House Democrats are refining part of their impeachment case against the president to a simple allegation: bribery.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, on Thursday brushed aside the Latin phrase “quid pro quo” that Democrats have been using to describe Donald Trump’s actions toward Ukraine. As the impeachment hearings go public, they’re going for a more colloquial term that may resonate with more Americans.
“Quid pro quo: bribery,” Pelosi said of Trump’s 25 July phone call in which he asked the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for a “favor”.
Trump has previously described the call as “perfect”. Pelosi said: “It’s perfectly wrong. It’s bribery.”
“The cover-up makes what Nixon did look almost small,” the House speaker added on Thursday. “Almost small.”
The House has opened its historic hearings to remove America’s 45th president, with more to come Friday, launching a political battle for public opinion that will further test the nation in one of the most polarizing eras of modern times.
Democrats and Republicans are hardening their messages to voters, who are deeply entrenched in two camps.
Trump continued to assail the proceedings as “a hoax” on Thursday, and the House GOP leader, Kevin McCarthy, dismissed the witness testimony as hearsay, at best second-hand information.
During day one of the House hearings, the career diplomats William Taylor and George Kent delivered somber testimony about recent months.
They testified how an ambassador was fired, the new Ukraine government was confused and they discovered an “irregular channel” – a shadow US foreign policy orchestrated by Giuliani that raised alarms in diplomatic and national security circles.
On Friday, Americans will hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the career foreign service officer whom Trump recalled as the US ambassador to Ukraine after what one state department official has called a “campaign of lies” against her by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
The televised hearings are a continuation of a weeks-long congressional investigation into whether the US president abused his office’s power to seek foreign assistance in the 2020 election. The inquiry was prompted by a whistleblower complaint that Trump was pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation tied to Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate
It’s a dramatic, complicated story, and the Democrats’ challenge is to capture voter attention about the significance of Trump’s interactions with a distant country.
Behind closed doors this week Pelosi reminded Democratic lawmakers of the importance of presenting a “common narrative” to the public as the proceedings push forward, according to a Democratic aide.
“We’re in chapter one of a process,” said the representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat of Illinois and a member of the intelligence committee conducting the inquiry. The challenge, he said, is educating Americans about what happened “and then explaining why it matters”.