July 19, 2024

Representative Jasmine Crockett was sitting in a House Oversight Committee hearing last fall, growing increasingly frustrated as she listened to Republicans accuse President Biden of impeachable offenses without producing any evidence, when she had an idea.

Ms. Crockett, a freshman Democrat from Texas and former defense attorney, summoned an aide and asked them to quickly print out a stack of photos showing the boxes of sensitive government documents stashed by a toilet at Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald J. Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla.

Moments later, Ms. Crockett was brandishing the photos above her head, accusing Republicans of ignoring clear evidence that Mr. Trump had violated the law while pushing allegations against Mr. Biden for which they had shown no proof.

“When we start talking about things that look like evidence, they want to act like they blind,” Ms. Crockett said of Republicans, spitting her words with a mix of outrage and bemusement. “These are our national secrets,” apparently in a toilet, she added, using an expletive to describe the plumbing.

The moment circulated widely on social media. The White House took notice. So did senior House Democrats. Suddenly, it was Ms. Crockett, not the Republicans pursuing Mr. Biden, who was capturing the public’s attention.

The performance has become something of a hallmark of the sputtering Republican effort to impeach Mr. Biden, which has faltered in recent weeks as the G.O.P. has come up empty in its efforts to back up its claims of wrongdoing by the president.

As the Republicans have pressed their case against Mr. Biden, Democrats on the Oversight panel — including an unusually large crop of freshman — have matched them sound bite for sound bite and stunt for political stunt, establishing themselves as feisty defenders of the president.

It’s a strategy that Democrats began planning out more than a year ago. Back in January 2023, they selected seven freshmen to sit on the Oversight panel, the most of any committee. The group included lawyers with debate experience and members who had a sense for how to communicate in a way that could catch fire on social media and break through the noise of a highly polarized environment.

The result has been that the impeachment proceedings that were designed by Republicans to damage Mr. Biden politically have instead elevated the profiles of a group of battle-ready first-term Democrats who have become fixtures of the partisan scrum that is the House Oversight Committee.

In addition to Ms. Crockett, there is Representative Dan Goldman, a former federal prosecutor from New York, who has made it his mission to beat Republicans to the microphones outside of closed-door interviews, framing the testimony before his G.O.P. rivals can.

Representative Robert Garcia of California has peppered his remarks with sassy pop culture references that have gained traction on social media, drawing attention to the Democrats’ defense.

And Representative Jared Moskowitz of Florida has gained a reputation as the chief antagonist of Representative James R. Comer, who as chairman of the committee is leading the investigation. Mr. Moskowitz has repeatedly gotten under Mr. Comer’s skin with irreverent tactics, including once wearing a mask of President Vladimir V. Putin to a hearing to mock him as a puppet of RussiaEven without a concerted campaign by Democrats, the Republican drive to impeach Mr. Biden would likely have struggled to gain momentum. Its leaders have never been able to establish the kind of evidence needed to convince mainstream and swing-district members to move forward with impeachment, a critical task given their tiny majority. And their investigation was dealt a near-fatal blow when a key informant was charged with fabricating his story of Mr. Biden accepting bribes.

Many Republicans are now conceding that their push to impeach Mr. Biden is all but dead, and Mr. Comer has pivoted to exploring possible criminal referrals instead, which he has called “the culmination of my investigation.”

Democrats argue their strategy has been critical to derailing the enterprise. They battled Republicans on the facts, sought to shift the focus to Mr. Trump’s misdeeds and — perhaps most importantly — mirrored the G.O.P.’s incendiary tactics.

“I think it’s clear that we out-messaged them, which is why now they’re coming out and admitting that they’re not going to be impeaching Joe Biden,” Mr. Moskowitz said.

They did so under the leadership of Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, his No. 2.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said it was paramount to counter any Republican narrative before it could take hold. She saw how Republicans built momentum toward impeaching Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, and wanted to avoid a similar case developing in the Oversight Committee against Mr. Biden.

“A lot of what we’re doing is calling the plays and figuring out the strategy,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “What kind of question lines and topics may be best for which members? How do we want to build a crescendo and tell a story over the course of a hearing? How can we work with some of our freshman members for them to cultivate ideas of their own?

In another era, freshmen like Ms. Crockett would have been unlikely to register on leaders’ radar. But there’s a new model on Capitol Hill, inspired in part by Ms. Ocasio-Cortez herself, who in 2018 at the age of 28 became the youngest woman elected to Congress.

She learned her Oversight skills under Representative Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who chaired the committee and died in 2019. When she had to choose between being on the Financial Services Committee, where lawmakers can raise large campaign donations from Wall Street, and Oversight, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez made a choice previous New York lawmakers would have found unthinkable.

While the Oversight Committee has been known as the home of partisan fighting and grandstanding, Mr. Garcia said Oversight had been his “top choice.”

Mr. Garcia’s moment of social-media fame — planned in advance, by his own admission — came during a January hearing in which he mocked Republicans’ Biden impeachment drive by quoting, nearly verbatim, a famously dramatic and detailed takedown from an episode of the “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” reality television show.

Democrats, Mr. Garcia said from his seat on the dais on Capitol Hill, “have receipts. Proof. A timeline. Screenshots. We have everything we need to prove conclusively that foreign governments were funneling money through Trump properties and into Donald Trump’s pockets, all in violation of the Constitution.”

Mr. Trump has denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with foreign governments. But the moment had its intended effect. The “Real Housewives” delighted over Mr. Garcia’s remarks and circulated them widely on social media, and the Bravo host Andy Cohen featured them on his popular nightly “Watch What Happens Live” program.

“We need to communicate to the public in ways they can understand and I think that for me, that moment reached so many people that were not tuning in to what’s happening with the Oversight Committee,” Mr. Garcia, the first openly gay immigrant elected to Congress, said in an interview. “It was effective because they understood it in a way that spoke to them.”

Mr. Goldman has taken a different approach. As the lead counsel for the first impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump, Mr. Goldman knows the evidence on Ukraine and Hunter Biden better than most.

He has made it his business to publicly push back against Republican efforts to twist facts to fit their allegations of wrongdoing by the president and members of his family.

“I knew that the Republicans were going to have closed-door depositions, and then selectively leak parts of those out to try to frame a false narrative. And so I was not going to allow them to do that,” Mr. Goldman said.

It is clear that Mr. Comer has lost patience with the Democrats and their tactics.

He has complained about the freshmen, saying that they intimidate his witnesses. He has called Mr. Moskowitz a “Smurf,” prompting the freshman to dress like one, wearing blue shoes and a Smurf tie to the next hearing.

“I’ve never seen such witness intimidation as what I saw today,” Mr. Comer said on Newsmax in February, singling out Mr. Raskin, Mr. Goldman, Mr. Garcia and Ms. Crockett. “They were wagging their fingers. They were pointing, they were yelling.”

At a recent hearing, Mr. Moskowitz insisted on calling for a vote on impeaching Mr. Biden, knowing full well Republicans lacked the votes. Mr. Comer looked annoyed, and refused to second the motion. But even Representative Jim Jordan, one of the top Republicans leading the impeachment drive, cracked a smile.

Ms. Crockett didn’t ask to sit on the Oversight Committee; she was angling for Financial Services or Judiciary. But Representative Katherine M. Clark, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, persuaded her to join, and it turned out to be a natural fit.

Ms. Crockett is no stranger to partisan battles. She came out of the Texas State House, where, at one point, Republicans issued a warrant for her arrest amid a dispute over Texas voting laws. (The framed warrant now hangs in her Dallas office.)

She makes sure she is camera-ready, ducking into a dedicated makeup room in her office to get ready for her frequent television appearances.

She and other freshmen have found themselves frequently in battle with Republican bomb throwers, such as Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. One of the first assignments Ms. Crockett and Mr. Garcia got was to tour the D.C. jail with Ms. Greene to counter her narrative that the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were political prisoners being held in inhumane conditions.

Then Ms. Crockett found herself seated near Ms. Greene at a congressional hearing as the Georgia congresswoman displayed naked photos of the president’s son Hunter Biden engaging in sex acts.

“It was one of those ‘We’re frozen’ moments. Like, what do we do?” Ms. Crockett recalled. “We were all looking at each other, like, did that just happen? We were all in shock and awe.”

But Ms. Crockett is almost never at a loss for words. Her committee speeches have repeatedly made headlines in left-leaning outlets.

“With all the viral moments and all of the antics, people assume, ‘Oh she wanted that.’ Actually I did not,” Ms. Crockett said of her assignment on the Oversight Committee. “But it’s worked out for sure.”

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