Rep. Adam B. Schiff’s prosecutorial tone changed considerably at the end of the first two days of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, a preview that his presentation finale Friday night will feature loftier rhetoric about showing courage and doing what’s right, even when it risks a career.
“Every night we say, ‘Adam save it for the end,’ and every night he outdoes the night before,” Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown said.
The California Democrat, former federal prosecutor and head impeachment manager has built anticipation for the message he will deliver as the House ends its presentation, and whether it can change minds in a Republican-controlled Senate that has shown every indication it will acquit the president.
So far, Republican senators, while generally praising the 10-term lawmaker’s delivery of the House case, have called the closing moments from Wednesday and Thursday “lecturing” and “melodramatic.”
But Schiff and the House managers have focused on making the case to the American people as well as the 100 senators. Democrats are hoping the public will help pressure at least four Republicans to break party ranks — and risk the wrath of the Republican base — to subpoena more witnesses and documents for the trial.
“There are lots of constitutional precedents, there are lots of legal and factual arguments to make, but he spoke to the American people's common sense and appealed to the sense of right and wrong,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said. “No senator, Democrat or Republican, would deny that it had an effect on the chamber.”
Republicans also picked up on the idea that Schiff was speaking as much to voters as he was senators who have to decide to convict or acquit Trump. And they predict that it will backfire come November when Trump, unlikely to be removed from office by the Senate, stands for reelection.
“The idea that a politician says [Trump] can't serve anymore because he's been so self-centered, I find that to ring hollow,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said.
As Schiff argued why the Senate should remove Trump from office, the South Carolina Republican said he picked up on “some animosity toward this president that needs to be resolved at the ballot box, not in the court of impeachment.”
To end the first night of House presentation Wednesday, Schiff evoked the day’s evidence about witnesses who would “stick their neck out” to testify in the Ukraine probe even though it risked their careers. And he contrasted it with those who were in more powerful positions who did not.
“I think this is some form of cosmic justice that this ambassador that was so ruthlessly smeared is now a hero for her courage,” Schiff said of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. envoy to Ukraine. “There is justice in that.”
Schiff then softened his language, using the pronoun “we” instead of “you” to deliver the final line.
“They risked everything—their careers—and yes, I know what you are asked to decide may risk yours too, but if they could show the courage, so can we,” Schiff said.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Schiff’s first night closer was a direct challenge to Republicans.
“It was delivered in a way that I thought applied to the entire Senate, and was a clear but respectful enough charge, that I hope it has an impact,” Coons said. “I hope some of my colleagues will be reflecting on it.”
Late night Thursday, Schiff made the case that senators should remove Trump from office because “you know that what [Trump] did was not right,” and “you know you can’t trust this president to do what is right for this country. You can trust he will do what is right for Donald Trump.”
“He will do it in the next election if he is allowed to. This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed—because right matters,” Schiff said. “Because right matters. And the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.”
‘Disdain’ for voters
One reason Schiff’s appeal to senators isn’t registering with Republicans is they feel he’s asking them to override the voters’ choice in 2016 at a time when they’re not far from voting whether they trust Trump to continue serving.
“I could not disagree more strongly with Schiff and his managers that we can’t trust American voters to decide who should be their president,” she tweeted. “They could do without his disdain for opinion of the American people and for the durability of our representative republic.”
Schiff has argued that the country can’t wait for voters to decide because Trump may encourage or fail to stand up to foreign powers trying to interfere in the 2020 election. The argument didn’t land with the GOP.
“That's a little bit of ‘to prove a negative’,” Sen. Bill Cassidy said. “We don't know the future. He’s appealing to an existential anxiety, if you will. He may be right, but that’s just, you know, I have to kind of objectively say that.”
The Louisiana Republican complimented Schiff for moving on from repetitive evidence summation to ask what would it take for senators to remove Trump from office.
“If you accept that every politician, except for me, occasionally does something for their own political gain, the question is at which point does it cross the threshold by which they have to be removed from office, right?” Cassidy said. “And he’s asking that. That’s a good thing to ask.”
But Cassidy, accusing Schiff of weaving “innuendo” and extraneous matters into his argument, said it will be tough to convince most Republicans that Trump crossed that threshold.
“I continue to have an open mind, but would any of us not come with some sort of a predilection? That would be hard to say,” he said. “Certainly, I have a predilection on most things.”
Several other Republicans made clear their predilection and said they aren’t worried about Trump doing something wrong between now and November.
“I trust Donald Trump to do what’s best for the country,” Graham said.
Even Democrats aren’t sure Republicans can be persuaded. Brown said he’s been asking his GOP colleagues similar questions as Schiff has.
“How are these Republicans that are upset at this behavior—and clearly, lots of them are upset at this behavior—why do they think a not guilty verdict will make him better, will stop him from getting worse?”
Brown believes he knows the answer to his own questions, however.
“They know it could end their careers to vote right on this,” Brown said when asked if Schiff’s closing messages were connecting. “They know that.”
Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.