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Rep. Schiff reveals impeachment regrets, tensions on Capitol Hill after insurrection

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during the House select committee hearing in July on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Jim Lo Scalzo
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during the House select committee hearing in July on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Nine months after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., says the Capitol is a "different place."

"I think the relationships that we had with our [GOP] colleagues before that day, which were already fraying, reached a real breaking point," Schiff, who made the case for President Donald Trump's impeachment at the first trial in 2020, told NPR's Michel Martin.

He said that even relationships with Republican colleagues that had previously been amicable are now compromised, including with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Even after the Jan. 6 insurrection, Schiff thought the country might turn a corner, but "that flickering of conscience within the GOP lasted about 30 seconds for Kevin McCarthy," he said.

"Our country needs to know what a danger it would be for him ever to set foot anywhere near the Speaker's office. Someone who has no compunction about dishonesty, who will do whatever the former president says or wants cannot be trusted with that kind of power," Schiff said.

Schiff's new book, Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could, gives background on what the lawmaker might have done differently during Trump's first impeachment, the significance of the trial and how it changed the political landscape in Washington.

Interview highlights

On regretting that he asked special prosecutor Robert Mueller to testify about the investigation into interference in the 2016 election

I did understand immediately why his staff had been so protective and why they were so reluctant to have him testify. And I immediately told our members, "We need to cut down our questions. We can't ask for narrative answers. We need to be very precise in what we ask. We need to have the page references of the report ready." And it was painful, honestly, it was painful. And if I had known, I would not have pushed for his testimony.

/ Penguin Random House
Penguin Random House

On whether he would change anything about his own performance leading up to and during the impeachment in which the president was accused of trying to pressure Ukrainian leaders to aid Trump's political agenda

I think the parody [of Trump's call with the Ukrainian president] that I did was unnecessary. Now the president created a whole fictional narrative about it, claiming that I had advanced knowledge of the record of that conversation. But when I think back, would anything that I did differently have changed the result? Obviously, it's hard for me to be objective about this. It took a bloody insurrection to get even a few Republicans to support impeachment. That's a pretty horribly high bar to have to wait for even a small group of Republicans to honor their constitutional oath.

On how he understands new polling data that shows Trump is viewed favorably by 53% of Iowa voters

We are a much more tribal, polarized society. The information that we get now is curated for us by algorithms that don't show us anything we don't want to see, reinforce the views that we already have. ... That allows him and his supporters to live in a different world. And that is among the most consequential, far-reaching and difficult challenges that we face.

On the moments when he thinks the Republican Party started to change, even before Trump

There were a number of canaries in the coal mine, and in fact, some of them even predated Trump. When, for example, [Republican leader] Mitch McConnell, who was viewed as an institutionalist, was willing to withhold a Obama appointment to the Supreme Court, was willing to essentially render a coequal branch of government, the Supreme Court, just a political plaything to help him mobilize his base. That was a sign that things were changing. When, in North Carolina in 2016, a Democrat won the governor's office and the Republican legislature responded, not by trying to do better the next time or change its backward policies, but stripping that governor of his powers. That told us something was happening in the American body politic.

On what shocked him during the impeachment trial

What shocked me during the trial was the realization, as I listened to some of these [GOP] senators, that they understood the president was guilty. They recognized that he was guilty. They were surprised by the abundance of evidence. ... They only knew what they knew from watching Fox. But even when confronted with this evidence, it wasn't enough to move them to give meaning to their oath, because it might cost them in their job or it might cost them a position in the Cabinet. And there was nothing they treasured quite so much as those things.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.