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OPINION

Day 3: Democrats keep building case against Trump, but is the public paying attention?

Lesley Becker

The case against President Trump continued on Thursday, as Democratic impeachment managers detailed the president’s attempt last year to use taxpayer money to extort Ukraine into helping his reelection campaign. That was an abuse of power, they argued, that merits his removal from office. The military aid was approved by Congress and wasn’t the president’s to withhold, but he did so anyway. The Government Accountability Office has concluded that withholding the aid was also illegal. Letting Trump off will turn that law into a dead letter and set a precedent for future presidents to deploy taxpayer money for their own campaigns, too. Senators may well vote to acquit Trump anyway, but Democrats are at least making them come face to face with the consequences.

STAYING FOCUSED: To be honest, I’ve been forcing myself to listen to the Senate impeachment trial — and not paying as much attention as I should. Of course, I know these historic proceedings are important. But, as Republicans have been arguing, there’s not much new to anyone who has closely followed the impeachment saga. Boring the country into resignation over acquittal is exactly what Republicans want, and why they are keeping out new witness testimony.

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But not everyone is bored. On Wednesday afternoon, I was waiting to get inside the classroom where I teach a journalism course. A student sat down next to me. Not noticing — as usual — the white airpods, I started to talk to him. “Sorry, I was listening to impeachment,” he said, and went on to rave about Adam Schiff, and the case the lead House manager was making against President Trump. If only we could hear from witnesses! What did I think it would take to convince Republicans to vote with Democrats to make that happen?

Besides courage? It would take public pressure, I told him. Americans have to care enough to want to hear the truth and make their elected representatives aware of that desire. Then, senators would be forced to choose between Trump and the constituents who have the power to send them home or back to Washington. With that, their calculation for political survival would change. It would be harder to keep Americans from hearing witnesses like former national security advisor John Bolton. As I argued my case for caring and the power that goes with it, I saw those wonderful qualities of youth — hope and idealism — in his eyes.

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Getting the country to tune out is the essence of Trump’ s strategy. After class, I went home, and turned on the trial. — JOAN VENNOCHI

ALL AGOG FOR ‘PETTIFOG’: It’s the naughty word that America didn’t even know it needed: The archaic term “pettifogging” has been trending since Chief Justice John Roberts used it during the impeachment trial on Wednesday. As he asked House impeachment managers and President Trump’s lawyers to tone down their language, Roberts cited pettifogging as an example of the kind of word that was once considered too indecorous to use on the Senate floor. But the revival of pettifogging — which, according to Merriam-Webster, means “to quibble over insignificant details” — also puts a name on the mix of deflection, bad-faith arguments, and conspiracy theorizing that Trump’s defenders have deployed to avoid talking about the misconduct at the heart of the impeachment case. Unfortunately, while the Senate rules might prohibit saying the word “pettifogging,” they don’t prohibit practicing it. — ALAN WIRZBICKI

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