Republicans trying to put their best lineup on the field ahead of impeachment hearings

Sports are all about matchups.

The team at bat just dispatched a left-handed hitter from the dugout to the on-deck circle as a pinch hitter. The team in the field has a right-hander on the mound. The stadium PA announces the pinch hitter to the crowd. The new hitter slides a hollow weight onto the barrel of the bat and slimes his Louisville Slugger with gooey pine tar.

The PA announcement makes the lineup change official.

And, right on cue, the manager of the other club pops out of the opposing dugout. The skipper strides to the mound, glances at the home plate umpire and then slaps his left forearms with an open palm. It’s a call to the bullpen. The manager wants the best matchup. A southpaw relief pitcher to face the new left-handed batter. Statistically, it’s a better matchup for the team in the field. Supposedly left-handed batters fare better against righties and struggle against lefties.

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Politics are all about matchups, too.

Who faces who in a primary? Which Democrat is moderate enough, and therefore, best positioned, to run against that longtime Republican Congressman in a battleground district? Who can the administration nominate for a key cabinet post – who shares the president’s governing philosophies – but can also secure Senate confirmation?

Republicans are concerned about matchups in the impeachment inquiry, too.

Republicans are now trying to put their best lineup on the field to defend President Trump ahead of next week’s open impeachment hearings. Have a running back pick up a safety blitz. Get the big man on the other team into early foul trouble.

The problem is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., may be one step ahead of the GOP.

The House approved a resolution establishing the parameters of the impeachment probe last week. Pelosi asserted for weeks adoption of such a resolution wasn’t necessary for an impeachment investigation. But Pelosi saw the possibility of Democrats gaining their own matchup advantage in the impeachment milieu.

First, Pelosi granted significant power to one of her top lieutenants, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. The Intelligence Committee is running the impeachment process thus far. Both open hearings next week are before the Intelligence panel. Part of the thinking is that Democrats believe they have a matchup advantage on the Intelligence Committee compared to the Republicans. Pelosi also has a lot of confidence in her California colleague.

The House Judiciary Committee will ultimately write articles of impeachment. But the standing of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., dropped with Pelosi in recent months. So, while the House impeachment process resolution was written to give Democrats a matchup advantage with GOPers, it was also crafted to give Pelosi the best internal matchup among her Democratic committee chairs. Pelosi also wanted to curb – for the time being – the influence of Nadler in the process, simultaneously elevating Schiff.

“The weakest people are on the Intelligence Committee for public hearings,” said one senior House GOP source. The source added that the strongest Republican voices were on the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees.

“There’s a reason (Intelligence Committee members) do much of their work in private,” said another source.

This is why Republicans are mulling a personnel shift of their own. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee. Under the current terms, Jordan’s been in the room for most closed-door depositions. But since he’s not a member of the Intelligence Committee, the Ohio Republican can’t ask questions. Jordan is one of Trump’s most ardent defenders. But, when the hearings go public next week, Jordan and Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y. – other vocal advocates for Mr. Trump – won’t be on the dais to counterpunch.

This is why GOPers want to call in someone from the bullpen to improve their matchup for the hearings.

Republicans hope to transfer Jordan to the Intelligence Committee. And, in a perfect world, they’d throw Meadows and Zeldin in there, too. Fox is told the maneuver will probably take place by this weekend. But, Republicans must first navigate their own internal political waters. Positioning Jordan on the Intelligence Committee means GOPers must yank one of their own off that panel. Sliding over Meadows and Zeldin entails the Herculean feat of stripping a grand total of three current Republicans from that committee.

“Politically, there’s no way for us to pull this off,” said one Republican source, adding that Jordan would likely be the only figure heading to Intelligence.

So, who steps down from the panel?

The obvious choices are retiring Republicans Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Michael Conaway, R-Texas. One knowledgeable source tells Fox there’s already an agreement to move one Republican off the committee. But, there could be some internecine GOP infighting.

“Why would they want to come off the committee?” asked one Republican when discussing Hurd and Conaway. “This is their last swan song. It’s the most important hearing of their careers.”

If Hurd or Conaway aren’t sidelined, Fox News is told GOPers could try to divert Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, or others.

We have likened this “matchup” scenario to baseball, football and basketball. But hockey may help us understand another component.

In hockey, the home team has what’s known as “last change.” After each stoppage in play, the visitors must put their skaters on the ice first. The home team has an advantage because it gets to judge who the visitors decided to go with and conceivably dispatch an advantageous matchup.

In many respects, Pelosi has “last change” in these circumstances.

The Intelligence Committee isn’t a garden variety House panel. In fact, its formal title is “The House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence.” As a “select” committee, the Speaker gets to approve the membership of the Intelligence panel.

Republicans are itching for a fight if Pelosi were to veto the installation of Jordan on the Intelligence Committee. Such a decision would mesh with the Republican narrative that Democrats are heavy-handed with impeachment and abusing the process. That said, with public hearings coming, it’s hard to see how Republicans could get traction once the forums start and people see GOPers asking questions of witnesses.

It is unclear if Pelosi would block such a transition of Jordan to the Intelligence Committee. A senior House Democratic source indicated that this was “hypothetical” until Republican leaders informed the Speaker of their intentions. On one hand, Pelosi may not care who the Republicans place on the Intelligence Committee. Another school of thought is that Pelosi knows Republicans hope she misplays her hand. So, the Speaker might not forbid the move.

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But, Pelosi served for years on the Intelligence Committee as the ranking Democrat. One source said Pelosi could potentially block the move because she has a special appreciation for the Intelligence Committee. The source told Fox News that Pelosi could make the argument that you just don’t parachute people into the Intelligence Committee for political advantage.

Then again, Republicans may accuse Pelosi of politicizing the process, making the Intelligence Committee in charge of impeachment.
So, unclear what the speaker may do on this front.

As they say in sports, this is the game within the game. The chess match. And everyone’s jockeying for position for one of the rarest events in politics: the possible impeachment of an American president.

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