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Impeachment hearings air to a divided nation

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro watched the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump with voters in the swing-state Wisconsin.

Posted: Nov 14, 2019 5:10 PM
Updated: Nov 14, 2019 5:10 PM

As the first public impeachment hearing in more than two decades aired Wednesday, Americans watched the spectacle unfold with curiosity, skepticism and a measure of dismay about just how deeply divided this nation has become.

Heading into proceedings that will span at least 10 days, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff did his best to make the "giant show," as one Wisconsin voter called it, play out like a serious courtroom procedural with time equally split between the two parties. But the undertone of anger from GOP leaders like Reps. Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes underscored that Americans are living in a political universe where no one seems to share the same version of the truth.

Trump supporter Kent Jeffers from Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, who was keeping an eye on the hearing during a trip to Phoenix, highlighted the depth of the Democratic challenge by pointing to the numbness many Americans feel after three consecutive years of investigations into President Donald Trump.

"Mueller didn't get him," Jeffers said, referring to the investigation into Trump's dealings with Russia by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. "Other people didn't get him. Now we need to find another narrative. I think everyone's numb to it. I think they're just done with it. It's kind of a joke now -- same thing over and over again. You're not going to change my mind with coming up with a new narrative to get him out of office."

Boyce O'Brien of Phoenix, who voted GOP every election until Trump, lamented what he views as the lack of a moral compass among elected officials within the President's party -- and the likelihood that impeachment could just become another partisan exercise.

"Where are those Christian Republicans when it comes to integrity? They've ignored what this president has done," O'Brien said. "This is another example of it. I hope this (the hearing) will turn the tide and hold him accountable. These hearings are hopefully a turning point for the country. Let's hope it goes to integrity, accountability, to the rule of law."

It remains an open question whether the disclosures of the next 10 days -- and the public retelling of the story of how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival -- will move the needle of public opinion, which has recently stagnated on impeachment.

Some independents like David Cronin from Arizona -- where the party registration is a third Democrat, a third Republican and a third independent -- said he hoped the hearings would lay out the facts unfiltered.

"You have people on both sides who are not budging. Then you have people in the middle, like myself," Cronin said. "I think they're important for the American people to see. It doesn't pass the sniff test," he added of the President's conduct. "I say that as an independent, middle of the road, who could vote Democrat or Republican."

In the critical swing state of New Hampshire, where independents compromise a large part of the electorate, some voters wondered how closely the American people would pay attention to a recitation of complex diplomatic dealings involving military aid to a foreign power.

"It's dry. No matter what you do to it, it's dry," said Ralph Mecheau from Bow, New Hampshire, who also tuned in to the Watergate hearings decades ago. "It's point, counterpoint, point, counterpoint. I don't think it's going to change anybody's minds."

"I think the guy, quite frankly, is treasonous," Mecheau said, referring to Trump. "So nothing the opposition is going to say is going to change my mind on that."

But he said he believed there were enough people throughout America who feel buyer's remorse with Trump to turn him out of office in 2020.

"Right here we have a real reformer," said Mecheau, who works for the state's liquor commission and is a union member, after attending an Elizabeth Warren event Wednesday night, adding, "we have another one in Bernie" Sanders.

"They are true reformers. You can see who their enemies are; you can see who the money is," Mecheau said, referring to the money behind their candidacies. "Every time the money says they are going to put somebody in like (former New York Mayor Michael) Bloomberg ... basically they're giving me a harder endorsement on her or Bernie. We need people that are true reformers. That is what started to happen -- and people wanted in 2016. They just chose the wrong reformer."

In another critical swing state -- Wisconsin -- Trump voters Randy and Terri Burl tuned in to the hearings even though they don't expect to their opinions to change much, if at all.

"It's just like a person who watches a soap opera. It's bad acting and all that," said Randy Burl who watched the hearings with his wife, who is the chair of the Forest County Wisconsin Republican Party.

Terri Burl said she is convinced that the President did nothing wrong. "I want Trump to be Trump. If he started acting presidential tomorrow, and he started sounding like George W. Bush, I'd be like 'What happened?' Because he's going to say things that are true even if it hurts people's feelings."

After watching several hours of the proceedings, Randy Burl, who is a less enthusiastic supporter of the President, told his wife he wasn't as convinced of Trump's innocence, but he was skeptical that impeachment would change many minds about the commander in chief.

"If he is found guilty or not guilty, or he's impeached or not, I just don't see it having a dramatic effect," Burl said. "Most working people are never going to see these hearings. They're going to turn on their new show that supports whatever party they like and read their spin on it."

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