“This is the healing that our country’s got to go through from someone who’s destroyed it,” 65-year-old Sulyporn Bannon Kulsrethsiri told me outside the hearing room on Wednesday morning. “The focus right now isn’t so much on removal itself, but more on the 2020 election,” said Mason Hill, a 22-year-old Washington, D.C., resident, the day before. It’s “to paint a picture [of the president] in the general public’s mind.”
Since the start of public hearings last week, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have sought to build a case for impeachment through testimony from current and former diplomats and administration officials about the allegations that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his family. The strategy has been relatively fruitful: William Taylor, acting ambassador to Ukraine, last week revealed previously unknown information about a phone call involving Trump that could add to the Democrats’ case. And on Wednesday, European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland implicated the president directly in the Ukraine scandal, and explicitly confirmed that there was a quid pro quo.
But Democrats are still facing a grim reality: While it seems likely that the House will vote to impeach the president, the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, almost certainly won’t. So far, only three GOP senators have expressed even the slightest openness to impeachment.
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The Democrats I talked with who flocked to Capitol Hill to see the hearings in person weren’t there to witness the buildup to the eventual removal of a president. They were there, they told me, to offer a show of support for the democratic process. “If impeachment succeeds or fails [to remove the president], just getting into this line and saying ‘What happened is not right,’ it makes sense to me,” said Raj Nath, a Best Buy salesman who lives in Reston, Virginia. Melanie Robertson, an architect who traveled from Piedmont, California, just to see the hearings in person, called her trip “a recon mission to save democracy.”
Others were optimistic that the mere fact that the hearings were being conducted is evidence that American democracy is, at least in this arena, functioning as it should. “Getting to see the evidence laid out right now makes me feel a little bit better about my country,” 58-year-old Bill Condell told me while he waited in line to see Sondland’s testimony on Wednesday. “This is a civics lesson that only comes around every few generations,” said Liz Marshall, a resident of Takoma Park, Maryland, who stood in line with her teenage son. “It is an example of checks and balances, an example of democracy working.”
Many of the hearing attendees also told me they were reassured by the veteran public officials who testified—people like Taylor and former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. “The public ought to see the professionalism of these longtime State Department employees,” said Carla Kurfess, a retired teacher from Annapolis, Maryland. It should be comforting to Americans, she added, to see people so devoted to the country. Marti Cronin, a retired public-school teacher from Long Island, told me that she doesn’t follow politics closely, but her friends persuaded her to wait in line with them for three hours to see Taylor and George Kent testify last week. They returned a couple of days later to watch Yovanovitch. “To hear those two wonderful men with the résumés that they had … I had to come back,” Cronin told me. “I was going to the museums today, but here I am. I’m hooked!”