Washington Wednesday: Impeachment hearings

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 20th of November, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Well, Mary, tomorrow’s Nashville! It’s The World and Everything in It Live. Now we just got word some more of our colleagues will be there in person. 

Some of the voices you recognize from this program: Trillia Newbell will be there, and George Grant, too!

REICHARD: The party’s just getting bigger! And I see we’ve got Dan Darling for Culture Friday. He’s with the organization that’s hosting us, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

EICHER: A few seats are left so if you are in Nashville tomorrow night, we’d love to meet you. The event is free, but you need to reserve your seat. Just go to worldandeverything.org, hover over the “engage” tab, then click on “live events.” You can register there.

REICHARD: Worldandeverything.org. Can’t wait.

EICHER: Alright, well it’s time now for Washington Wednesday.

For only the third time in U.S. history, we are witnessing public impeachment hearings.

At issue here is the relationship of President Trump and his administration and the government of Ukraine. Initially, House Democrats said that requests for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son amount to a quid pro quo, because at the same time the White House withheld military aid authorized for Ukraine.

But Democrats are positioning it differently, now accusing President Trump of bribery. Here’s Congressman Adam Schiff. He chairs the Intelligence Committee.

SCHIFF: This is a story about an effort to coerce, condition, or bribe a foreign country into doing the dirty work of the president—investigations of his political rival… the fact that they failed in this solicitation of bribery doesn’t make it any less bribery. 

Meantime, Republicans argue the aid was only temporarily held and then released without Ukraine ever announcing the investigation. They say Democrats’ probe is a sham, designed to overturn the 2016 election results. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik:

STEFANIK: As we saw today, he is making up the rules as he goes. He did not let Republicans put forth any unanimous consents. He did not let us control our own time—Republican members’ time. I think I was interrupted about six times throughout the hearing. So this is just more of the ridiculous abuse of power that we’re seeing from Adam Schiff.

Polling out this week found about 70 percent of Americans are paying attention to the proceedings, but two-thirds say they can’t imagine anything that would change their minds about it.

And as for timing: House Democrats are holding multiple hearings per day in hopes of voting on articles of impeachment before Christmas. But a trial in the Senate could stretch well into 2020. 

That, of course, is an election year. And, oh by the way, the Iowa caucuses loom on February 3rd—an avalanche of primaries follow soon after. That will pose a logistical problem for the six Democratic senators running for president. 

Republican Senator Joni Ernst literally danced a jig when a Politico reporter asked her about that on Monday. “I feel so badly for them,” she deadpanned.

Lots to discuss today with political analyst Henry Olsen. He’s a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a Washington Post columnist. 

Henry, good morning!


EICHER: Let’s start with the public testimony we’ve heard over the last week, which largely is testimony already given behind closed doors, with the damaging parts leaked out. Anything strike you, now that we can hear it all?

OLSEN: So far, I haven’t seen anything that surprised me. I’ve seen recitation of what had been leaked earlier, but no smoking gun moment or no emotional exchange that captures the imagination. 

So I think what we’re going to find as polls come out over the next couple of days is that people who don’t like Trump were persuaded that this is earth-shattering testimony and people who do like Trump will say why did they preempt my soap operas? 

EICHER: Republicans have frequently pointed out that Democrats have relied on a lot of second-hand information. In law, that’s hearsay. But yesterday that changed with the testimony of witnesses who were on the phone call with the Ukrainian president. Does that change anything? 

OLSEN: So far, no. Because I think a lot of people are just tuning this out, that this is—we’ve had three years of incessant braying about Trump and I think for most people this isn’t so significantly different that it’s going to cause them to change their opinion about Trump. So Trump’s job approval ratings have held up. They took a quick dive after this came out and they bounced right back up again into their general range. 

And I just think that the Republicans and the president have been good at messaging to their base, hey, nothing to see here. Pay no attention. And they’re largely not wrong. 

EICHER: A moment ago I mentioned how Democrats have shifted their rhetoric away from quid pro quo to bribery. Easier to understand, apparently, as your paper reported, it polls better. But do you think they can prove it?

OLSEN: Well, I think it polls better, but it’s also less obvious. Most people, when they think of bribery, think of cash. They don’t think of can you do an investigation that may or may not turn up dirt. 

I think one thing the Democrats have successfully obscured that I think Republicans and Trump will do more to bring out is they’re actually—what’s been said is, hey, can you look into this? Not, can you find the stuff that Biden did? Or, we know he’s guilty. And I think it’s very hard to say that somebody is bribed when there’s actually nothing of value that the briber receives in return. 

EICHER: I mentioned your newspaper, The Washington Post, and I want to also mention your most recent column on this impeachment inquiry, you did say that you didn’t think all this is changing minds. And more than that, you mentioned your ability, as you said, to “see when the fix is in and, boy, is it ever in for Trump.” Do you still think so?

OLSEN: Absolutely. There’s no chance that the Democrats are going to not impeach him. They’re not interested in finding exculpatory evidence and most, if not all, the members on the committee have already said they think he should be impeached and, you know, you listen to Chairman Schiff’s opening and closing statements and it’s not a question of what we are finding, it’s he’s always concluding with dilenda Trump est, you know. Trump should be destroyed because of what we already know. 

So, that’s what I mean by the fix is it’s not a case where this is an inquiry. This is a case where basically it’s the House treating this as the prosecution making its case. 

EICHER: And, really, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, her mind was changed because back in March she was saying this is not worth it. We need to focus on our agenda—famously—and it really angered a lot of her constituents. 

OLSEN: Well, I think there’s two things going. One is that the Democratic voter base has gotten more and more outraged, particularly as Trump in their eyes is the villain who keeps slipping away from their grasp. 

But I think there’s also—there is something that did change with the Ukrainian situation, which is there used to be a small but significant number of people who disapproved of Trump but did not want to see him impeached. That number has shrunk dramatically. And consequently the number of people in the Democratic Party who want him impeached and removed is now at a supermajority status—well over 80 percent. And that’s something that you just can’t ignore. 

EICHER: OK, final question: I know the 2020 election is still a year out, but to what extent do you think what we’re seeing now will affect what happens then? 

OLSEN: You know, I think it’s all going to have a small effect. But a lot of this is being seen through the eyes of already pre-formed opinions about Trump. And so consequently, the effect is going to be relatively tiny. It’s not to say it’ll be nothing, but for the same reason that I don’t think minds are going to be terribly changed a whole lot. 

It’s because this is not so different from what we’ve been hearing. We’ve been hearing about impeachment for three years. We’ve been hearing about Trump is a crook. We’ve been hearing about Trump has a temper. Trump is this, Trump is that. And this is an elaboration on that theme rather than a change of theme. And, consequently, what happens, I think, is likely to be tiny. Unless a Senate trial produces evidence that has not been unearthed. And don’t hold assume that it won’t, because it’ll be the first time Republicans control the process. 

EICHER: Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Henry, thank you for your time. 

OLSEN: Thank you.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., talks to the media after a hearing with testimony from top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor and career Foreign Service officer George Kent, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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