The Back Booth will be hosting a weekend edition, The D.C. Brief. Here each Saturday, TIME’s politics newsletter will host a conversation between political professionals on the right and the left, pulling back the curtain on the conversations taking place in Washington when the tape stops rolling. Get The D.C. Brief Click here.
Some parts of Washington were halted on Thursday when the inquiry into Jan. 6’s failed uprising at Capitol saw the start. Legislators began to portray the mob disturbance as more of a deliberate attack on democracy than an uncontrollable event. Pundits weren’t over-stating the potential as they compared it to the first days of the Watergate hearings of the 1970s that educated Americans about just how corrupt their government had become.
The D.C. Brief spoke with two experts who were there during such headline-making and fast-paced proceedings as they unfolded. To the right Michael Zona is a veteran of such events, having served as an adviser to Sen. Chuck Grassley and a spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. He was the person who often shared with legislators the details of how they were pushing the nominees during recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
To the left: Tim LimHis contributions have been invaluable to the Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton campaigns. He is a super-staffer who can always get tickets for any event at national political conventions.
Both have joined the ranks of consultants. This conversation is now edited.
Elliott: Gentlemen, thank you for chatting about the Jan. 6 committee’s primetime hearings. We are just about to start. I’ve spent all day watching cable and scrolling through the sites. How do these hearings actually inform the public about the issues? Or are expectations just too high—or low?
Lim: I’m a Democratic operative so by nature I’m already pessimistic. I believe in the mission and the principles behind the Jan. 6 committee, but I’m worried that a substantial number of Americans have been desensitized to what happened and have moved on. Given the increasing number of GOP lawmakers who downplay what happened, or defend the attack at the Capitol’s, I believe these hearings will help push back against dangerous narratives and restore some balance to the conversation.
Zona: To a degree, I agree with Tim. It won’t matter much. In this age of hyperpartisanship and information overload, attention spans and memory are much shorter. It’s been nearly a year and a half since Jan. 6, 2021. Partisans from both parties have made the events so divisive that they have tried to use them as political leverage. The public is now largely disenfranchised and has gone back into their trenches. I don’t doubt the sincerity of these members for the most part, but as with all things Washington, this is also a media production, not just a congressional proceeding for the historical record. Two weeks from now, this won’t be a topic of discussion in the news—let alone at dinner tables. Most Americans living in Washington will forget about it. And it certainly won’t register as a top electoral issue for November.
Elliott: I’m pretty sure Rep. Cheney just made clear she really doesn’t care if she wins re-election. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain” is a line for the history books.
Lim: I was struck by Liz Cheney’s testimony. It was her strongest speech and the most powerful tonight. The video of the insurrection, which was very chilling, reminded me just how close we were from the edge. It’s all about the distribution of the clips and videos now, whether gets widely shared on social media, viewed, and digested.
Zona: There’s no doubt the production quality was high and the content was compelling. Tim, a question for you, if you don’t mind: Do you think if every American saw tonight’s hearing in full, it would have any electoral impact?
Lim: I’m torn. The footage that we saw tonight ought not only be powerful but also have an electoral impact. What would happen if the mob tried to get a hold of Vice President Mike Pence, or any member of Congress? What if the result was thrown back at the States? It’s bone chilling.
Elliott: Michael, you’ve been inside the room when hearings like this unfold. Is the staff working? I mean, if you’re on the House Minority Leader’s staff right now, can you even try to spin this?
Zona: Minority staff can dismiss some of the framing or presentation at this hearing because of their Jan.6 committee composition. The views of the committee are pretty uniform, and that’s a weakness for its credibility. This is because these are Republican employees and members of the committee who saw the Capitol the day before. They don’t need to be lectured about its seriousness; they lived it. And that’s often forgotten in the partisan bickering.
Elliott: Your point is fantastic. Staffer twitter tonight was quite bleak. The very subtle—or not—inclusion of the CCTV footage of Leader McCarthy’s office being evacuated really stopped me in my iced tea sip. Outside groups won’t need to put much money behind amping the ads, right?
Lim: You won’t have to push that footage with paid dollars. It will be shared, and again shared. Even Fox News’ audiences will probably see it.
Elliott: Thanks for the conversation tonight. It’s been very useful.
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