In 1974, the televised Watergate hearings that eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation before he could be formally impeached were riveting must-see-TV.
But fast forward 45 years and the historic impeachment Wednesday of President Donald Trump by the House of Representatives played for many with all the drama a late-night re-run.
“This stuff is just bologna to me, right along party lines,” Bill Underwood, a 72-year-old financial planner from California, said of the partisan vote playing on a nearby TV while sipping on a Maker’s Mark and 7Up at Las Vegas’ South Point Hotel and Casino. “It’s an exercise in futility.”
Underwood’s impeachment hearing sentiments — a mix of bureaucracy fatigue and resigned ennui — had echoes around the country.
Those who did tune into some or all of the eight hours of pre-vote debate did so sporadically and episodically. Instead of big gatherings in front of television screens, citizens on both sides of the political divide either watched live-streams on their smartphones or checked text updates from friends.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., announces the passage of the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, against President Donald Trump by the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. (Photo: House Television via AP)
There certainly were voices extolling the solemnity of the occasion given that Trump is only the third commander-in-chief to be impeached, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998.
“I hope everyone watched this and understands it’s the constitution at stake,” said Teresa Klein of Corpus Christi, Texas. “Whether people are upset or happy it’s the process.”
But Klein didn’t watch, blaming work for not being able to follow along with the live stream of the House debate and vote and relied instead on friends for updates.
In San Francisco, a small crowd had gathered at Manny’s, a cafe and community meeting space that had the proceedings playing two large televisions. The cafe opened its doors at 6 a.m. local time, but it took awhile for a group to assemble. Manuel Maciel, 40, was visiting on a business trip but sought out the eatery to be with like-minded souls.
Manuel Maciel, 40, a Marine veteran with a son in the Army, called Wednesday's impeachment hearings "a sad day, this isn't something to celebrate." Maciel feels President Donald Trump has eroded the nation's standing around the world. (Photo: Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY)
“It’s a sad day, this isn’t something to celebrate,” said Maciel, a Marine veteran whose son is currently in the Army serving in Afghanistan. Maciel said he was disheartened by Trump’s actions. “I have friends all over the world. America has always been someplace that people look to as a beacon of freedom and liberty. But no more. Now we’re allying ourselves with dictators. It makes me embarrassed.”
Partisanship was on display in the House, where the votes to impeach Trump for both abuse of power and obstruction fell along party lines. And it was present in scenes across America, often in the same location.
Some snapshots from around the USA:
Johnathan Atkins smiled and chuckled as he held his phone up to take a photo of the TV screen at a bar in the Atlanta Airport Atrium. The House had just voted and 30-year-old Atkins said he was happy to watch the historic moment unfold.
“I’m happy because it made a statement about our government,” said Atkins, who works for a property management software company in the Atlanta area. “It definitely sends a message that people can only put up with so much. Everybody has their breaking point.”
Atkins, who is African-American, a voting bloc that Trump has had difficulty winning over in large numbers, was among the dozen or so patrons sitting around the bar at the Atlanta Chophouse and Brewery as the impeachment debate played out, muted, on TV.
Johnathan Atkins, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, was pleased with the vote to impeach Trump as he watched from a bar at the Atlanta Airport Atrium. (Photo: Nicquel Terry, USA TODAY)
Of the patrons that came and went over the hours, only about five were spotted watching the impeachment. Other patrons had their eyes glued to their phones or chatted with each other as Christmas music blared from speakers.
Carl Buckholt, a Dallas-based engineer for an eyewear company, periodically glanced at the television as he sipped a glass of red wine. Buckholt, who had been in Atlanta on business, called Trump “the worst president we’ve ever had.”
“I think the House has shown clear evidence of his need for impeachment,” said Buckholt, 52. “That’s just one small facet of his entire presidency. He’s had lots of improper use of his power throughout his entire term.”
Points of view: Trump impeachment: Democrats’ needless ‘national nightmare’
And another:: Trump impeachment is a monumental victory against blatant corruption and for democracy
Buckholt, a lifelong Democrat, said while he doesn’t expect Trump will be removed from office, the impeachment shows “you should not allow that type of activity.”
Raymond Coffman, of Smyrna, Georgia, said before the vote that the impeachment only demonstrates the divisiveness of Democrats and Republicans. Coffman, a Republican and local church pastor, said Trump “says stupid things and he offends people” but he is pleased with the nation’s economy.
The Democrats, he said, are “too extreme” for wanting to impeach Trump. “At the end of the day, I don’t think he’s going to leave office,” said Coffman, who plans to vote for Trump in 2020.
Two months ago, the Democratic political world orbited around Westerville. The former Republican stronghold, which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, is considered such a microcosm of the Midwestern suburban vote Democrats need to win to succeed in 2020 that the party held its presidential primary debate at Otterbein University here in October.
But despite that backdrop, the House impeachment vote did not cause much of a stir beyond some disgruntled feelings. In fact, Ohio State’s upcoming playoff game was of greater interest to some inside Jimmy V’s Grill & Pub, where televisions over the bar were tuned to the 2014 Orange Bowl — an unwelcome reminder for Buckeye fans of the team’s recent history with Clemson — than floor speeches in the House.
“We never beat Clemson,” said Mark Zickefoose between sips of a Coors Light.
Nearby, Scott Heller said he couldn’t escape impeachment coverage throughout the day. Every radio station carried it, and his dinner at Jimmy V’s was a break from proceedings he called “a joke.”
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, right, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (Photo: John Minchillo, AP)
Suzette Heller, a Trump supporter, felt similar. “I just want to get to the bottom line,” she said.
“That just makes me want to vote for him more,” said Mark Reed, an aviation maintenance technology instructor, as the vote tallies rolled.
But for most of the restaurant’s customers, their evenings were planned around anything but impeachment.
Tricia Roederer was celebrating the conclusion of her first semester of law school at Ohio State University by having drinks with her friend Margaret Schocken. She said she was too consumed with finals to pay close attention to impeachment.
“It’s kind of exhausting to keep up with from an emotional standpoint,” she said.
In the lobby of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., guests flowed in and out as the House voted. Many dined, others shared drinks and some headed toward the elevators to their rooms after coming in from a cold capital city night.
Tourists occasionally popped into the hotel to take group photos and selfies in front of the large Christmas tree that sits in the center of the lobby.
Televisions at the restaurant bar showed both sports and the House proceedings. One was tuned to FOX News, the other CNN. Some people at the bar watched closely as other diners made their way to a cheese and meat buffet.
The lobby at the Trump International hotel in Washington, D.C., was showing the impeachment hearings on television, but not many were watching. Tourists stopped in, but largely to take selfies in front of the oversized Christmas tree. (Photo: Ryan Miller, USA TODAY)
“I thought there was going to be an impeachment party,” said Victoria Camp, a retired school teacher who lives in the area.
Camp came to the hotel lobby after spending the day on Capitol Hill but was surprised to find not many interested in the vote. While in the lobby, she met others who disapproved of some Democrats’ handling of the impeachment proceedings.
But as the votes started to roll in just after 8 p.m. local time, more people crowded near the bar to witness the moment.
Brent Wilsey, an investment advisor from San Diego, was watching the debate only on and off during the day but came to the lobby for the final vote. He said he’d hoped more Democrats would have changed their minds.
“It’s the kind of thing where you know what’s going to happen, but you still want to watch,” he said.
In a bar less than a block from the Florida State Capitol, none of the two dozen or so patrons watched TVs that showed members of Congress voting to impeach Trump.
Instead, they talked about work and other things over beer and cocktails, ate roasted broccoli and quesadillas and occasionally glanced up at the basketball games being broadcast on wide screens that hung from the walls.
“I care about the impeachment, but it’s dragged on for too long,” said Gregory Schultz, who sat down with three friends at Andrew’s Downtown just as the floor vote on the first article of impeachment got under way.
Schultz and his friends came to watch the Miami Heat play the Philadelphia 76ers, which was being broadcast on two TVs behind the bar. But every now and then he glanced at the one TV on the far wall of the dining area just to see what was going on.
President Donald Trump speaks at a Merry Christmas Rally at the Kellogg Arena on December 18, 2019 in Battle Creek, Michigan. (Photo: Scott Olson, Getty Images)
“It’s definitely happening,” he nodded, certain that the House would vote in favor of impeachment. Trump had just tweeted out to his supporters to pray for him, saying he’d done no wrong, but Schultz believed otherwise.
“He’s desperate,” Schultz said.
Sitting next to him, Sarah Gonzalez added, “They did it this time because his presidency is over. I don’t think he has another term.”
Their friend Peyton “Jake” Thompson begged to differ. “The Democrats are reaching,” he said.
He’s not a big politics guy, and doesn’t agree with everything Trump has said or done, but he was elected by the people and everyone should wait for the next election, he said. “If it’s not meant to be, he’ll get beat,” Thompson said.
Several other patrons at the bar said that the proceedings themselves, which Democrats have argued are an exercise in protecting the Constitution as laid out by the Founding Fathers, simply illustrate why the general public has contempt for Congress.
The impeachment hearings, they said, were an open display of tribalism that lacked civility and dignity, and offered an outcome many could predict.
Thompson agreed. “It’s a foregone conclusion,” he said. “Politics causes all the problems.”
della Cava reported from San Francisco. Contributing: The Columbus Dispatch’s Rick Rouan reported from Westerville, Ohio; Corpus Christi Caller-Times’ Alexandria Rodriguez from Corpus Christi; The Reno Gazette-Journal’s Ed Komenda from Las Vegas; The Tallahassee Democrat’s Jeffrey Schweers from Tallahassee. USA TODAY’s Nicquel Terry Ellis in Atlanta; Elizabeth Weise in San Francisco and Ryan Miller in Washington, D.C.
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