If you want to know why today’s mostly pro-forma House Rules Committee markup designed to set the parameters for the floor debate over articles of impeachment will go deep into the night, check out this deeply substantive amendment that Republican congressman Bradley Byrne is offering:
This amendment reflects one of the GOP’s favorite so’s-your-old-man claims that don’t so much defend the propriety of Trump’s actions as point to allegedly similar conduct by Democrats, particularly Barack Obama. Byrne’s pulling off a two-fer. Fast & Furious (a botched “gunwalking” operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that allowed weapons to flow across the southern border as part of a scheme to catch major weapons traffickers) was one of the Obama-era Republicans’ very favorite scandals, presumably because it involved Democratic complicity in clumsy anti-gun operations. Its memory will be kept alive forever as long as there is right-wing hatred of Obama and of ATF. But Byrne is also trying to redirect fingers pointed at Trump to his predecessor by comparing an Obama/Holder assertion of executive privilege against confidential document requests by House Republicans to Trump’s today.
Now it should be immediately apparent that this claim of hypocrisy is, well, itself hypocritical, since if Obama should have been impeached on these grounds so should Trump today. In effect, Byrne is saying via this amendment that Obama should be impeached along with Trump for similar misconduct. But even as an exercise in taunting, it’s not very effective, since there was nothing remotely like Trump’s plenary assertion of privilege against any and all testimony by any and all administration witnesses before Congress in the limited assertion of immunity in the Fast & Furious case (for one thing, the Obama administration sent more subpoenaed material to the House than it withheld).
You do have to appreciate that it’s not easy to be Bradley Byrne these days. He’s probably Alabama’s outstanding example of an old-school Establishment, Big Business Republican, born to cut taxes and fight regulations and unions, not to engage in the Clash of Civilizations that has consumed the GOP in recent years. He did all the right things in preparing to run for the Senate against Democrat Doug Jones in 2020, but ran into two unexpected problems. First, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville joined the race, and quickly perfected the slack-jawed antediluvian brand of far-right conservatism that led me to call him “Roy Moore Without the Sex Scandals.” And then the man who held this Senate seat until 2017, Jeff Sessions, decided to make an effort to reclaim it.
There hasn’t been much public polling in that race, but a private poll released in November by the conservative Club for Growth showed Byrne running a poor third behind Sessions and Tuberville, as did a December poll from the Sessions campaign. The congressman really needs a break, and aligning himself as closely as possible with Trump, who may be tempted to rain on Sessions’s parade, while titillating Alabama reactionaries by going after Obama one last time, makes some sense for him politically. Multiply Byrne’s political motives by the public and private ambitions of so many other House Republicans makes it clear why they are so avidly taking advantage of every opportunity to slow down impeachment with snark disguised as amendments.