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How senators and the White House are reacting to Democrats’ abuse of power argument

House impeachment managers are now in their second day of prosecuting the case to remove President Trump from office. On Thursday, they laid out why they believe Trump abused his presidential power. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss the Democrats’ presentation, how senators in the chamber appeared to be receiving it and what we’re hearing from Trump himself.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we are joined again by Yamiche Alcindor at the White House and Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol.

    Hello to both of you, another long day.

    Lisa, you look at the Democrats, this is their second full day of arguments. From afar, it might look like there's a lot of material to absorb, but they had a specific strategy today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. They did.

    As Nick reported, they were focusing on abuse of power, but they were also sort of laying out how they arrived at that conclusion. Specifically, Judy, Adam Schiff said there were 10 points of evidence that proved the president's intent was his own self-interest or corruption.

    So we have kind of summarized some of these 10 points. Essentially, according to Adam Schiff, the first one is that the president basically focused only on the Bidens and the 2016 election as to the investigations he wanted.

    Also, Schiff said, he defied the previous U.S. foreign policy in regards to Ukraine and, also, that it required he look to outside the regular channels to try and get done sort of his bidding.

    Two more points that Adam Schiff brought up, that the Ukrainians saw what was going on as political from President Trump — this is the argument Schiff is making — and that Trump's own words in his call with President Zelensky and the White House's attempt, in Schiff's words, to bury that call all prove that the president had corrupt intent.

    What the Democrats are doing today, Judy, is to try and lay out an organized case in front of the Senate. They're also using a little bit of humor we haven't seen so far.

    In fact, just a few minutes ago, Representative Hakeem Jeffries made a joke about Derek Jeter and how he did not — he didn't get one vote in the Hall of Fame bid and how that was an outrage.

    So they're trying to, I guess, bring more humanity and more organization into their arguments today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that raises the point, Yamiche, that at this — what we're now in is the phase when the House managers bring their case, their arguments before the Senate.

    They have 24 hours, three days to do that. But this is a time when the president's legal team basically has to sit and listen. How are they using this time? What are you able to learn about how they are beginning to build their case?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president's legal team is building their case by playing very close attention to the way that the Democrats are explaining their case.

    The Democrats have been very visual, playing videos, putting up signs of polls. And the president's lawyer Jay Sekulow, a personal lawyer who is now on his impeachment team, said that there are going to be multiple schools of thought in the way that the Democrats — in the way that the Republicans lay out their case to defend the president, but that, essentially, they're going to come down to the fact that the president didn't violate the Constitution.

    It's also important to note that Jay Sekulow, again, the president's personal attorney, said that they're going to be aggressive in the way that they defend the president. And that makes sense, because Democrats today were aggressive in the way that they were bringing their case against the president.

    At one point, Representative Jerry Nadler said that the Constitution is not a suicide pact and that America doesn't have to be stuck with President Trump.

    So, those are the kind of words that President Trump's legal team are really honing in on as they get ready to have to make their case. They're saying that it's not — it might not be as visual as the Democrats', but they're also going to have to defend the president's own words, because so much of his words are being played during the Senate trial already.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, you're in the Senate chamber for so much of these proceedings.

    You have a chance to look at the senators. How are they taking all this in?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Today, it was fascinating because so much of the Democrats' argument today wasn't just about charging President Trump, but about the defense of Vice President Biden, and saying that there was no — nothing to the idea of possible corruption from Vice President Biden.

    As the Democrats were pursuing that case, which is something that many Republicans want to see investigated on its own, watching the Republicans, most of them were stone-faced. A few of them were kind of laughing to themselves, smiling in a dismissive, sort of rolling their eyes, saying, I can't believe Democrats are making this argument, dismissing it, even some waving their hands, like Senator Tom Cotton.

    Representative (sic) Lindsey Graham, who is one of the president's strongest allies, turned his back to the screen as some of the sound bites were being played on this issue.

    Of course, Joe Biden, he has said, is a friend of his, but he wants this investigated.

    One other note, Senator Lindsey Graham, as Nick reported, appeared in the Democrats' case, that 1999 sound bite of him. He wasn't in the chamber when that sound bite was played.

    I think he actually may have actually known that was coming, if he looked at the packet of material. Hard to say if it was a coincidence or not. He wasn't there to see his 1999 self say something very different than his 2020 self.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Twenty-one years ago.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He was in the Senate then and he — in the Congress then, and — and there today.

    Now, Yamiche, tweeting. The president has been tweeting up a storm. It's been reported he set a record. What is he saying?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president has been tweeting out vigorously to his 70 million followers all of his ideas about the Senate impeachment trial.

    And I want to read two tweets to you that — these are tweets where he was quoting other people. The first is he — this is a tweet that said: "This is all about undermining the next election." He's talking about the 2020 election.

    The second tweet said: "The Democrats have now conceded that President Trump has not committed a crime."

    In that tweet, he was quoting Ari Fleischer, who is a former White House press secretary under former President George W. Bush.

    Now, that point is not something that Democrats have conceded. Instead, they have been making the case very, very methodically, as both Nick and Lisa have reported, that he violated the Constitution and abused his power and that he is obstructing Congress.

    But what we see is, the president not only using his words, but paying close attention to other network, TV networks, and quoting people that he's seeing on TV on Twitter.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, playing a bit of ping-pong here, but back to you in terms of the senators.

    What about decorum in terms of paying attention? Are they sitting in their seats? Are they staying in the chamber and so forth?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Largely, when you look at the chamber at any one moment, the majority of the Senate is sitting in their seats.

    However, at any one given moment, Judy, I would say something like 20 to 25 percent of the Senate is still out of the chamber, some leaving for more extended periods of time.

    It depends on the senator. But a lot of senators are also taking to standing in the back of the room, some of them stamping. You can see they're trying to get the blood moving. They want to stay alert.

    I will say that, today, senators seemed far more alert and attentive than on any day that I have watched them. It could be that they're sort of getting into the routine, they're starting to get used to the pacing of this.

    But I also think, Judy, there might be something to be said for going into modern device withdrawal, as crazy as that sounds. Think about this. The Clinton impeachment trial happened the same month as the BlackBerry was introduced, was launched. There were not mobile devices in the Senate before.

    Now all of these senators are plugged in, addicted, some of them, to their devices. They can't have them. Instead, what can senators do in the chamber? Basically, four things. They can listen, they can write, they can read something, or they can drink a glass of water.

    A few of them are drinking milk.

    So, there really is very little for them to do. We have seen Rand Paul with an extensive sketch of the Capitol. We have seen some, like Senator Burr, who has one of those finger fidget devices that he's spinning constantly to keep attention.

    They are finding, I think, better ways to be attentive today. There are more conversations and a little bit of chatter and whispering. It is, to some degree, like a high school classroom that way.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    However, not — I…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Honestly.

    But I do think senators are more attentive today than we have seen the past two days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting. That may have something to the Democrats' presentation.

    And, by the way, none of us would know anything about withdrawal from our — from our electronic devices.

    (LAUGHTER)

    Just quickly to you, Yamiche, at the end.

    The president on his way to Florida today. What more do we know about how he's spending his time as this trial goes on?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the White House is really making the case that the president is continuing to do the business of the people here.

    So I want to put up a really quick tweet, which is that the president tweeted me today. And he talked about the fact that I — I tweeted about the fact that he's going to be having a rally in New Hampshire just the day before the Democratic primary there. He tweeted: "True!"

    Of course, I tweeted back, inviting him to interview here on the "NewsHour."

    But, essentially, what the White House is doing is making a long schedule for the president. He's going to be signing that new trade deal from the USMCA. It's a trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

    They're also saying that he's going to be welcoming the prime minister of Israel next week, Benjamin Netanyahu, possibly putting out a plan for the Middle East, and that he also might be also going to both Iowa and New Hampshire — and New Jersey, rather, to hold campaign rallies.

    So, essentially, the president's going to have a pretty packed schedule, even as the Senate trial goes on. But, Judy, we should all expect the president to still be paying very close attention to the Senate trial and tweeting up all about it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Both paying attention and staying very, very active publicly.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both so much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can join our ongoing coverage of the Senate trial for the remainder of this evening.

    You can check your local listings for that and online on our Web site or on YouTube, and then again tomorrow, Friday, when the trial resumes at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

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