Congressman Schiff: Ready for His Close-Up

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

With Barack Obama keeping a low profile and Bill and Hillary Clinton sidelined, there has been a lot of hand wringing about the lack of fresh Democratic leadership.  Now, from the relative obscurity of the California Congressional delegation, a new Democratic “person of the hour” has materialized –Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).

“Before the election of Donald Trump,” the New Yorker magazine recently noted, “Schiff was known in Washington as a milquetoast moderate.” However, now, from his perch as Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Schiff has emerged as the “voice” of the opposition party—the designated anti-Trump The question remains as to what Congressman Schiff will make of his new-found celebrity.  He may be simply enjoying his “15 minutes of fame” or he may spend the next four years as President Trump’s nemesis.  (The New York Times called Schiff “more a labradoodle than a Doberman,” in response to which Schiff tweeted “Prefer to think of myself as a Churchillian bulldog. But I’ll accept labradoodle from the @nytimes.”)

Relatively soft-spoken and low key, Schiff is a decided contrast to Donald Trump.  Schiff doesn’t call people names or make threats.  The Congressman gives fact-checkers nothing to talk about.  He exudes a sense of normalcy that eludes most of his colleagues in Washington. However, in his ninth term in Congress, Adam Schiff has come out of the shadows and is seen and heard everywhere–CNN, MSNBC, PBS, Meet the Press, NPR, the New York Times, etc., etc.  A former federal prosecutor, Schiff has been able to make his case in House Intelligence Committee hearings on Russia’s messing around in the 2016 Presidential campaign without bombast and in a clear, plain English style that lays out the facts without getting caught up in jargon and Washington-speak.

There were those who would have liked Schiff to run for Senator Barbara Boxer’s seat last year and tsked-tsked at his decision to remain in the House as an expert on intelligence and National Security matters. Perhaps Schiff is an acolyte of the late Jess Unruh’s “Street Car Theory of Politics.” To wit:  You have to be on the right corner, at the right time, with the right change and with the street car going in the right direction, to be successful in politics.

For now, Schiff has found himself on that right corner. Even in a Republican Congress, the Ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has a consequential role, as we have seen. (If Senator Diane Feinstein decides to retire in 2018, there will be plenty of clamor for Rep. Schiff to enter the race).

It remains to be determined whether he has the fire in the belly or the ego drive, but with his new-found prominence, it is possible to envision Adam Schiff as a candidate for statewide or even national office– a future Attorney General, Speaker of the House or high court nominee?

Or…Schiff for President?  After the election of Donald Trump, anything is possible.

Right now, however, the Congressman seems to be enjoying his role as the Democrats’ voice of reason.

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