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Next phase of impeachment begins as process goes public

The next phase of the impeachment inquiry begins this week with televised hearings after the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday along sharply divided party lines to approve the proceedings. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Megan Thompson to discuss what to look for in the week ahead.

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  • Megan Thompson:

    For more on the impeachment inquiry, NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins me now from Santa Barbara. So, Jeff, we've had this vote to formalize that procedure. So what are we going to see now?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Sometime in the next couple of weeks we're going to see public televised hearings. We're going to actually get to see the depositions that some of the witnesses gave in closed testimony.

    And then the question is, who are we going to see in public? Will we be hearing from Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, the national security adviser on Ukraine, who was quite alarmed by what he heard on the call? Are we going to have John Bolton, the former national security adviser, who was also quite alarmed by what he heard? He said he will only testify if compelled to by a court.

    And then the question will be, who will Republicans try to bring on to attempt to undercut the central story of the president asking for a quid pro quo in return for military aid? So. But it is going to be public.

  • Megan Thompson:

    I mean, what impact could that have? Does this represent a risk in some sense or an opportunity for Democrats?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    We get a clue from the fact that under the rules, each side is going to have 45 minutes of block time to present their case and talk to their witnesses. And the questioning is going to be done by staff attorneys, not by congressmen. And that means the Democrats have realized that this back and forth, five minutes each, muddles the story.

    They want a clear, coherent story to present, if impeachment ever comes, as it probably will to a full vote.

    The risk would be if the Republicans can get people to testify who basically say this whole narrative is exaggerated or false.

  • Megan Thompson:

    Just this morning, we saw a new Fox News poll come out that said 49 percent of voters support impeachment. Do we have reason to think that some of this partisanship in Congress might start to erode?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I really think that even with the slight erosion in support for Trump among Republicans, it's down, but it's 78 percent, when you look at the risk that Republican Senators up for reelection may be taking, they might want to appeal to more moderate voters who were less happy about Trump. But do they risk alienating that firm base? So that part of the partisanship, I just think is not going to fade barring some miracle.

    One other point. If this gets to a trial in the Senate in January, you have six Democratic senators running for president who are going to be, in effect, chained to their desks just as the climax to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary approach.

    And I doubt that Republican Leader McConnell is going to want to do them any favors. So that's another way that partisanship may play a role in what we see.

  • Megan Thompson:

    None of this is happening in a vacuum, of course. I wanted to ask you, historically, when we look at other impeachment inquiries in the last century, how have things like the economy and approval ratings played a role?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    One of the things that doomed Nixon was in in 1974, as the impeachment waters were rising, the economy was headed into recession and the stock market was in freefall.

    By contrast, the economy under Bill Clinton in the late 90s was as good as it has been in the entire 20th century. And so his approval ratings, even during impeachment, never dropped below 60 percent.

    In Trump's case, his approval ratings generally are lower than they should be given the state of the economy. So you could say that if something were to turn in the next couple of months, if the economy were really to sour, that could be a real problem for Trump maintaining the base that he does have.

  • Megan Thompson:

    All right, Jeff Greenfield, thank you so much, as always, for being here.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Nice to be here.

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