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'I'm upset with all of it': Americans react with frustration, skepticism to Day 1 of impeachment testimony

In an America bitterly divided over its politics, the first day of televised impeachment hearings frustrated both sides, with some who watched the proceedings skeptical that it would make a difference and others branding it a waste of taxpayers' money and lawmakers' time.

CBC News stopped into several bars in Washington, D.C., to see what Americans thought of 1st day of hearings

Bill Taylor, charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, departs after giving testimony during the first day of televised impeachment hearings before the House intelligence committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Wednesday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In an America bitterly divided over its politics, watering holes can exist in parallel worlds just blocks apart. It was as true as ever on Wednesday, Day 1 of the televised impeachment hearings.

In Washington, D.C., different bars were distinct bubbles with contrasting reactions to the once-in-a-generation debate over whether to remove a president.

Denizens of blue America crowded into the Union Pub near the Capitol building in the hope of witnessing the televised torment of Donald Trump.

They quaffed peach-based, politically themed cocktails with names like Impeachment Please. And just before lunchtime, pub patrons got a serving of testimony that reinforced their conviction that Trump deserves to be dumped.

A longtime U.S. diplomat relayed a previously unreported conversation in which Trump-appointed ambassador to the EU Gordan Sondland said the president cared less about Ukraine than about using Ukrainians to squash his potential 2020 presidential election rival Joe Biden.

William Taylor had just finished delivering that testimony as Grace Barnes started in on a plate of chicken wings.

The book editor and Washington resident said she sees impeachment as a no-brainer. 

"It's not ambiguous what happened here. It's pretty clear," said Barnes. "I don't think it's a complicated case."

U.S. chargé d'affaires for Ukraine Bill Taylor focuses on phone call in which President Donald Trump is advised about investigations he wanted Ukraine to pursue 1:02

Trump International Hotel quiet at start of day

With multiple witnesses and internal communication between diplomats indicating that Trump delayed funds appropriated by Congress intended to help an Eastern European ally defend itself, there's now ample evidence meriting Trump's impeachment, she said.

"I don't think he feels any responsibility to the nation, to the rule of law," said Barnes.

A neighbourhood away, above the bar at the Trump International Hotel, there were four screens flashing — and zero viewers.

Trump's establishment is a patch of red-state America within the hostile boundaries of the District of Columbia, providing a safe space for people who mock safe spaces in a capital with few GOP sympathizers.

As the hearings began at 10 a.m. ET, feathered creatures outnumbered mammals at the bar. 

Trump International Hotel in the capital was quiet as the hearings got underway, with only this wayward sparrow taking up room on the plush seats in the hotel bar. (Alexander Panetta/CBC)

A solitary sparrow flapped its wings and perched on a chair, as Democrat Adam Schiff opened the hearings by quoting Benjamin Franklin on the fragility of a democratic republic.

Patrons chatted quietly as speakers in the lobby bar blared a Wilco song with fitting lyrics: "I know you're not listening. No, I know you're not listening." 

Later in the day, some Trump supporters assembled outside the hotel dismissed the impeachment proceedings as pointless.

"It is a complete waste of taxpayer money," said Sherry Kettle, visiting Washington from Indiana for the first time. 

She said she'd rather see Democratic leaders, not Trump, removed from office. And she wants more information about the role of Biden's son, Hunter, who was on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

A text exchange between Taylor and U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland shows on a screen as Taylor testifies. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Fed up

While the bird in his hotel chirped, in the White House, the president tweeted. Trump's Twitter feed racked up more than 30 posts and retweets disparaging the hearing.

The flurry of activity came despite an oft-repeated message from Republicans that the hearing was a snooze-inducing bore unworthy of being viewed.

"I haven't watched for one minute," Trump said during a news conference with Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"This is a sham. It shouldn't be allowed." 

Uptown, at the Hilton, a sprawling complex that hosts national conventions and is the closest thing to a distillation of purple America, bar patrons were distracted.

Republican congressmen Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan consult with minority legal counsel Steve Castor, who along with lawyer Daniel Goldman, who represented the Democrats, was doing the bulk of the questioning of witnesses Wednesday. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Reuters)

Half the TVs in the bar showed NFL highlights, the other half CNN's live feed, and at the tail end of the lunch hour, none of the dozen or so people in there were watching.

Some tourists in town from other parts of the U.S. admitted having complex feelings about impeaching a president.

Caroline Grenier of Connecticut said she won't vote for Trump and believes he probably did something improper in his dealings with Ukraine but said she wishes pundits spent less time on impeachment and Congress spent more time passing bills.

"I'm upset with all of it," she said while preparing to tour the Capitol. "I don't like the man. But I don't want him nailed to a cross if it [was] something he didn't do."

U.S. State Department official George Kent testifies that Rudy Giuliani and 'corrupt' former prosecutors ran smear campaign against U.S. ambassador 1:05

Poll suggests 49% support impeachment

Outside the Capitol, William Schartner of Wisconsin, wearing a Green Bay Packers hat, said the president should be forced to testify under oath.

He said that while he was ready to support impeachment six months ago over the findings of the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, he wants to keep an open mind during this process.

There's one thing virtually everyone agreed on among the handful of people interviewed Wednesday: That Trump will survive the impeachment saga and seek re-election next year.

A new poll by Morning Consult said 49 per cent of Americans strongly or somewhat agree that Trump should be impeached by the House of Representatives versus 41 per cent who disagree. 

That's much higher support for impeachment — more than double — than at the start of the televised hearings into Watergate in 1973. 

But the new poll of 1,993 registered voters also suggests minds are largely made up: 81 per cent of voters say there's no chance, or a small chance, these hearings might change their mind. 

Not a single Republican lawmaker has expressed support for impeachment in the House of Representatives.

The idea that two-thirds of the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate would vote to convict Trump sounds inconceivable at this point, especially given that among Republican voters, only 10 per cent strongly or somewhat support impeachment. Seventy-three per cent say they would be somewhat or much less likely to vote for their member of Congress again if he or she supports impeachment. 

Kemi Olowoofayoku, who was watching the hearing at D.C.'s Union Pub, said that reminded her of the time Trump boasted during the 2016 presidential campaign about the unwavering loyalty of his base, saying he could shoot someone in the middle of Manhattan and not lose voters.

"It seems like time and time again, he's proving that [sentiment] to be true," she said. "I don't know what it would take."

WATCH | Trump reacts to Taylor's testimony:

A reporter asks U.S. President Donald Trump about the phone call diplomat William Taylor recounted for the first time during Wednesday's impeachment hearings. 1:01

Trump's fate could hinge on independents

Lori Ross, a visitor to the U.S. capital from Kansas City, Mo., said people pick their own reality nowadays. 

"It really feels like we have lost our minds and that facts don't matter anymore," she said. "It's disturbing." 

As for Trump, she said, he's crossed numerous boundaries and should leave office.

"Whether it's now or in an election next year," she said. "Because I think we, as a country, can do a whole lot better."

One trouble spot emerged for Trump in the Morning Consult poll: political independents. By a 49-34 plurality, they support impeachment.

Jeff Jones, senior editor at the Gallup polling firm, said he'll be watching those voters closely to gauge their reaction after the hearings.

"It's really the independents who are maybe the movable group," he said. 

And while they don't tend to participate as often in the primaries and caucuses that U.S. parties hold to select their presidential candidates, once primary season is over next summer and we get closer to the Nov. 3 election, they'll start to matter more.

WATCH | Missed the hearing? Watch the highlights:

The first public hearings are over. Catch up with a recap of the day's testimonies 14:04

About the Author

Alexander Panetta is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News who has covered American politics and Canada-U.S. issues since 2013. He previously worked in Ottawa, Quebec City and internationally, reporting on politics, conflict, disaster and the Montreal Expos.

With files from Sylvia Thomson

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