Did Adam Schiff make a tactical blunder when he mentioned a threat now making the news rounds that any Republican who voted against Trump “would find his head on a pike”? A number of news reports say Republican senators were offended, even those who had been impressed by Schiff up until then:
“CBS News reported last night that a Trump confidant said that key senators were warned, 'Vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.' I don't know if that's true,” Schiff said.
After that remark, the generally respectful mood in the Senate immediately changed. Republicans across their side of the chamber groaned, gasped and said, “That's not true.” One of those key moderate Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, looked directly at Schiff, shook her head and said, “Not true.”
“Not only have I never heard the ‘head on the pike’ line,” Collins said in a statement, “but also I know of no Republican senator who has been threatened in any way by anyone in the administration.”
It wasn't immediately clear what impact, if any, Schiff's comment would have on upcoming votes on witnesses and the ultimate question of whether Trump should be removed from office. Democrats need support from at least four Republicans to win a vote on calling witnesses, and Schiff's arguments over three days were clearly aimed at persuadable GOP senators.
Hearing the Republican protests, and with an eye toward Collins, Schiff paused and said: “I hope it's not true. I hope it's not true.”
But Republicans were already put off.
The remark drew gasps from Senators on both sides, but especially on the Republican side. The problem is, the reaction appears to be based on the apparent fact that Senators had not been warned of any such thing. I can accept duplicity from many (most) of the Republicans, but not from ones like Murkowski, who had been genuinely trying to keep an open mind, at least about witnesses.
Some Democratic Senators, such as Coons and Sherrod Brown, tried to play it down, saying the Republicans were overreacting, but Manchin said Schiff had crossed a line.
I was watching Schiff at the close, and I did not hear the gasps when he said it, but I did notice he looked a bit shaken and had to pause for an instant.
I found the original CBS News report (see at 1:30), but so far as I’ve found it’s single source with no corroboration. Given that the House managers need to keep four GOP Senators from finding some reason not to vote for witnesses and documents, I think Schiff may have just handed them — or rather handed McConnell — ammunition to keep them in line.
Also, I don’t think Schiff needed the line; he was making great use of Bobby Kennedy’s quote about moral courage. That was not the moment to remind Senators how vindictive Trump can be. Better to keep quiet and let Trump make the reminder after the public has absorbed the ‘moral courage’ line.
I have tremendous admiration for the way Chairman Schiff has delivered excellent oration after excellent oration during this “trial,” but this is one moment when I believe he slipped up. And he did it at the close of the House argument, so it will be hard to recover from it.