “white knight,” just as former Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanIs Joe Biden finished? Krystal Ball previews fifth Democratic debate Former Speaker Boehner’s official portrait unveiled MORE (R-Wis.) was drafted to run for Speaker in 2015 after then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyBattle rages over which is the ‘do-nothing’ party New McCarthy ad praising Trump includes Russian stock footage Rising GOP star thrust into spotlight with Trump defense MORE (R-Calif.) abruptly abandoned his bid.
And while some Democrats describe him as socially “awkward” and hardly a back-slapper who excels at the inside game in the Capitol, Schiff has been showering his colleagues with campaign cash through his leadership PAC, United for a Strong America.
In the 2018 cycle, he kicked his fundraising operation into high gear, raising $537,000 for frontline Democrats, including incoming freshman Reps. Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathGeorgia congresswoman shares letter to son on the anniversary of his death Overnight Health Care: Democratic group to only endorse AG candidates who back abortion rights | Protect Our Care launches seven-figure ad buy to boost vulnerable Dems | California sues Juul Group launches seven-figure ad buy boosting vulnerable Democrats on drug prices MORE (Ga.), Angie Craig (Minn.), Ben McAdams (Utah) and Katie Porter (Calif.). During the 2016 cycle, he gave only $13,500 to fellow House Democrats.
“I think he’s a House person. The public sees him as in control, even keeled, doesn’t lose it. What he has done is marshal us all together, keep us all on this one track. He’s been pragmatic,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a progressive leader who attends weekly chairman’s meetings with Schiff, told The Hill.
“People are bristling about the fact that we were not moving fast enough, but at the end of the day I think how he has handled this and the public face he has given to this issue has certainly enhanced his reputation, not just here but across the country and certainly in California.
“Whatever position he was in,” Grijalva said, “he’s above it now.”
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