During Wednesday’s impeachment hearings, members of the House Intelligence Committee questioned diplomat William Taylor and State Department official George Kent, aiming for tidy soundbites that could spread like wildfire throughout the media. Republican committee members were unified in defense of the president, and their questions reflected that. Democrats were equally united in trying to unearth evidence that President Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense.
Richard Pineda, director of the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, says the hearing proceeded with the expected political divisions, including among the committee members from Texas: Democrat Joaquin Castro, and Republicans Mike Conaway, Will Hurd and John Ratcliffe.
Here are some highlights from those representatives:
Will Hurd, R-Helotes
Pineda says Hurd “fell in line” with the rest of the Republicans, and didn’t use his experience in the CIA to ask questions about U.S. foreign policy that could have seemed critical of the president.
“It didn’t seem like we saw a lot of that yesterday,” Pineda says.
John Ratcliffe, R-Heath
Ratcliffe said that impeachment is meant for presidents who commit treason, bribery or “high crimes”; he asked the witnesses whether they believed Trump committed an “impeachable offense” during his call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Are either of you here today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call? Shout it out! Anyone?” Ratcliffe said.
Pineda says Ratcliffe’s strategy was to undermine the Democratic narrative that Trump’s call was problematic.
“I think the Republicans are going for, essentially, a legal strategy that says, Listen, if there’s the slightest bit of doubt in your mind, that means you can’t hold the president accountable,” Pineda says. “There have been some great legal analysis … that suggest that that’s exactly what you would do if the evidence is so strong against your client, and I think the Republicans are following that memo.”
Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio
Castro asked the witnesses whether Trump was guilty of seeking a quid pro quo agreement with Ukraine’s President Zelensky – that he was holding defense money for Ukraine until Zelensky agreed to investigate the family of Joe Biden, one of Trump’s political rivals.
“Is attempted extortion and bribery a crime?” Castro asked.
“I don’t know, sir,” one of the witnesses replied.
Pineda says Castro’s question was partly a ratcheting up of drama during the hearing. But he says drama won’t work if Democrats can’t tell a coherent story about their case against President Trump.
“If that narrative lacks any coherence as it goes forward, the Democrats are going to have a very challenging time delivering on impeachment,” Pineda says.
Written by Caroline Covington.