It was the call-out for pizza and Chick-fil-A that nailed it. One question that might be asked of Idaho First District Representative Russ Fulcher is, did he consume his share? Another is, what else did he and his compatriots get out of the early morning adventure?
When the group of Republican U.S. House members including Fulcher gathered in a subterranean hallway at the U.S. Capitol to protest the impeachment investigation going on behind a closed door, they seemed at first to have little in mind other than to protest. There was a show of abrupt determination to break into the closed door proceedings, captured on the smart phones many of them carried along … into the room where smartphones were banned. (Fulcher’s office said he was not one of the phone-bearing members.)
That location was a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a congressional place somewhat like the White House Situation room. A Wikipedia entry describes it: “Access to SCIFs is normally limited to those individuals with appropriate security clearances. Non-cleared personnel in SCIFs must be under the constant oversight of cleared personnel and all classified information and material removed from view in order to prevent unauthorized access. As part of this process, non-cleared personnel are also typically required to surrender all recording, photographic and other electronic media devices. All of the activity and conversation inside is presumed restricted from public disclosure.” A sign outside the room noted the rules.
The group of House members was not cleared, did bring their smartphones, and may have exposed whatever was in the room to a security breach.
They were not the first members of Congress to protest at the Capitol; a group of Democrats held a sit-in in the House over gun control issues. They may, however, have been the first to violate security rules.
It sounds spur-of-moment, but it wasn’t. It apparently was discussed the day before with President Donald Trump (who reportedly approved). The planning also was enough to account for food—the aforementioned 17 boxes of pizza (better than half a pie per congressperson) plus edibles from Chick-fil-A. This puts them one up on the occupiers at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge a couple of years ago, who famously pleaded to be supplied with snacks.
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The federal officials didn’t stay nearly as long as the activists at Malheur, though: Only about five hours. They succeeded in two things: Delaying the latest round of impeachment inquiry testimony by that amount of time, and maybe making a visual with enough splash to soak up media oxygen, diminishing by a small amount the latest negative (for the president) headlines in the investigation. But not much else.
Usually, protests have a clear complaint—hopefully something people on the outside can easily understand and sympathize with. That wasn’t so much the case in the SCIF protest. They did complain that the inquiry was unfair and secretive and biased. But that runs into some basic problems. Close to half of the members of Congress eligible to hear testimony inside the closed room were Republicans, who have been allowed to (and have been) actively participate in the proceedings. What’s happened in that room is much like a grand jury, which typically is closed to public access; everything that will be used will appear in public soon. The process being used here also is much like the process used by House Republicans a few years ago when they led an inquiry into Benghazi. As happened then, the plan is that the information-gathering stage gives way later to public hearings.
That’s the process. As for the substance—what the president and his advisors did in relation to Ukraine—what the inquiry is about—the protesters had little to say.
The closest I’ve seen to that came when Fulcher was quoted as saying, “I’m not going to go into that [impeachment] vote without that knowledge. If the president has done something that warrants impeachment, we need to know about that.”
Absolutely right. No protest is needed to accomplish that, though. All he has to do is wait until the next stage of the process, when the action moves to open committee rooms, as is planned. But he shouldn’t expect that the proceedings will become any more comfortable at that stage.