Group therapy on Capitol Hill
"How did that make you feel?"
I lost count of how many times Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine dismissed by President Trump, was asked this question during Friday's impeachment hearing. The implication seemed to be that the most significant information this career diplomat could impart to the American people was whether the erstwhile host of Celebrity Apprentice had ever hurt her feelings.
Why were the previous witnesses, her fellow diplomats George Kent and Robert Taylor, not asked the same questions? Is the idea that gravel-voiced, bow-tied men respond with important, mahogany-scented facts, while women can only express their emotions? Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) actually began a query by likening Yovanovitch's recent appointment to a professorship at Georgetown to "a Hallmark movie." For a moment I wondered if he'd offer her a sleep mask care package and a subscription to O: The Oprah Magazine too.
It is not clear what else Yovanovitch possibly could have added to what we already know beyond the usual career Foreign Service gossip. She seemed to have no new information about what Trump was allegedly overheard saying in a telephone conversation, which is unsurprising when one recalls that she was dismissed before Volodymyr Zelensky was even inaugurated as president of Ukraine. (Yovanovitch admitted as much herself when she said that she had no knowledge of the president offering bribes or other criminal activity.) The only revealing thing she shared over the course of a very long day was her opinion that when Ukrainian prime ministers and other officials (including the one who first made her aware of Rudy Giuliani's hijinks) complain on social media and write op-eds about how certain presidential candidates are bad while enjoying cozy relations with American diplomatic personnel, that does not "necessarily constitute" interference in our elections. That kind of clarity would have been useful to have during the last three years of loose talk about the danger of "ties" and "links." Otherwise she mostly talked about how she felt sad.
Yovanovitch was not the only person who had her turn on the couch. Rep. Jim Hines (D-Conn.) told us more than once that he was "angry." Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) was "very angry." He accused Trump of "bullying," and seemed to be on the verge of tears when he thanked the former ambassador for her service. Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) declared Trump's tweets "disgraceful." Even the leader of the session, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), found time to say that he was "appalled."
The Republicans had their turn in the sharing circle as well. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) complained about Schiff. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) complained about what Schiff said about what Stefanik said about Schiff. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) complained about everything said by everyone and suggested (not wrongly, I suspect) that television ratings for the hearing must be "plummeting." At least we know that Trump was watching. In what is almost certainly a first — and, I hope, a last — in the history of congressional proceedings, Yovanovitch was asked to respond to the president's tweets more or less in real time.
Otherwise, it would be hard to say what exactly happened over the course of some five hours of testimony. Schiff obviously enjoyed his role, interrupting, rolling his eyes, exchanging condescending smiles with other Democratic members, pounding his gavel, and, after slandering his Republican colleagues during his closing remarks, turning off their microphones in the midst of an attempted rebuttal. Politicians in both parties live for this sort of thing, but I'm not sure there is much of a public audience for it — at least not absent a straightforward corruption case against the president. My guess is the Democrats will want to reconvene their focus groups.
Speaking of which, how much time could have been trimmed from the last three years of Trump-adjacent hearings if members on both sides of the aisle agreed that questions did not need to begin with these canned thank-yous to witnesses? No doubt Yovanovitch was a basically competent example of the sort of naive, centrist foreign policy wonk we put in charge of American diplomacy, but viewers of Friday's hearing could have been forgiven for coming away with the impression that she single-handedly won the Cold War or raised the flag at Iwo Jima.
Wednesday's impeachment hearing was an icebreaker game of telephone. Friday's was a group therapy session.
Next week, how about paint and sip?