Most congressional hearings that attract public attention don’t accomplish anything because they consist of members of congress who are mostly neither subject matter experts nor experts in conducting interrogations grandstand for isolated 5-minute snippets that easily allow witnesses to run out the clock. Fortunately, the impeachment resolution addresses these problems:
Much of the resolution is symbolic. Neither the Constitution nor any House rule requires the full House to hold a vote on impeachment before the final vote on whether to impeach Trump. Other parts of the resolution resolve questions about who has the power to do what during the public phase of the inquiry. The House Intelligence Committee will hold public hearings, and Republicans will need approval from at least some Democrats to call witnesses or to otherwise issue subpoenas.
The most significant provision in the resolution exempts the Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings from a rule that ordinarily limits questioning of witnesses to five minutes per committee member. Though the resolution leaves the five-minute rule in place for most members, it allows Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff to extend his own question time to as much as 45 minutes, so long as he gives equal time to Republican ranking committee member Devin Nunes.
The resolution provides that “the chair may confer recognition for multiple periods of such questioning,” so Schiff could potentially spend an indefinite amount of time questioning witnesses if circumstances warrant such an extension.
And, in what could prove to be an especially consequential aspect of this provision, Schiff and Nunes may also delegate their questioning time to “a Permanent Select Committee employee.” That means that professional counsel, who have both the skill set to conduct an effective interrogation and the ability to devote all their time to preparing for hearings, will be able to question witnesses.
These inquiry-specific rules appear to be an acknowledgment that the House’s ordinary rules for committee hearings, which often turn hearings into feasts of grandstanding, are inadequate to the awesome task of impeaching a president.
This is a positive sign that the Democratic leadership knows what it’s doing on this.