The visuals on news channels were of about two dozen members of Congress walking into a nondescript room. In fact, it was part of an unusual House Republican protest, an orchestrated effort to make the case that the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump is unfair.
Led by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the House majority whip, the group first spoke to reporters at the base of a set of spiral stairs at the Capitol Visitor Center that is near a secure room – known as a “SCIF” – where the impeachment inquiry is taking place.
Then they paraded into the room, where Deputy Defense Secretary Laura Cooper was scheduled to testify. Some of the members had their personal electronic devices as they entered, even though they are prohibited, according to one Democratic member who was in the room. The hearing was halted, but some of the GOP members continued to occupy the space as of early Wednesday afternoon.
The Republicans are attacking the impeachment inquiry because it is taking place behind closed doors. Three House committees are conducting the inquiry, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Republican members of those committees are in the room during testimony, but non-members are prohibited.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) signaled the plans to occupy the space on Wednesday morning, and tweeted out a link to a Facebook livestream.
The protest took place the day after the former ambassador to the Ukraine, Bill Taylor, testified that he was told that aid to Ukraine was tied to whether the country’s president would publicly commit to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine was behind the interference in the 2016 election, as well as a probe of Burisma, the gas company which had retained Joe Biden’s son Hunter as a board member.
Taylor’s testimony may have been the most significant twist yet in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, which has taken place outside the view of cameras. That’s why the GOP protest at the very least succeeded in drawing attention, as it provided news outlets with some new visuals beyond that of short statements from lawmakers or fleeting shots of witnesses entering and exiting.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said that Republicans “stormed” the secure room “to obstruct and partially delay the proceedings.” Swalwell also accused the protesters of trying to intimidate witnesses. Cooper, he said, was taken out of the room “to make sure the witness was protected and not affected by these tactics.”
Because some members brought in their own electronic devices, Swalwell said that the space will have to go through another security sweep.
“This will not delay the inevitable,” Swalwell said. “The president will get a fair hearing.”
Perhaps the most feisty of all lawmakers who took part in the protest was Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who said, of Democrats, “Show your face where we can all see the travesty that you are trying to foist on America & the degradation of our Republic that you are engaged in.”
He also sparred a bit with CNN’s Manu Raju over the substance of what Taylor said on Tuesday. “We don’t know whether it is true or not because of the sham process that is being used,” Brooks said.