(WPRI) — As historic impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine began on Capitol Hill Wednesday, an expert says the result could lay the foundation for the future of our government.
The impeachment inquiry is examining whether Trump violated his oath of office by allegedly holding back the congressionally approved funds while he asked the new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Joe Biden’s family and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Richard Arenberg, a senior fellow at Brown University, has more than 34 years of experience working in senior staff positions on Capitol Hill.
He tells Eyewitness News he can already see how the hearings are playing out – and that it’s unfortunate that there is a clear partisan divide.
That divide can also be seen among the American people, and Arenberg says with more information available, people can choose what media they’re consuming.
“I think it’s going to be harder for the hearings to shift public opinion than was true during the Nixon or even the Clinton period,” Arenberg said.
Congressman David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, believes the hearings moving from behind closed doors to public testimony is in the best interest of Americans.
“The American people have a right to see this,” Cicilline said. “This is a democracy that belongs to the American people they have a right to see what the president did to undermine our democracy.”
Congressman Steve Watkins, R-Texas, said the process is being driven by those who want to see Trump removed from office.
“This is driven by partisan politics and it’s not in the best interest of the American people,” Watkins said.
Cicilline disagrees, saying Congress has a fundamental responsibility to Americans.
“These witnesses are credible,” he said. “Their testimony is shocking, and I think it is evidence of tremendous misconduct on the part of this president.”
Brown University Political Science Professor Corey Brettschneider is doubtful that, as more information is uncovered, Trump will be re-elected in 2020.
“We’re in a different world now after the Ukraine phone call, I think it’s very clear that this hurts the president and the more the American people learn about what happened,” he said. “I think that will hurt him in the election if he survives to that point.”
Arenberg agrees, adding that the Democratic opposition may be altered throughout the proceedings.
“Even if he’s not convicted by the Senate, there will be a significant impact in the election,” he said. “We have six United States senators running for the Democratic nomination, they all want to be in Iowa and New Hampshire, and if the trial is going on, they’re going to pretty much be trapped in Washington.”
As the hearings continue, Arenberg says this moment could drastically impact the presidency and future of government in the United States.
“If going forward administrations believe they can get away with just stiff-arming Congress — that should be a matter of great concern to people everywhere,” Arenberg said.