The opening day of impeachment hearings was a wash for both sides — neither a Watergate-style big hit for Democrats nor a ringing defense of President Trump for Republicans.
Democrats tried to strengthen their case against Trump but the vast majority of the day’s main event lacked the drama or sizzle to capture the full attention of the American viewing public.
Much of it was dry and dense, an explainer on the importance of U.S.-Ukraine relations. This was partly a result of the low-key demeanor of the opening witnesses, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and Foreign Service officer George Kent, whose testimony came across as extremely credible but hardly gripping.
If this were a network TV show, it would have belonged on PBS.
At the end of the 5 1/2 hours of testimony, it’s likely that few minds were changed — either in Congress or among American voters. Republicans continued to stay firm with Trump despite Taylor and Kent’s testimony that they believed Trump was improperly withholding military aid to Ukraine to get the country to investigate the Bidens.
The closest the Democrats got to drama was the admission by Taylor that he was told by a staffer that Trump was overheard talking about “investigations” into Ukraine corruption on a phone call the day after his much-scrutinized call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
If this was the “bombshell” the Democrats were hoping for, it didn’t have much explosive bite.
There was no “gotcha” moment or memorable line from either side — no “What did the president know and when did he know it?” question.
Democrats tried to get around the fact that Trump eventually released the military aid anyway by saying that just because the president never actually withheld the aid, it’s still a crime to “attempt” to do that.
“Is attempted extortion and bribery a crime?” U.S. Rep. Julian Castro asked Taylor, in what he hoped might be a signature sound bite for his Democratic presidential campaign.
“I don’t know, sir,” Taylor dryly responded.
Republicans sought to focus on the anonymous whistleblower and his motives, as well as potential corruption by the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, who was hired by a Ukrainian energy company for $50,000 a month. And they sought to portray Trump as a victim of a political witch hunt.
“This is a sad day for this country,” said Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
But it’s likely Americans will look at the day not as sad but just predictable — the continuation of a never-ending partisan sniping war between Democrats and Republicans.
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