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Wildly Varying Reactions To Democratic Argument Tells A Tale Of Two Schiffs

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Impeachment manager Adam Schiff says his job is to convince two juries that President Trump should be removed from office - the American people and the U.S. Senate. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis checked in with one of those groups, the Senate jurors, before the second day of arguments got underway.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: As a former U.S. attorney, Congressman Adam Schiff understands the importance of trying to endear yourself to the jury, which is why he opened today with a joke tailored for the Senate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: I'm not sure the chief justice is fully aware of just how rare it is, how extraordinary it is for the House members to be able to command the attention of senators sitting silently for hours, or even for minutes, for that matter.

DAVIS: The Republican-controlled Senate is a hostile environment for Schiff, who's become one of the most well-known and polarizing Democrats in the country in the Trump era. Most Democrats sound like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer when assessing Schiff's performance in the trial so far.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: Schiff had such power in his speech that he almost forced them to look at him and listen, and just about every Republican's eyes were glued on Mr. Schiff. So it was a powerful rendition.

DAVIS: There's no signs yet that the Democrats' case is persuading enough Republicans, or any at all, to break with the party and agree to their requests for more witnesses and documents, and certainly not on whether Trump should be removed from office. Only a few Republican senators' votes are even in question. Here's one of them, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, as she stepped into an elevator.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Are you feeling pressure?

LISA MURKOWSKI: Only to get upstairs.

DAVIS: Most Republicans sound like Senator Mike Braun of Indiana when asked if he thinks Schiff is persuading any of his colleagues.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE BRAUN: If you want to bore somebody to death or if you're, like - want a pedantic approach, if you enjoyed two-hour lectures back in college, maybe that was OK.

DAVIS: Virginia Senator Tim Kaine says it's not personal. Republicans would criticize whoever was making the case against the president.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIM KAINE: They're going to demonize whoever's the messenger, but he's a great public servant, and he was a U.S. attorney. He knows what he's doing.

DAVIS: Schiff's performance earned unlikely praise from at least one Republican today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: He's well-spoken - did a good job of creating a tapestry, taking bits and pieces of evidence and emails and giving a rhetorical flourish.

DAVIS: That's South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of Trump's most strident defenders. Graham doesn't agree with Schiff's arguments but conceded Democrats are making a clear case that the White House team will have to dismantle when their defense begins on Saturday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRAHAM: So what I will tell my colleagues is, the other side gets to talk and see if they can pull a thread here and pull a thread there and see if it holds up.

DAVIS: When it comes to the other jury Schiff is addressing this week, the American public, Democrats' case for impeachment has been more persuasive. Since September, support for Trump's impeachment has increased by 10 points, with a narrow majority of Americans now in favor. Yes, the country is closely divided on whether President Trump should be removed from office, but not so on whether he did something wrong. The latest Pew Research poll out this week showed 70% of Americans say Trump acted unethically, and 63% say he acted illegally.

Texas Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe is on the White House defense team. He disputed that polling today in Trump-friendly terms. He said if Americans thought something was wrong, the ratings would be higher.

JOHN RATCLIFFE: Well, I would disagree with the premise of that. I think the fact that the - people are not tuning in is because they don't think anything's been wrong - been done wrong here. That's why, you know, the networks are cutting to soap operas and the "Antique Roadshow."

DAVIS: The challenge for Schiff is that the two juries - the Senate and the American public - may have already reached their verdicts.

Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF MT. WOLF SONG, "TUCANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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