Politics|The Trump Impeachment Inquiry: What Happened Today
What happened today
- American diplomats who pushed to end the White House’s freeze on security funding for Ukraine were told to play it down when the money was released. “Keep moving, people, nothing to see here …” one State Department official wrote in an email obtained by The Times.
- What’s next: After a temporary pause for the Jewish High Holy Days, the House committee chairmen leading the inquiry plan to issue new subpoenas for witness testimony and written records as soon as Thursday. Democrats still want to talk to the whistle-blowers, too.
What does the rest of the country think?
This morning’s episode of “The Daily” followed Representative Elissa Slotkin, a moderate Democrat, as she went to three forums in her mid-Michigan district — including one at the East Lansing pie bakery where I worked the 5 a.m. shift in high school! Her takeaway: Many voters want an investigation that feels deliberate. “There’s no need to come out of a meeting where you’ve heard some new testimony and just start talking to the press about how this seals the deal for you, and you’re done,” she said.
To follow up on the episode, I called my colleague Emily Cochrane this afternoon just after she landed in San Antonio, where she was planning to cover a run of town-hall-style events with Republican members of Congress to see how Texans were responding to the inquiry.
Emily, you wrote this week about what constituents in three New York congressional districts are saying about impeachment. Not everyone was cheering for it — many wanted to talk about other things. What was on their minds?
With the Democratic voters I spoke to, they were curious about impeachment and glad their members of Congress endorsed it. They wanted to rip the Band-Aid off, but they also wanted to know how policy was going to get done. Is there going to be some kind of gun reform? What are you doing to combat climate change? There had been a push to cancel this congressional break. But House Democratic leadership pushed back, saying that people needed to get home to explain impeachment to their constituents and assure them that other work was getting done.
Max Rose, a Democrat who represents a somewhat conservative district, had been on the fence on impeachment. He used his town hall to announce his endorsement of the inquiry, and then got exactly zero questions about it. Why do you think that was?
Mr. Rose’s town hall was about tolls and the commute from Staten Island to Manhattan. Even with climate change, there were questions about nuclear energy in the district. This is a huge moment in Washington, but the government still has to be funded, and local issues still resonate more. If you have one question, you’re more likely going to pick one about home.
Does impeachment polling matter?
This week we saw growing public support for the impeachment investigation, including a Fox News poll released tonight that showed just over half of voters wanting Mr. Trump removed from office. This afternoon I stopped by the office of David Leonhardt, a Times opinion columnist here in Washington, to ask him what the numbers meant, and how much they shape the thinking of the White House and Congress.
David, you wrote last week about how President Trump is losing what you called the “battle for public opinion.” Should we be paying attention to that this early in the process?
We should care about the polling because impeachment is an inherently political process. It’s not like a murder trial where the only opinions that matter are that of the 12 jurors. If you look at history, Richard Nixon lost his job because he lost public support, and Republicans decided they needed to abandon him. Bill Clinton kept his job because he kept public support.
What’s the best way to track public sentiment?
It’s early, so we should be careful about drawing sweeping conclusions. And you should almost never care about any single poll. Pay attention to aggregates of polls.
As the impeachment investigation goes on, we should care about these polls because politicians are reacting to them. Polls are snapshots that they pay attention to, because their jobs ultimately depend on it. But other forms of expression matter. In the fight over Obamacare, town halls, rallies and phone calls to offices really affected members of Congress.
How might Mr. Trump’s approval rating influence his thinking?
His approval rating is more important for him than impeachment polls. Impeachment polls can turn on how a question is phrased: whether people think impeachment means removal or doesn’t mean removal, and so on. Approval ratings are more consistent. We’ve got them going back through his entire presidency. The FiveThirtyEight average shows he’s lost about 1.5 points in the past few weeks. That’s small but meaningful, especially because it was already pretty low. The impeachment polling matters partly because it could end up being a preview of where his approval rating goes, either positively or negatively.
What else we’re reading
- Joe Biden called today for Mr. Trump to be impeached. While other Democratic candidates have long supported impeachment, Mr. Biden, who is at the center of the inquiry, has been more cautious.
- Why did Mr. Biden wait? The Times looked back to the impeachments of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, both of which he took part in as a senator, and found that he had consistently urged restraint and expressed discomfort with removing a president from office.
- My colleague Elizabeth Williamson wrote about Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel who wrote the extraordinary eight-page letter to Congress calling the impeachment investigation “highly partisan and unconstitutional.” With his memo, the low-profile Mr. Cipollone emerged as the boss of the White House impeachment team, Elizabeth writes.
- The Trump re-election campaign has poured over $700,000 into Facebook ads about impeachment, Axios reports. Curiously, the No. 2 spender on impeachment-related ads is a Wisconsin-based retailer, Penzeys Spices, which has made a name for itself with anti-Trump marketing tactics.
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