Democrats in the US Congress took a major step toward impeaching President Donald Trump this week when they agreed on the rules for publicly televised hearings after weeks of testimony behind closed doors. But it is also a step onto more politically perilous terrain for a party seeking to persuade Americans that their cause to remove Republican Trump, who they accuse of abusing his power, is just.
Leaders of the Democratic-run US House of Representatives believe that putting the main witnesses on TV will convince independent voters and other doubters that Trump was wrong in asking the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, who hopes to be the candidate to oust Trump in the 2020 election.
While Republicans and the president face great political risk in the hearings, so do Democrats. They must present themselves as sober and trustworthy investigators, former congressional aides and analysts said.
“The allegations – and what the president has admitted to – are serious enough. They don’t need embellishment. They just need explanation,” said Mieke Eoyang, a former aide to the House Intelligence Committee who works for the Democratic think tank Third Way.
Lawmakers will have to avoid the urge to grandstand before a TV audience of millions, Eoyang said.
“The hardest thing for members in an open hearing is to remember they are not the star of the thing.” Republicans have painted the Democratic-led inquiry as a purely partisan exercise and will seek to present a different picture of Trump to the masses of viewers.
Trump has denied wrongdoing, and the expectation is that Trump would not be convicted at any trial in the Senate because it is controlled by his fellow Republicans, even if a House majority voted to impeach, similar to being indicted.
The hearings likely will be a ratings bonanza for television networks as Democratic President Bill Clinton’s impeachment case was in the 1990s.
The public phase of the hearings is expected to begin when the House resumes session later in November. News executives are preparing wall-to-wall coverage on cable news and digital news networks, networks told Reuters. reuters.