Not more than two seconds after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff swore in the first two witnesses in the impeachment hearings last week, the proceedings were interrupted.
“Mr. Chairman, before we hear from the witnesses I have a parliamentary inquiry,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican.
The 35-year-old congresswoman then asked the California Democrat to explain why six witnesses requested by House Republicans hadn’t been subpoenaed. And she asked Schiff whether he planned to censor GOP committee members’ questions. Schiff, clearly disgruntled, told Stefanik to request additional witnesses after the hearing and said he would shut down any line of questioning that sought to “out” the Ukraine whistleblower.
Stefanik’s interaction with Schiff set the tone for the next five days of public hearings, during which the GOP protested the process — which they’ve deemed unfair — and contested much of the substance of the witnesses’ testimony.
Stefanik and Rep. Will Hurd, a retiring Republican from a purple Texas border district, became some of the most moderate and influential GOP voices to reject both the process and substance of the impeachment inquiry thus far.
Hurd determined that while Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine was “inappropriate” and “undermined our national security and undercut Ukraine,” it didn’t amount to an impeachable offense.
“An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear, and unambiguous — and it’s not something to be rushed or taken lightly,” Hurd said on Thursday. “I’ve not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion.”
Stefanik repeatedly accused Democrats of leading an opaque, partisan process and drilled down on key GOP talking points, namely that Ukraine ultimately received security aid from the US and didn’t initiate an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. She also repeatedly noted that the Trump administration did more to provide Ukraine with weapons of war than the previous administration did.
Hurd, 42, and Stefanik’s rejection of impeachment signals that Democrats likely have no chance of turning the process into a bipartisan referendum on the president.
Hurd’s position on impeachment is particularly notable because he’s retiring at the end of his term, after winning reelection to a third term last year by a razor thin margin. Hurd, a former CIA officer, is the only black House Republican and was critical of Trump’s approaches to immigration, the intelligence community, and race relations.
“It’s a sign that Republican members think this entire process has been deeply unfair and that Democrats haven’t made the case that it’s impeachable,” Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican strategist, told Insider. “If Hurd’s not going to be on board, it’s hard to see how any Republican member of the House is ultimately going to vote for impeachment.”
Mackowiack added that the two House members may have coordinated their approaches.
“Hurd and Stefanik are actually really, really close friends,” Mackowiak said. “So it’s entirely possible they made this calculation together.”
Both lawmakers have been critical of Trump and have diverged from him and their party on a range of issues, including Syrian policy and and border wall funding. Their voting records are both among the most moderate in their party.
“I have one of the top 10 percent most bipartisan records in this House and one of the most independent records,” Stefanik told The Washington Post. “But when it comes to constitutional matters, we should focus on the facts. We should not let this be a partisan attack the way Adam Schiff is conducting himself.”
The Trumpian future of the GOP
Stefanik’s particularly outspoken anti-impeachment advocacy appears to be paying off.
The president took to Twitter last Sunday to announce that “a new Republican Star is born.” During a Friday morning “Fox & Friends” interview, Trump said she was “fantastic during the hearings.”
Fox News host Sean Hannity invited the congresswoman onto his primetime show, which she used to ask Hannity’s millions of viewers for donations to her campaign. She even plugged her website, “FightSchiff.com.”
“Democrats’ case for impeachment is crumbling,” she said. “Adam Schiff has been an abject failure.”
Stefanik raised $500,000 in two hours, according to her campaign.
And she may find real use for that money and Trump’s support in her reelection campaign.
Stefanik’s upstate district voted for Democratic presidents for decades until it swung for Trump in 2016. And her Democratic opponent, Tedra Cobb, raised $1 million over the last week. So, Stefanik, like many others in her position, is opting to embrace Trump.
Meanwhile, Hurd recently announced he’s considering running for president in 2024. What’s clear to both Hurd and Stefanik is that Trump is maintaining a firm hold on their party, and any path forward in it involves adapting to him and his politics, to a certain extent.
“Politically, if you want to have a future in the Republican Party, you have to be against impeachment based on the facts as they are right now,” Mackowiak said. “At a time when 90% of the Republican voters support the president, you can’t be with the 10% that don’t.”
As a young woman with relatively moderate politics from a blue state, there are increasingly fewer of Stefanik’s kind in the GOP’s ranks. She was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she won her seat at the age of 30 in 2014. (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took the title when she was elected at 29 last year).
And she’s taken action to address what she’s called the “crisis level” of female Republican lawmakers, whose numbers have dropped from 23 to 13 in the House this year. She’s pledged to support women candidates in GOP primaries, which they struggle to win against more conservative male opponents.
And those efforts have pitted Stefanik against the nearly exclusively male leadership of her party. Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called her plan to invest in women candidates early in primaries “a mistake.”
In the meantime, she’s adopting some of the president’s tactics.
Her opponent has a new Stefanik-approved nickname: “Taxin’ Tedra.”