AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
While Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries remains the odds-on favorite to replace Nancy Pelosi as leader of the House Democratic Caucus should she decide to retire after this term, there are growing signs that another high-profile Democrat, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, may also be eyeing the top post. But after years of pushing baseless conspiracy theories about former President Trump and engaging in shameless political pandering for media attention, Schiff’s reputation may already be too damaged for Democrats to legitimately consider him for the job, lest the party risk further damaging its image with the American people.
According to reports from Democratic insiders, Schiff plans to visit the districts of more than 10 Democratic candidates over the next two months, clearly in an effort to build up his national profile and gain important standing with members ahead of a potential leadership struggle next year. A longtime ally of Pelosi and a frequent guest on CNN and MSNBC, it is no surprise that Schiff is now eager to test the waters for his own bid at what will likely be the House Minority Leader post should Republicans do as expected and retake control of Congress this fall.
Notably, Schiff is a successful fundraiser – second only to Nancy Pelosi – a factor that could go a long way in deciding a leadership race. Both Schiff and Pelosi have the benefit of being from California, with no shortage of liberal megadonors ready to fill their campaign coffers. California is also home to a whopping 42 House Democrats, which may give Schiff a baked-in base of support among the Democratic caucus.
Despite these advantages, however, Schiff’s career in Congress has been defined by a series of embarrassing incidents that have both undermined his personal credibility and made the party as a whole look foolish in the eyes of the public – two things that are sure to loom large in a potential power struggle next January.
Like so many of Democrats’ most radical figures, Schiff is a career politician, and has served as a Congressman from the Los Angeles metro area since he was first elected in 2000. His first few terms were largely unremarkable and even moderate, as Schiff joined the Blue Dog Democrats and worked to avoid the polarization that was beginning to creep into American politics. He voted in favor of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the Patriot Act, and his biggest legislative fights were largely issues of local importance like reducing helicopter noise over Los Angeles.
That all changed with the election of Donald Trump in 2016, as Schiff became one of the most unhinged opponents of the former president and pushed seemingly every baseless conspiracy theory about his election and administration.
In March of 2017, Schiff told MSNBC that he couldn’t “go into particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now” of Russian collusion in the 2016 election. Similarly, in December of 2017, Schiff told CNN that “the Russians gave help and the President [Trump] made full use of that help.” In August of 2018, he told CBS News that there was “plenty of evidence” of collusion. He also directly contradicted then-House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes’s famous memo in 2018 detailing federal targeting of the Trump campaign, calling it “unsupported by the facts.”
Of course, we now know that all of these statements were false, and Schiff knew they were wrong when he said them. According to documents released in 2020, Schiff had access to dozens of interviews with top Obama administration officials and intelligence personnel who all said the same thing – they had seen no evidence that anyone at the Trump campaign was conspiring with the Russians. The entire narrative was fabricated, a complete fantasy. Yet Schiff continued to block the release of the documents affirming as much, intent on continuing his media tour gaslighting the country into believing a lie in the hopes that it might advantage Democrats in an election.
As Democrats’ lead impeachment manager for their first effort to remove President Trump in 2019, Schiff also engaged in a slew of lies and falsehoods that quickly revealed the entire incident for the sham that it was. Most damningly, Schiff was exposed for fabricating an account of the call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, putting words into Trump’s mouth that the transcript showed he never spoke. Schiff later tried to save face by arguing that his supposed verbatim rehashing of the call was just a “parody.”
Following Biden’s victory in 2020, however, Schiff suddenly found himself facing the prospect of a Trump-less media landscape – thus threatening his one claim to fame with the mainstream press. He soon found his opportunity to cling to relevance with the January 6 Commission, and has made the most of it by again continuing to make the rounds on the nightly talk shows and repeatedly hinting at “big developments” soon to come. Much as was the case with the Russia Collusion hoax and Democrats’ first impeachment effort, Schiff has strung the country along in what will inevitably look to be a shameless attempt to raise his own national profile should he indeed seek a leadership post next year.
In many ways, Schiff’s conversion from timid moderate into full-throated radical progressive is indicative of the direction of the Democratic Party generally. At a time when voters are most concerned about rising inflation, sky-high gas prices, a crime wave, a border disaster, and a host of other crises, even elected Democrats can be expected to recognize that selecting as their leader a man who built his reputation on harassing conservatives rather than attempting to better the lives of American families would send exactly the wrong message about what the party’s priorities are.
Then again, selecting Hakeem Jeffries, Pramila Jayapal, or any other of the names being tossed around for Democratic Caucus Chair would still send that same message. Having no answers for the harm their policies have caused, Democrats seem unable to define themselves by anything other than cynical identity politics and sensationalist claims about nebulous “threats to democracy” for which no actual evidence exists, and the only solution is giving Democrats more power.
So, while Schiff is unlikely to be the next Democratic leader in the House, he is perhaps the best stand-in for why, whoever that leader is, he or she will likely find themselves in the minority for some time to come.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_