Consequential, but dull: Trump impeachment hearings begin without a bang

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic lawmakers tried their hand at reality television with mixed results on Wednesday as they presented arguments to the American public for the impeachment of a former star of the genre, Donald Trump.

Ambassador Bill Taylor, charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, departs after giving testimony during a House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing into U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Unlike the best reality TV shows - not to mention the Trump presidency itself - fireworks and explosive moments were scarce, however.

Democrats need the hearings to resonate with the broader American public to gain support for a process that could lead to the impeachment and removal of the Republican commander-in-chief.

Through hours of testimony and questioning that aired live on U.S. broadcast and cable networks, the proceedings were rather staid, with only the occasional raised voice or snippy retort.

To the president’s son, Eric Trump, it was a big yawn.

“This is horribly boring...” he tweeted around midday.

His tweets were retweeted by thousands, but the sentiment drew derision from his father’s critics, including the Democrats in charge of the day’s events.

“In boredom there can be great significance. This is of great consequence and gravity,” said Representative Dean Phillips, a Democrat from a suburban swing district of Minnesota. “I wouldn’t assign the word exciting to it, of course not. But we have a responsibility to pay attention, all of us.”

Democrats hope the hearings show, in a made-for-TV way, what they believe are Trump’s corrupt practices, namely that he withheld financial aid from Ukraine while pressing the country’s president to probe the role of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, on a Ukrainian energy company’s board.

Joe Biden is a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

On Wednesday, lawmakers and lawyers questioned a bow tie-wearing George Kent, the deputy secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, and bespectacled Ambassador Bill Taylor, charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine. Both linked the president directly to a pressure campaign on Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit him politically.

Republicans largely refrained from disrupting the proceedings, which Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic congressman overseeing the hearings, acknowledged when he thanked attendees for remaining serious and civil.

“We’re not here to entertain, we’re here to get to the truth so we can hold those engaged in wrongdoing, up to and including the president, accountable,” said Representative Val Demings, a Democrat from Florida.

Taylor and Kent testified in plain, direct terms about their concerns about Trump’s actions in Ukraine. The hearings continue on Friday.

Trump and his closest aides are unlikely to testify, which could rob Democrats of the viral moment they seek to grab the attention of Americans already worn out by the lengthy probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“I hope there’ll be the gotcha moment that turns the American people even more strongly against the president, but given the way congressional hearings operate, I’m not so sure it’s going to happen,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley.

Republicans appeared to be on orders from their leaders not to pull what he called stunts, he said.

“Given that the hearings went well for Democrats today, I don’t expect that to last.”

Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall