By Nikhila Natarajan New York, Nov 13 : The battle lines are drawn and a global audience can now tune in to the dramatic public phase of the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry starting Wednesday, November 13, in a secure, closed door space in the depths of the Capitol building in Washington DC.
The US House Intelligence Committee, PBS, CSPAN3 will all be carrying the hearings live. NBC News, ABC News and CBS News plan to interrupt regular broadcasting for the hearings while CNN, Fox News and MSNBC plan extensive live airtime.
The Democrat-led US House of Representatives launched the impeachment inquiry to come to a decision about whether Trump violated his oath of office by asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son while the White House was withholding military aid to the vulnerable ally that desperately needs support in the midst of a shooting war with Russia.
A whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sparked the impeachment investigation.
The only thing now standing between Donald Trump in the White House and Donald Trump out of the White House is his support in the 100 member Senate, which Republicans control by a slim majority. Impeachment is almost certain, removal looks like a moonshot. At least two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict and remove a president.
The first of the hearings begin at 10 a.m. on November 13.
The stakes are high, and historic. Trump faces the possibility that he may become only the third American president to be impeached. Democrats are hoping the testimonies will sway public opinion about Trump, which has stayed in a very narrow band since he was elected in 2016.
Expect to hear these words from Article 2, Section 4 of the US Constitution coming thick and fast in the coming days: “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Back during the Watergate hearings which led to Richard Nixon’s resignation, public support for Nixon’s impeachment rose steadily as the televised Watergate inquiry progressed. In stark contrast, most US voters stuck with Bill Clinton through the worst phase of his impeachment process. In this latest edition, the Democrats are hoping for an encore of the Nixon impeachment zeitgeist.
In 1973, the Nixon impeachment hearings came to be called the “hottest daytime soap opera”. The first hour on Day One of the Trump impeachment hearings has been choreographed by Democrats to be nothing short of a “blockbuster”, according to the Washington DC inside track.
This is only the fourth time in American history that the House has launched an impeachment inquiry against a US president and the media landscape is like it’s never been before. It’s the first ever impeachment inquiry in the history of the US available on smartphones via live streaming where absolutely anyone, anywhere in the world, can weigh in real time on digital platforms fueled by user generated content.
Chuck Rosenberg, former federal prosecutor, said on news television today that how Republicans treat the witnesses will matter a big deal. “Do they try to undercut their credibility, do they try to attack them personally? If they do that, it’s not going to go down well.”
While the White House remains riven by intense infighting around impeachment pushback strategy, Trump’s Twitter thumb refuses to stop. He plans to release “the transcript of the first, and therefore more important, phone call with the Ukrainian President before week’s end!”
Democrats have chosen their first witnesses so they can go big on the first day with people who are seen as American patriots and have already delivered the most damaging goods on Trump’s call with Ukraine’s leader. Top U.S. envoy to Ukraine William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent will testify on Wednesday. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will testify Friday.
Pick something – anything – and stick with it will be the high level Republican defence all the way until it goes to trial in the Senate. There, impeachment looks dead on arrival. For now.
For those taking a longer term view and looking ahead to the time when this “blockbuster” impeachment hearing is old news, Trump is likely to be firing up voters to vote in the 2020 elections and his Democratic opponent would have emerged from a crowded field.
By then, if the impeachment inquiry has succeeded in polarising American voters even more than where they stand today, that’s an outcome the Trump White House would welcome with open arms.
Trump’s strategy remains boiler plate: Pit white cultural grievance against rising multiculturalism and “crazy” left wing liberals.
So far, everything is going to plan. Even impeachment.