In the history of American politics, there is a pantheon of poorly thought-out decisions and acts of political malpractice that includes everything from starting a land war in Asia, raising taxes after saying “read my lips - no new taxes,” operating a recording system in the Oval Office, and riding in a tank (when your last name is Dukakis).
Though there have only been a handful of public hearings so far, the impact has been overwhelming.
But if the past few weeks of revelations about the scope of former President Donald Trump’s attempt to stay in power are any indication, we might need to add another one to the list: the decision from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to boycott the House Jan. 6 committee.
Though there have only been a handful of public hearings so far, the impact has been overwhelming. In highly choreographed and well-scripted affairs, the committee has laid out in compelling detail an uninterrupted narrative of Trump’s potentially criminal behavior — and of those around him. And Americans are taking notice. Six out of 10 report paying attention to the hearings and, according to at least one poll, close to 60% think the former president should be charged with a crime.
The House Jan. 6 committee is holding its sixth public hearing on Tuesday, June 28 at 1 p.m. ET. Get expert analysis in real-time on our liveblog at msnbc.com/jan6hearings.
Had McCarthy not prevented pro-Trump Republicans from appearing on the committee, things likely would look very different. Normally, congressional hearings — particularly in our highly polarized political moment — degenerate into partisan food fights. During the two House impeachments of President Trump, Democrats presented overwhelming evidence of Trump’s misconduct. Republicans then wholeheartedly defended Trump and attacked Democrats. News junkies and the most partisan Americans — especially Democrats — tuned in, but many people tuned the whole thing out.
But these hearings have been different. Indeed, there’s no obvious precedent in congressional history for one political party having the unfettered ability to make its arguments to the American people without a single dissenting voice heard. And that is a direct result of McCarthy’s ill-conceived decision to boycott the committee.
Almost twice as many people watched the first night of the Jan. 6 hearing as watched the first day of Trump’s second impeachment trial.
For those who have forgotten how this all went down, last summer Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, agreed to allow five Republicans (of McCarthy’s choosing) to join the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. McCarthy gave her five names: Representatives Rodney Davis of Illinois, Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota, Troy Nehls of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana. Pelosi balked at the last two because she’d witnessed their partisan antics during Trump’s impeachment and countless other congressional hearings over the years.
But rather than seek replacements, McCarthy petulantly removed all his picks from the committee, thus ensuring that Democrats and two anti-Trump Republican House members, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, would have carte blanche to tell the story of Trump’s actions on, and before, Jan. 6. Perhaps McCarthy hoped that with no pro-Trump voices on the committee Americans would view the hearings as a partisan witch hunt. But the presence of Cheney and Kinzinger has blunted that argument.
Trump recently said it was "very foolish" and a "bad decision" for Republicans not to put pro-Trump voices on the committee, but in McCarthy’s defense, if he had put House Republicans on the committee, then Trump would likely have lambasted him for giving the investigation legitimacy. So he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. And in typical McCarthy-style, he chose what appeared to be the path of least resistance only to watch that choice blow up in his face.
Apparently, no one in the House leadership put two and two together and realized that permitting a committee to be established with no pro-Trump Republicans would ensure that the story it told would be overwhelmingly negative for Trump.
The narrative of Trump’s direct involvement in the plan to overturn the 2020 election has likely increased the potential that he could face criminal indictments.
Indeed, the powerful narrative of Trump’s direct involvement in the plan to overturn the 2020 election has likely increased the potential that he could face criminal indictments.
Of course, not just the president has been caught in the committee’s crosshairs. At Thursday’s hearing, the committee revealed that at least a half-dozen Republican members of Congress sought presidential pardons from Trump. For them, the Jan. 6 hearings have been an unmitigated disaster.
The same information would have likely come out even if McCarthy had allowed MAGA Republicans to appear on the committee, but their presence might have helped to soften the blow or lessen the pressure on the Department of Justice to act.
Consequently, McCarthy’s decision — and lack of forethought about how these public hearings would play out — could increase the likelihood of criminal indictments for several members of Congress, Trump attorney John Eastman, former DOJ attorney Jeffrey Clark (whose home was searched by federal agents last week) and possibly Trump himself. Beyond that, the hearings have put Trump and the GOP on the defensive, forcing congressional Republicans to answer for the actions of the former president to whom they’ve lashed their political future.
In seeking to protect Trump and his fellow congressional Republicans from an investigation into Jan. 6, McCarthy put them far more directly in harm’s way — and delivered a pre-election political gift to Democrats.
To paraphrase another political screw-up in the pantheon of poorly thought-out decisions: “Heckuva job, McCarthy.”