“A fit of partisan rage” is how Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, characterized the bid to remove President Donald Trump from office. The president’s behavior, in the view of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left House Democrats with “no choice” but to impeach.
But what do the American people think?
With the Senate trial of Trump now underway, The New York Times deployed a team of journalists to find out. We contacted hundreds of voters who had responded to an online survey saying they would be willing to be interviewed. We reached 81 people, from nearly 30 states.
They were Democrats, Republicans and independents. They were retirees and real estate agents, teachers and stay-at-home parents. The youngest was 21; the oldest was 82. Even before the opening statements at the trial had begun, most had already made up their minds on their preferred verdict.
As one independent voter from Ohio put it, “maybe they should ask the people what they should do. It should be our vote.”
Though the case against Trump is complex, most people grasp the basics.
The last time a president was impeached, in the 1990s, the allegations were like something out of a soap opera: President Bill Clinton was accused of lying under oath about his sexual encounters with a White House intern.
This time around, the charges stem from something much more complicated and less familiar than a sex scandal: using the power of the presidency to extract foreign help against a domestic rival.
We wondered how closely Americans were following the complicated case. “I think it’s about them interfering with the election or something? I’m not sure. It’s very confusing,” said one Republican who didn’t think the evidence was very strong. One Democrat who thought Trump should be removed acknowledged, “I don’t really know what the evidence is.”
But most people, across the political spectrum, were well versed in the basics, and some could even reel off names of key witnesses and documents.
Here are some of their descriptions of the case, in their own words.
Kyle Sims, 46, a Republican from North Carolina
“The accusation is that he withheld foreign aid money in exchange for Ukrainians investigating Joe Biden and his son.”
Tim Tucker, 73, a conservative independent who splits his time between Indiana and Florida
“Supposedly he was colluding, or he was proposing to the leaders of — I can’t think of the name of the country. Not Czechoslovakia. Joe Biden and his son had gotten involved a few years ago in the Ukraine. It’s the Ukraine, right?”
Melissa Reese, 32, a Democrat from Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“Going to Ukraine and asking their government for interference for our election and digging up dirt on a political opponent. Bottom line, he was asking for the quid pro quo.”
Amy, 47, a Republican from Illinois
“I’m confused on what they’re accusing him of, but it just has to do with the communication with the Ukrainian president. They haven’t been able to glom onto anything yet and this was as close as they could get after all the pressure that they’ve gotten.”
One side sees impeachment as a ploy in a wider partisan attack against the president.
People we spoke with who said they did not want Trump to be removed from office tended to view impeachment as an intensely personal attack on the president, mounted by Democrats who despise Trump and resent his election victory in 2016.
Bethany McGraw, 21, a Republican from Florida
“I’m convinced of my view because of the blatant disrespect that President Trump has been shown by those who oppose him. It seems as though they would have him impeached at any cost, with no regard to truth or proper proceedings.”
Gerald Wilson, 50, a conservative Democrat from Oklahoma
“They just don’t like the man because he’s not a politician. They can’t reconcile their 2016 defeat of a career politician by a businessman. They can’t stand it that he’s outthinking them and outmaneuvering them on every issue.”
Cherece Mendieta, 46, a conservative from Houston
“I think the whole thing is ridiculous. You can tell that the Democrats are just out to get Trump. It’s just obvious. I feel like there’s no grounds to impeach him. It’s just insane.”
Bill Marcy, 73, a Republican from Mississippi
“As a former law enforcement officer, there is no case there. Absolutely no case. The president did not do anything wrong. It’s a shame that so many people hate the president to the point where they will try to make the case where there is none.”
The other sees the allegations involving Ukraine as just the tip of the iceberg.
For Democrats and others who said they want the president removed, asking about the freezing of military aid to Ukraine was like opening a Pandora’s box of other presidential decisions they disagreed with — and, in some cases, thought could be impeachable offenses in their own right.
Terry Scott, 55, a liberal from Kent, Washington
“I’m upset with the Democrats. They should have listed about 50 things. They should have just buried him. I think that he’s guilty of crimes against humanity with regard to immigrants. Now that it’s come out that he planned six weeks ago to commit an assassination on a foreign national, to me that’s an international crime.”
Gina Fields, 54, a Democrat from Los Angeles
"This is bigger than this particular case — his mental ramblings, his strong support of strongmen in other countries, his completely flouting the democracy that we have. He’s polarizing the nation, putting children in cages. There are so many reasons, but right now, I support that they are impeaching him for obstructing Congress and trying to do their job."
Jimmy Welch, 53, a Republican from Louisville, Kentucky, who voted for Trump in 2016 but is considering voting against him in 2020
“We have a very big character issue with him. He’s made fun of people, he’s attacked people’s ethnicity, he’s attacked people’s capabilities, especially making fun of people who might have severe learning issues. He name-calls. Yes, the economy is doing well and he’s going to take all of the credit, and I don’t know if that is right or wrong. But I think we are at the worst possible time, in terms of the divisiveness of the country, that we have been in my lifetime.”
Yin Yeh, 81, a liberal Democrat from California
“I believe even before this case came up to the attention of the American people, Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, linking south border refugees to criminals, is an invitation to incite riots and frontiersman’s approach to justice. That was enough to be considered a high crime in my mind.”
Not everything is according to political party. Sometimes it’s complicated.
Overall, our interviews captured views of impeachment that largely break along partisan lines. But at the same time, they also offered a refreshing reminder that people are complicated, and often defy political and demographic stereotypes.
Would you have guessed that the 21-year-old we mentioned was a Republican, and the 82-year-old a Democrat?
When we asked people where they got their news, many cited outlets that aligned with their political bents. But others listed an array of sometimes contradictory sources, like the moderate who said his media diet included both MSNBC, with its liberal-leaning prime-time opinion shows, and a podcast by the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. One California man in his 70s told us he gets almost all his information from YouTube.
And we found that negative feelings about Trump did not always translate into a desire to see him impeached.
Terry Morrison, 82, a Democrat from Wisconsin
“The Senate should probably not remove him from office at this point. Probably his misdeeds do not amount to high crimes and misdemeanors, and the uproar from his supporters would dislocate life in the U.S. for years.”
William Johnson, 50, a conservative from Texas
“As far as news goes, I’ve got CNN right next to Fox News on my Sirius satellite.”
Richard Thomas, 73, a Republican from Avondale, Arizona
"Has he done inappropriate things? Yeah, I hate to tell you, every president has. I don’t like the man personally. I can understand why they don’t like him. But that’s not grounds for impeachment."
William Hogan, 35, a moderate from Atlanta
“I don’t think he should’ve been elected in the first place, but I think it’s bad for an impeachment to be this close to an election. He should not be removed.”
And finally, a few choice outtakes.
Tim Tucker, 73, a retiree whom we caught between golf rounds in Florida
“You’ve got me fired up here on a Wednesday afternoon. I have to go visit a 100-year-old lady that’s in the nursing home.”
Jonathan Swenson, 38, from Utah, who says he originally registered Republican but isn’t so sure now
“I can say, damn near everything I’ve ever been accused of, I did it.”
Jerry Iannacci, 52, an independent from Pennsylvania, praising an impeachment witness
“Fiona Hill — that would be a great name for an alternative band.”
Mary Moerles, 73, a conservative independent from Missouri
“If you can think of some way to bring America back together, I would pat you on the back and give you an award.”
Methodology: The New York Times obtained a list of more than 1,000 people who had responded to an online survey and said they were voters and were willing to be interviewed by a reporter. We reached out to several hundred of those voters — covering a wide range of ages, races and ethnicities, political leanings and home states — and conducted interviews with 81 of them; their views are presented here. Quotations were edited for brevity and clarity. The interviews do not constitute a scientific sampling of opinion.