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University of Utah student Suyog Shrestha turns on a TV in the student union on the campus in Salt Lake City as Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, makes his opening remarks, Nov. 13, 2019.

Cattle rancher Jeffery Gatzke was tuning in between morning chores on his South Dakota farm, ready to witness what he already believed was a waste of time and a political sham: the first public hearings into impeaching President Donald Trump.

In Denver, a tech manager arranged to work from home for the moment he hoped might mark the end of the Trump presidency.

At a thatched roof tiki bar off the coast of Florida, the television would stick to sports, no debate. “We don’t talk about politics in this bar,” said Sharon Jarvis, bartender at the Ka’tiki on Treasure Island, Florida.

Across the country, the first public airing of the impeachment drama had millions of Americans tuning in — and, in some cases, deliberately tuning out. Although only the third time impeachment hearings were aired live on television, the proceedings in Washington were landing on a jaded and weary public, with little certainty that the event would change minds.

In many cases, “watch” isn’t quite the right verb. Americans were consuming these hearings in ways unimaginable during the last impeachment hearings more than 20 years ago. They were scanning headlines on Twitter, reading posts on social media and would click on snippets of video pushed out online in real time. Some will merely glance at tickers moving across the screen at the doctor’s office.

Others, like Adam Cutler, organized their day around what they see as a must-see moment for democracy.

“I don’t want to say it will be the tipping point, but I think it will be the beginning of a week or two where it will be very difficult for the president to change the subject,” said the Denver Democrat, who worked from home to make sure he could watch closely.

Cutler supports Democrats’ push to impeach the president for soliciting a political favor from the president of Ukraine and, they claim, threatening to hold up millions in aid as leverage.

Like in previous nationally-televised hearings in the Trump-era — special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, or the confirmation hearing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — Wednesday’s hearing marks Democrats’ latest hope in breaking the partisan stalemate that has dominated politics this decade.

Democrats were hoping, if not for a national epiphany, then at least a day that would stand out from the partisan acrimony and circus-like atmosphere of Trump-era Washington.

But there was little doubt many Americans’ views were already cemented.

Gatzke, a 50-year-old farmer and rancher from Hitchcock, South Dakota, voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for him again in the next election.

He says Democrats and the Washington establishment are trying to thwart an outsider president.

“He is not one of them and they don’t like it,” he said, just before the hearings began. Gatzke said he planned to watch as much as he could in the morning, before taking a break to load cattle into a truck that will take them to a meat processing plant.

Polls show Republicans oppose impeaching or removing Trump and still overwhelmingly approve of the president even after more details have arisen of how his administration held up military aid while asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. While Democrats control the House of Representatives and likely have the votes to impeach Trump, they would need about 20 Republican senators to vote to convict him of high crimes and misdemeanors before he would be removed from office.

“The next couple of days are one of the biggest opportunities for Trump to lose some of the approval that remains among Republicans and independents,” said Christian Robert Grose, a political scientist at the University of Southern California.

Democrats are hoping the trajectory mirrors that in 1973, when the nationally-televised Watergate hearings helped hammer down President Richard Nixon’s approval rating from about 50% to a low of 24% before his 1974 resignation from office.

But other examples offer Democrats less hope. The Mueller hearing, for example — produced little change in Trump’s approval.

Live witness testimony during the impeachment investigation into President Bill Clinton did little to shift public opinion, said GOP pollster Whit Ayers. Clinton was impeached, but the Senate would not remove him from the White House amid his sky-high approval ratings.

The House Speaker who pushed the investigation, Newt Gingrich, resigned after voters punished the GOP in that year’s elections.

“The more likely outcome is that it will make red states redder and blue states bluer,” Ayres said of the Trump impeachment hearings.

Ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., left, confers with Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, left, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, during a break in the testimony of top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor, and career Foreign Service officer George Kent…

Republicans contended Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump did not improperly pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals for political advantage, with Representative Devin Nunes declaring the accusations were based on "zero evidence" and that Democrats "made it up."

At the urging of Trump, Republican lawmakers mounted a vigorous defense of the president's actions in dealing with Ukraine over several months, and they asserted that the Democrats' case for impeachment against Trump was nonexistent.

Trump's political supporters on the House Intelligence Committee focused on the fact that the president released military aid that Ukraine wanted, without opening investigations of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, which Trump had urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to undertake.

The Democratic-led impeachment inquiry against Trump entered a new phase Wednesday as witnesses began testifying publicly after weeks of closed-door testimony.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and George P. Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, were the first to testify at the open hearing. Taylor said a member of his staff overheard Trump on a July phone call with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland inquire about "the investigations."

The call was said to have taken place on July 26 at a restaurant, a day after Trump asked Zelenskiy in a call to investigate a political rival, Biden, a potential rival in the 2020 presidential election, and his son Hunter, at a time when the Trump administration was withholding critical military aid to Ukraine.

"Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine," Taylor testified. "Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigation of Biden," for which Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuiliani, was pressing.

Taylor acknowledged under questioning from Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and steadfast Trump supporter, that he met with Zelenskiy three times last summer, but that linkage of U.S. military aid to Ukraine was never mentioned.

The impeachment probe was triggered by a whistleblower complaint related to concerns about the July 25 phone call.

Before Republicans questioned the witnesses, the party took to social media to criticize the hearing.

A tweet from House Oversight Committee Republicans said:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California contended, "Both of the Democrats' star witnesses just admitted that they were NOT on the July 25th call between Presidents Trump and Zelenskiy. Everything they are saying today is 2nd or 3rd or 4th-hand knowledge. Democrats are trying to impeach the president based on a game of telephone."

In the lead-up to Wednesday's testimony, a Republican strategy memo circulating at the Capitol outlined four defenses for Trump: that the July 25 call "shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure"; that both Zelenskiy and Trump have subsequently said there was no pressure during the call; that Kyiv was not aware at the time, only later, that U.S. military aid was being withheld; and that Trump eventually released the military aid on September 11 without the investigations of the Bidens being opened.

"These four key points undercut the Democrat impeachment narrative that President Trump leveraged U.S. security assistance and a presidential meeting [with Zelenskiy at the White House] to force Ukraine to investigate the president's political rivals," the memo said.

Trump has described his telephone call with Zelenskiy as "perfect," and he is accusing Democrats of conducting a witch hunt, calling the entire impeachment inquiry a hoax.

Some of Trump's Republican supporters have said they don't agree with asking a foreign government to investigate a political rival but they don't believe it is an impeachable offense that could lead to his removal from office.

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