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Over the past two weeks, a series of witnesses testified in public hearings as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The testimony included what have been called “bombshell” revelations alleging that Trump abused his office by withholding military aid in order to compel Ukraine to investigate the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son.
Interest in the hearings has undoubtedly been high. More than 13 million viewers watched the first day of testimony among the major networks. News coverage was intense each day, to the point that small moments — like a reporter aggressively drinking coffee — became stories in themselves. In a recent poll, 70 percent of registered voters said they were closely watching news about impeachment.
At the same time, it’s difficult to gauge whether all the attention has led to any real substantive changes in opinion about whether Trump should be impeached. There are three key groups for whom that question matters: House members, who will vote on articles of impeachment; senators, who will serve as jurors for a trial to decide whether Trump should be removed from office; and, finally, voters, who may or may not factor impeachment into their 2020 election votes. A majority of voters do believe that Trump abused his powers in his dealings with Ukraine, but are deeply split on whether that means he should be removed from office, a recent poll by Yahoo News and YouGov found.
Why there’s debate
Much of the analysis is pessimistic that the hearings will substantively change anyone’s opinions, even among those who believe the testimony shows clear impropriety by the president. Political pressure on Democrats and Republicans to toe the party line makes it unlikely that the hearings will sway votes in Congress, some argue. The prevailing expectation from before the hearings — that the House will vote to impeach, but the Senate will not remove Trump — remains.
There’s also evidence voters are deeply entrenched in their positions, with 65 percent of people in one poll saying they couldn’t imagine any information from the hearings changing their minds.
Some political experts actually see potential in that poll, however, since it shows about a third of the country is open to having its views swayed. Several swing states were decided by less than a 2 percent margin in the 2016 presidential election, meaning only a small change in opinion could ultimately determine the outcome. It’s also possible that voters will factor impeachment into their choice in upcoming congressional races if they disagree with how their representatives performed during the high-profile hearings.
One of the questions that has hung over the impeachment inquiry is whether Democrats would push for testimony from top White House officials like acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who would likely appear only if required by the courts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reportedly indicated she would like to avoid a lengthy court battle and instead move forward with a vote sometime in December.
The hearings did not change anyone’s minds
“You know how many minds have been changed? Zero. Zero minds. Zippy the chimp.” — Joseph Curl, Washington Times
There is too much political pressure on lawmakers to toe the party line
“For both parties, taking votes in opposition to the views of their constituents poses a career risk, one that elected officials are generally wary of taking.” — Philip Bump, Washington Post
People are entrenched in their thinking
“The bad news is, whether they watch or not, their minds may already be made up. And that’s a real shame. Justice demands Americans keep an open mind and listen to the testimonies that should reveal the truth.” — Editorial, Penn Live
The hearings didn’t include any information strong enough to force Republicans' hands
“For Republicans to convict Trump, it would take a strong probability of electoral disaster. That in turn would take inflammatory testimony against Trump by one or more of his inner circle who can provide direct evidence of wrongdoing, such as Sondland, Mulvaney, Giuliani, Pompeo or Bolton. There is no sign yet that it will happen.” — Steve Dennings, Forbes
Two years of accusations have left voters too overwhelmed to consider new facts
“I don’t get the sense that America is gripped by the suspense. One reason: The Democrats leaked all the news before the witnesses sat down before the cameras. Another: A sense that the outcome — House impeaching, Senate acquitting — is preordained. Still another: Utter exhaustion with Trumpian drama after a two-year Russia investigation was quickly followed by the Ukraine mess.” — Howard Kurtz, Fox News
It would take only a small number of voters to change the outcome in 2020
“Everything else being equal, a shift of just a few percentage points against Trump would likely have a huge impact on next year’s results up and down the ballot.” — Joshua Holland, AlterNet
The hearings undercut a long list of GOP arguments in support of the president
“Whether or not the public impeachment hearings move poll numbers — or GOP members votes — there is no question that what we saw on display over the past three days was a nightmare scenario for Republicans that further complicates their already difficult task of continuing to defend this president and his actions.” — Chris Cillizza, CNN
The hearings will hurt the reelection odds of congressional Republicans
“Adam Schiff over the past two weeks has laid out a case against this president that will stand the test of history and will damn every Republican who votes to keep him in office.” — MSNBC analyst Matthew Miller
The White House refusal to have officials testify bolsters the case of Trump obstruction
“Republicans aren’t going to agree to remove Trump. Everything that’s happening here is political display for the benefit of the voters. And to that end it would be extremely edifying to have extended public discussion of why the White House is stonewalling and why we can’t find out more about exactly who did what when.” — Matthew Yglesias, Vox
Much of the testimony could be used in a criminal case after Trump is out of office
“There is now little doubt that President Trump and his associates could face federal indictment for this scheme, if and when there is a Justice Department committed to fully and fairly consider it.” — Noah Bookbinder, New York Times
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Andrew Harnik/AP