How public hearings will change impeachment

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What’s happening

On Thursday the House of Representatives passed a resolution that formalizes the process for its impeachment inquiry of President Trump. While the formal vote on whether the House will impeach will come later, Thursday’s vote sets the ground rules for how that process will work going forward. One of its key elements allows Democrats to begin litigating the case in open hearings.

Since officially launching their inquiry into Trump’s interactions with Ukraine in late September, Democrats have interviewed witnesses behind closed doors, a process that has spurred vocal protest from Republicans.

The hearings will be run by a pair of House committees, with members of both parties allowed to question witnesses.

If the House votes to impeach, the Senate will conduct a formal trial before holding a vote, with a two-thirds majority required to convict Trump and remove him from office.

Why there’s debate

Public hearings have the potential to drastically affect the impeachment inquiry. They will be covered intensely by the media and will likely draw major interest from voters. Whether that attention will benefit Democrats’ case against Trump or bolster the president’s defense is the source of some disagreement.

Democrats hope that publicly laying out the case they’ve been hearing in private will solidify the view that Trump abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son for political gain.

On the other hand, Republicans could benefit from the chance to launch their defense of the president with the eyes of the country watching, an opportunity they’ve largely been denied during closed testimony.

Some political analysts, however, doubt that the hearings will amount to much more than political theater since the Senate is unlikely to convict and the current deep partisanship means most voters’ opinions of the president are already firmly entrenched in their minds.

What’s next

Democrats have not announced when the first public hearing will be held, but they could reportedly start as soon as mid-November. The list of witnesses also hasn’t been released, though it appears likely that many will be officials who have previously testified behind closed doors, such as Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Ukraine expert Alexander Vindman.


Hearings will help Democrats

The hearings will put more pressure on Republicans

“As the public absorbs compelling and voluminous evidence of the president’s actions, we will see just how many Republicans decide circling the wagons around Trump is injurious to their political survival. It might not be many, but each one would count as a win for the rule of law and a repudiation of their colleagues’ spinelessness.” Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Voter opinions could be swayed in a way that has major impact on the 2020 election

“Public sentiment is going to determine the outcome of the impeachment inquiry. If Democrats can persuade even a small share of President Trump’s supporters that he shouldn’t be president, he will almost certainly lose the 2020 election. If Democrats can persuade a modest share of those supporters, he will be at risk of losing the support of congressional Republicans and being removed from office by the Senate.” — David Leonhardt, New York Times

Republican spin won’t work when the hearings are out in the open

“The trial will be must-see television and not even Fox News will be able to keep much of the evidence from [Republican] constituents.” — Charles Sykes, Politico

Open testimony undercuts the Republican argument against the impeachment process

“The attack on the process mounted by the president’s allies is already losing traction; soon it will become irrelevant. The public will not be moved by process arguments as long as the Democrats afford the president and the minority a decent opportunity to refute allegations and oppose articles of impeachment.” — Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

Trump will get a boost

Republicans will have the chance to levy attacks on Trump’s possible 2020 opponent

“Once television cameras are in the room, Republican members of Congress can be expected to use their equal questioning time to hammer home Trump’s allegation that Joe and Hunter Biden did something corrupt.” — Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

GOP members could derail the proceedings

“Some Democratic members have raised concerns that hearings could become chaotic political circuses with GOP lawmakers using the parliamentary rules to bog down the sessions.” — Daily Beast

The case against Trump isn’t compelling, regardless of whether the hearings are public

“[House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s] real problem is that she doesn’t have the goods to justify impeachment under any process. And she won’t, no matter how many witnesses emerge from the bureaucracy to say they were unhappy with the Ukraine call or didn’t agree with Trump’s choices. Policy disagreements and murky arguments won’t lead to a public consensus for removing an elected president.” — Michael Goodwin, New York Post

The fanfare will look like a waste of time if Trump’s not removed by the Senate

“An impeachment without a removal will, in the end, look a lot like a political campaign no matter how much Pelosi improves the process.” — Edward Morrissey, the Week

Won’t change much

Hearings are a terrible way to accomplish anything

“There are few spectacles in Washington that are more useless than the typical congressional hearing.” — Ian Millhiser, Vox

Voters won’t be swayed by the hearings

“I actually don’t think the hearings matter? The evidence we have now is fairly extensive, and partisanship is very high. ... What Democratic voters are going to be break against impeachment? What Republican voters could be moved by the hearings (or anything else) to be for it?” — Perry Bacon Jr., FiveThirtyEight

Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in “The 360”? Send your suggestions to

Read more “360s”

Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Kevin Lamarque /Reuters