Rep. Doug Collins isn’t expected to win a coveted appointment this week to fill a Senate seat in Georgia, but the ambitious Republican will play a leading role defending President Trump in the next act of impeachment drama.
And in doing so, Collins is certain to raise his national profile, putting him in a stronger position for a possible Senate bid next year.
As the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, the fast-talking Southerner and former Navy chaplain will get plenty of airtime before TV cameras when he goes toe-to-toe with his Democratic counterpart, Chairman Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), whose panel will likely draft articles of impeachment against Trump this month.
The committee’s first impeachment hearing is set for Wednesday morning, and more are expected to follow as Democrats eye a floor vote on any articles before Christmas. That’s prompted Collins, who is wasting no time embracing his soon-to-be star turn, to hit the cable news circuit and hammer Democrats for conducting what he maintains is a skewed investigation that arrived at a verdict before it even began.
“Jerry Nadler is running a circus again and we’re prepared for it on Wednesday,” Collins said Monday on Fox News. “This is just another sideshow, trying to get at a president who is doing a great job.”
Collins’s fiery appearances on Fox News on both Sunday and Monday offer a preview not only of the likely GOP arguments in the Judiciary Committee this week but also the tone. The 53-year-old lawmaker is well known for his fierce attacks across the aisle — delivered at a machine gun-like pace — that could prove challenging for Nadler, 72, who faces the difficult task of preventing the proceedings from spinning wildly out of control.
The intensity exhibited by Collins wasn’t overlooked by Chris Wallace, the “Fox News Sunday” host, who quipped that his guest must have enjoyed an abundance of Thanksgiving turkey.
“You’re pretty wound up, I’ve got to say,” Wallace said.
More importantly, Collins also caught the eye of Trump, who offered his unqualified praise on Monday.
“Great job by @RepDougCollins of Georgia over the weekend in representing the Republican Party, and myself, against the Impeachment Hoax!” Trump tweeted, yet another sign that the president is closely monitoring which congressional Republicans are aggressively defending him on television.
And there are potential rewards for those who do.
Behind the scenes, Trump and big-name conservatives like Fox News host Sean Hannity have been pushing Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to appoint Collins to the Senate seat being vacated this month by GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson. The 74-year-old veteran senator, who announced in August he would step down at the end of the year due to deteriorating health, will deliver his farewell speech Tuesday on the Senate floor.
But Kemp has been the rare Republican willing to buck the president, insisting on sticking with Atlanta businesswoman Kelly Loeffler rather than taking marching orders from Trump. Over the weekend, Kemp began calling GOP allies in Georgia’s congressional delegation to inform them he would be tapping Loeffler and not Collins, said one source who received a call from the governor.
Kemp’s announcement is slated for 10 a.m. Wednesday, the precise time Americans will be tuning in for the Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing, led by Nadler and Collins.
In TV appearances, Collins has declined to rule out a 2020 primary bid against Loeffler, and Georgia Republicans said they don’t expect Collins to voice support for Kemp’s pick. A Trump endorsement would certainly give a boost to Collins next year if he decides to challenge Loeffler, the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream professional women’s basketball team who would become the first woman to serve as senator from the Peach State.
“We’ll see where the governor goes with this pick, and then we’ll have a decision to make after that,” Collins told Fox News, “but right now my full focus and attention is on impeachment and also what is best for Georgia.”
With that in mind, Collins has been reaching out to Judiciary Committee Republicans — in conference calls over the Thanksgiving recess and meetings planned for this week — to coordinate GOP messaging ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.
On Monday, Nadler released the names of the four witnesses to appear Wednesday, all of them relatively obscure constitutional and legal scholars. It all but ensures that any fireworks will emanate not from the panel of witnesses but from the Democratic and Republican lawmakers seated on the dais above.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, said Collins has been working closely with House Intelligence Committee Republicans, who were on the front lines of the investigative phase of the impeachment inquiry.
“He’s got his team, his staff working hard on it,” Biggs told The Hill.
Biggs predicted another shift is likely to occur: a change in tenor as the process moves from the somber Intelligence Committee, where Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.) is the senior Republican, to the much larger and unwieldy Judiciary panel that features some of the most outspoken and pugnacious Trump allies.
“You know, stylistically, Devin is far more stoic … and Doug’s a little bit more animated,” Biggs said. “But I think they both have a fire burning in their belly.”
Juliegrace Brufke contributed.