Feb 9, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Vivid impeachment case falls on deaf ears

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager, is seen speaking Tuesday.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead House impeachment manager. Photo: Congress.gov via Getty Images

The made-through-TV impeachment presentation delivered by House managers presented a gripping narrative for the public but the rambling, legalistic rebuttal Donald Trump's attorneys presented won Tuesday with the pivotal Senate jurors.

Why it matters: The House managers are playing the outside game; they know it's a long shot their prosecution will alter the final result, so they're trying to shift public opinion. Trump's defense is playing an inside game — they're doing just enough to sustain the votes needed to acquit the former president.

  • "Not a single thing will change," Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told Axios. "The outcome is set."

Background: An impeachment proceeding is neither a court case nor subject to popular vote. Instead, it's a political proceeding. As a test vote on Tuesday showed, the opening arguments — including a gripping 13-minute video montage aired by the Democrats — did not change the expected outcome.

  • The only people who matter are the jurors, and Republican senators are the only persuadables. Tuesday's largely party-line vote about the trial's constitutionality made clear Trump will almost certainly be acquitted in the end.
  • Only one additional Republican — Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — was convinced to change a prior vote and agree the trial was constitutional.
  • "I thought they did what they needed to do," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said of the Trump lawyers. "The end result is what really matters."

Democrats didn't sound optimistic, even after the managers' video presented a vivid, three-dimensional timeline. The footage showed Trump's pre-insurrection statements, crowd members regurgitating them and lawmakers fleeing for their safety as police sought to protect them barely a month ago.

  • "I don't want to presuppose the conclusion, but I will say that it says a lot to have all these issues aired before the American public," Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said. "Perhaps speaking to this for the historical record can help us prevent it from happening again."

Another of the six Republicans who voted in favor of the trial's constitutionality, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said she was "stunned" by the opening of Trump's defense.

  • "I couldn't figure out where he was going," she said of attorney Bruce Castor. "I think they sure had a missed opportunity with their first attorney there.”
  • CNN reported Trump also was unhappy with Castor, nearly screaming in frustration at the meandering opening argument.

Up next: The trial resumes at noon Wednesday, when the House managers begin to present their case. Both sides will get a total of 16 hours — split over two days however each side wants — to present their respective cases.

  • The proceedings will continue daily through the week, including Saturday and Sunday, if necessary, as both sides try to end it as soon as possible for vastly different reasons.
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