Schiff closed his arguments with an emotional appeal, but GOP senators seem unmoved

By Catherine Kim

House Managers Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler speak to reporters on the fourth day of the Senate impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC on January 24, 2019.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff had a dire message for senators during his closing remarks in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Friday night: Removing Trump isn’t just about punishment for past behavior — it’s about the saving the future of American democracy as well.

Friday marked the final day of opening arguments for House impeachment managers, and for Schiff, who has taken on the role of lead prosecutor in the impeachment trial. Since Wednesday, the House team has painstakingly built a case against Trump by detailing his efforts to withhold military aid and a White House visit from Ukraine as he sought political favors. During his closing argument, Schiff had one request for senators: put politics aside.

“Whether you like the president, or dislike the president, is immaterial. It’s all about the Constitution and his misconduct,” Schiff said. “What matters is whether he is a danger to the country, because he will do it again. And none of us can have confidence, based on his record, that he will not do it again because he is telling us every day that he will.”

The lawmaker pointed to the evidence compiled by his party as crystal-clear proof of Trump’s misconduct — which managers presented to the Senate in logical, chronological order. And he reminded them the president has himself has released evidence of attempts to pressure Ukraine.

Schiff went on to argue that it is Congress’ constitutional duty to hold presidents accountable for their actions, and pointed to polls that show Americans — Republican and Democrat — want both a fair trial, and one that includes witnesses.

“The American people do not agree on much, but they will not forgive being deprived of the truth — and certainly not because it took a backseat to expediency,” he said.

By not following the will of the people, Schiff said, senators place themselves in danger of all their other achievements being overshadowed by their removal vote. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, Schiff said, “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history,” and told his Senate colleagues, “Sometimes I think how unforgiving history can be of our conduct.”

As he invoked the disdain of future generations, Schiff also encouraged senators to think beyond the US’ borders, noting that the country’s system of democracy has encouraged other countries in the past, while arguing it is in danger of doing so no longer.

“The founders gave us more than words. They gave us inspiration. They may have receded into mythology, but they inspire us still. And more than us, they inspire the rest of the world. ... And increasingly they don’t recognize what they see. It’s a terrible tragedy for them; it is a worst tragedy for us,” he said.

And he closed with a request: “Americans get a fair trial — and so I ask you, I implore you. Give America a fair trial. Give America a fair trial. She’s worth it.”

The presentation was praised by Schiff’s Democratic colleagues, and the managers’ work has been lauded throughout the week. On Thursday, for instance, Schiff went viral for telling senators, “You know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country,” sparking the Twitter hashtag #RightMatters. And several GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), commented on how much they respected the presentations of the managers.

But respect for the managers isn’t enough for the president’s removal. In order for Trump to be removed, at least 20 GOP senators would have to break from their party — and despite Schiff being praised by some Republicans for his rhetoric in general, it isn’t clear he changed any minds.

Schiff gave a powerful closing argument, but Republicans appeared unmoved

In fact, Republicans found a lot to complain about Friday, with Sen. John Kennedy arguing the House Democrats’ arguments went on too long — “Very few souls are saved after the first 20 minutes of a sermon,” Kennedy said — and others lamenting a lack of new evidence, like Sen. John Barrasso, who told reporters, “They ran out of things to say three days ago.”

As Vox’s Aaron Rupar has noted, Republicans would have been able to hear new evidence and testimony had they not blocked resolutions drafted by Senate Democrats calling for the consideration of both.

Those resolutions failed Tuesday and early Wednesday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promising to take up the issue of new witness testimony once senators have a chance to ask House impeachment managers and White House counsel questions, something expected to happen next week.

One remark of Schiff’s incensed Republicans in particular, however: his mention of a CBS News report that found a Trump ally told GOP senators “vote against the president and your head will be on a pike.”

Journalists in the room noted Republican senators reacted strongly to Schiff bringing up the report, which he argued showed Trump sees himself as having the unchecked power of an absolute monarch. And after the session concluded, GOP senators made their displeasure clear.

Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose support Senate Democrats are counting on in their fight to include witnesses in the trial, said Schiff “overreached,” and said, “He was doing fine with moral courage until he got to the head on the pike. That’s where he lost me.”

“I was visibly upset with it,” Sen. James Lankford said. “That’s insulting and demeaning to everyone to say that we somehow live in fear and that the president has threatened all of us.”

And Barrasso said, “Whatever gains he may have made, he lost all of it — plus some — tonight.”

A number of Republican senators also reportedly responded to Schiff by saying from their seats, “That’s not true.”

Even without the outrage over the pike comments, Schiff and his fellow impeachment managers were well aware of the pushback against their arguments. Ahead of the trial, many Republicans, including McConnell, said they did not plan to be impartial jurors and suggested they would not vote to remove the president, regardless of the evidence the House presented. There is no sign the managers’ work changed this paradigm, meaning Trump’s acquittal still looks very likely.