Ga. Republican embraces role as Trump’s impeachment defender

By: - August 7, 2019 8:00 am

Georgia’s U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, says If the committee votes on articles of impeachment without more investigation it will be a massive failure. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A relatively unknown Georgia Republican congressman has climbed his way into the national spotlight to become the leading anti-impeachment crusader in the U.S. House.

Rep. Doug Collins, who’s represented the Gainesville-based 9th District since 2013, became the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee in January. He ascended as Democrats clinched the House majority and claimed the committee gavels. That committee — and Collins — are now at the center of the debate over whether to hold a floor vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

Collins’ biggest moment on the national stage occurred last month, when former Special Counsel Robert Mueller appeared before the panel to testify about his report into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The Georgia Republican told Mueller that he’d attempt to speak slowly before he rattled off a series of rapid-fire questions attempting to defend Trump and his associates.

Collins got Trump’s attention — and approval — during the hearing. The president tweeted a video exchange in which Collins asked Mueller if his investigation had been curtailed or stopped. “No,” Mueller told him. (Collins retweeted Trump’s post).

The congressman appeared on Fox News the following day, where he said, “We can now put collusion and conspiracy to rest,” and he declared the Mueller investigation “case closed” on Twitter.

His appearance in national news headlines and on cable television boosted Collins’ profile, even in his home state.

“I think outside of his district, very few people had heard of him until the impeachment hearings,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University.

Collins “has been a relatively low-key member of the House in terms of local visibility,” said Howard Franklin, a Democratic strategist based in Atlanta.

But for the rest of this Congress, expect Collins to remain a central figure in the unfolding political drama.

The impeachment debate is far from over on Capitol Hill, with more than half of House Democrats now calling for an impeachment inquiry. Even if the House doesn’t hold a floor vote before the 2020 elections, it’s certain to remain a hot topic for Trump’s critics until he leaves the White House.

Collins was not available to comment for this story before publication.

‘Let the show begin’

Collins, 52, is a Gainesville native and an attorney. He was an intern in the U.S. House, a pastor at Chicopee Baptist Church and did a tour in Iraq as a U.S. Air Force Reserve chaplain. He opened his own law practice in Gainesville and served three terms in the Georgia House of Representatives.

In the state House, he was best known for his effort to overhaul the popular HOPE scholarship program, imposing stricter eligibility requirements and limiting the cash available to students. Collins and others argued the program wasn’t financially sustainable, but Democrats and other critics warned the changes would hurt students, particularly those with lower incomes.

Collins ran for the U.S. House in 2012, winning one of the reddest districts in the country. Georgia’s 9th District is 63.9 points more Republican than the nation overall and is the third most-Republican district, according to the website FiveThirtyEight.

He rarely breaks with his party in House votes. He’s voted against Republicans 34 times in the current Congress, just 7.1% of the time, according to an analysis by ProPublica. The average House Republican votes against his or her party 10.3% of the time.

He climbed the GOP ranks quickly in Congress, becoming vice chair of the House Republican Conference in 2017. Last year, he began to make a play to become the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Politico reported. The coveted slot might have been available due to an exodus of high-ranking Republican officials, but Collins’ plan was spoiled by Democrats’ seizure of the House majority.

“I know he gets frustrated a lot with the role. It’s never as much fun to be in the minority; you’d rather be in the majority,” said Chip Lake, chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. Lake worked for Collins during his 2012 congressional campaign.

But, Lake said, “I think he’s certainly making the most of a difficult situation,” adding that he thinks Trump, the Republican Party and Collins’ constituents are very happy with him.

Collins told the website Ozy in an interview earlier this year that he’s not a fighter by nature. “I truly do not get up every morning trying to tick someone off,” he said. But he said he was ready for the high-profile job as one of Trump’s top defenders in a House controlled by Democrats. “I have a firm faith that there is nothing I will face that I’ve not been prepared for.”

Even if he doesn’t relish his role as Democrats’ chief antagonist on the deeply polarized committee, Collins appears to have settled into the position.

There’s a familiar pattern when contentious Judiciary Committee hearings begin.

To start, Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduces the topic (say, Mueller’s report), usually sprinkling in barbs at Trump and his administration. Collins will lash out, accusing his Democratic colleagues of misplacing their priorities, of unfairly attacking the president and wasting valuable time that could be used voting on legislation.

Collins often closes his fiery tirades with lines like, “Another circus,” or “here we go, popcorn machine is ready,” or “let the show begin.”

Nadler, who holds the gavel, typically ignores the comments and moves ahead with the hearings.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender is the D.C. Bureau Chief for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit news publications, including the Georgia Recorder. Previously, Robin was a reporter for Politico, E&E News and Thomson Reuters.