Washington • If you’re a Democrat, last week’s impeachment hearings provided damning testimony that President Donald Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and leveraged a White House meeting with the new leader of Ukraine to get a public announcement of investigations into a Trump political rival.
If you’re a Republican, you saw a circus staged by Trump opponents in a desperate but failed bid to prove wrongdoing by an unorthodox president who revels in shaking up the Washington establishment.
If you were on the fence before the public hearings, you’re probably still there.
“Most Utahns are not spending their days watching the impeachment proceedings and the summaries they are getting are largely filtered through channels they tend to agree with,” says Jason Perry, the head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. “Much of the testimony offered left considerable room for interpretation that has allowed both sides to declare indignation and vindication.
"Few minds have been changed.”
After two weeks of public testimony that followed weeks of closed-door depositions, the American public appears not to have budged much from where it was previously on the issue of impeachment.
Testimony, taken under oath and on full display to the world, provided a detailed look at how Trump’s team created a shadow diplomacy channel in Ukraine under the guidance of the president’s private attorney Rudy Giuliani.
There was a “quid pro quo,” as Trump’s handpicked ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified, about getting Ukraine to agree to political probes in exchange for U.S. support.
Trump’s team was engaged in a “domestic political errand” that ran counter to America’s stated foreign policy goals, the former top Russian expert on the National Security Council, Fiona Hill, testified.
“By this point,” said David Holmes, who remains a top aide to the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, “my clear impression was that the security assistance hold was likely intended by the president either as an expression of dissatisfaction with the Ukrainians who had not yet agreed to the Burisma/Biden investigation or as an effort to increase the pressure on them to do so.”
Burisma is a Ukrainian energy company whose board previously included Hunter Biden, a son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate.
The impeachment inquiry is now heading into its final hours in the House, where the Intelligence Committee is preparing a report for the Judiciary Committee. This second panel will then draft articles of impeachment to go before the full, Democrat-controlled House, which is expected to impeach the president, leading to a trial in the Senate.
But while the impeachment hearings have been must-see TV in Washington and among people who follow politics, they have not moved the needle much in the rest of America.
An Emerson College poll shows that support for impeachment among voters has dropped, though marginally. Some 45% of voters oppose the idea while 43% support it, the poll showed. That is down from October when 48% were behind removing the president and 44% against.
FiveThirtyEight, a poll tracking and analysis website, said Americans are split right down the middle: 45.6% in support of impeachment and 45.5% not in support. That is within 1 percentage point of where public opinion was on Oct. 1.
As for political independents, FiveThirtyEight says 41% of that group now support impeachment compared to 42.8% on Oct. 1.
There have been no recent polls on impeachment support in Utah. A Utah Policy poll taken Sept. 25-Oct. 8 showed about a third of Utahns said there was evidence to launch the impeachment inquiry but 47% opposed such a venture.
Each of the major parties, of course, is spinning in opposite directions.
U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who has joined his fellow GOP members in defending Trump and castigating the Democratic process, says voters have had enough.
“A year of resistance, two and a half years of these absurd accusations against the president of Russia and collusion,” Stewart said last week at the end of the public hearing phase of impeachment hearings. “We’ve gone from quid pro quo to bribery to extortion, seven weeks of hearings, 16 secret closed door sessions, 12 public hearings ... hundreds of hours of testimony. And I really think that for those who hate the president, they haven’t changed their minds. But there’s a lot of Americans who look at this and they think, ‘is that it really you’re going to impeach and remove a president for this?’ Like I said, if you don’t like the president, you’ve already come to that conclusion.”
That sentiment was echoed by Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who told a group of reporters last week that impeachment hearings have been a boon to GOP fundraising efforts.
“We have seen last week the president’s approval [rating] at the highest during all of this,” McDaniel said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “We have seen a drop off of Democrats significantly.
The president, himself, suggests it would be good for him and for Republicans if the House impeaches him and the Senate holds a trial.
Polls aren’t reflecting anything like the rosy portrait painted by Trump and his supporters.
Real Clear Politics shows just one pollster (Rasmussen) among eight putting the president’s approval rating into the positive range. The seven others show his approval ratings trailing the negative ratings by between six and 15 percentage points.
FiveThirtyEight shows an average 53.6% disapproval of Trump to 41.9% approval — a gap of nearly 12 points that has hardly moved since Oct. 1.
In contrast to Republicans, Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that held the impeachment hearings, said the evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump was clear and compelling.
“Evidence has piled up day after day after day,” he said in his closing statement. "Where are the people who are willing to go beyond their party to look to their duty?
“We need to consult our consciences and our constituents and decide whether that remedy [of impeachment] is appropriate here, is required here.”
“This president believes he is above the law, beyond accountability and, in my view, there is nothing more dangerous than an unethical president who believes they are above the law.”
The view from the White House perceives an entirely different landscape — one where Americans agree with Trump that the whole impeachment “hoax” is an outrage.
“Polls have now turned very strongly against impeachment!” the president tweeted Saturday. He offered no evidence.