Donald Trump White House Republicans decry trial as ‘boring’…

Donald Trump White House

Republicans adopted a new defense strategy this past week at President Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate: boredom.

A top White House aide called the trial “unwatchable,” Trump’s campaign manager compared the proceedings to watching paint dry, and several Republican senators entertained distractions while downplaying the three-day prosecution as repetitive and unexciting. “They’re really not bringing forth new information,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said of the House impeachment managers Friday.

“I’ve not heard anything new,” added Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).

Barrasso and Scott were among 53 Republican senators who voted 10 times last week to block new evidence and witness testimony, effectively stripping the proceedings of potential novelty and allowing Trump’s allies to publicly portray the trial as uninteresting and unimportant.

It’s a defense strategy aimed at convincing the public that the third impeachment trial in U.S. history is not worth their time while avoiding substantive questions about Trump’s alleged misconduct, said Heather Cox Richardson, who teaches history at Boston College.

“It’s definitely a strategy to try to get people to not pay attention,” she said. “One of the reasons they’re saying ‘This is stupid and boring’ is because they don’t want people to watch.”

Some lawmakers have openly shown their disdain for the process — reading books, playing with children’s toys, filling out crossword puzzles or wandering from the Senate floor as House Democrats made their case for removing Trump from office.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also taken care to ensure that it makes for unexciting television, at least in terms of production values. Often just one oddly tilted camera angle is used by cameras controlled by the Senate, since McConnell has not allowed outside television crews or photographers into the chamber.

During breaks in the proceedings, several Republicans told reporters they were unimpressed by the evidence — while sidestepping the fact that they had played a central role in blocking key witnesses and documents from being introduced.

Republicans’ “nothing new” mantra underscores the hear-no-evil approach some are taking as they attempt to defend Trump from charges of high crimes and misdemeanors. The approach also foreshadows the difficulty Democrats will face in persuading a handful of Republicans to vote to extend the trial by allowing for critical documents and witnesses to be introduced.

That vote — expected to take place as soon as this week — could determine whether Trump’s impeachment trial will be the fastest in U.S. history, potentially ending without testimony from any witnesses.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said the effort to brand the trial as unimaginative and stale while denying access to potentially explosive evidence was “duplicitous.”

“To my Republican colleagues who’ve complained that there’s no new evidence in this impeachment trial: You voted more than ten times to block relevant witnesses and evidence,” she wrote Friday on Twitter. “Don’t bury your head in the sand and then complain that it’s dark.”

Republicans have struggled to mount a consistent defense of Trump over the past four months as he has faced allegations that he withheld congressionally approved military aid and a critical White House meeting from Ukraine as he pressured the eastern European country to announce investigations into his political rivals.

Trump’s defenders have vacillated between criticizing the impeachment process in the House as unfair, complaining about the House’s month-long delay in transmitting the two impeachment articles to the Senate and attacking Democrats for not bringing forward new evidence once the Senate trial began.

Even as Trump has described his conduct with Ukraine as “perfect,” Republican lawmakers have only intermittently defended the president on the substance of the allegations against him.

Several Republicans have indicated that they have already made up their minds, publicly expressing their displeasure with having to sit silently while House Democrats made their case.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said she was “multitasking” by reading a book by Kimberley Strassel entitled “Resistance (At All Costs): How Trump Haters Are Breaking America” on the floor of the Senate on Thursday. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was spotted filling out a crossword puzzle and sketching an image of the U.S. Capitol. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) passed out fidget spinners to his GOP colleagues, allowing them to play with the spinning toys as the Democrats made their case. A few lawmakers have dozed off during the marathon trial.

At one point during the proceedings, about a fifth of the seats in the chamber were empty, as several lawmakers left the Senate floor for lengthy breaks or Fox News interviews. While some Democrats have also stepped away from the Senate floor during the trial, most of the empty chairs belonged to Republicans.

Trump has echoed GOP claims that the trial is dull and repetitive.

“The Do Nothing Democrats just keep repeating and repeating, over and over again, the same old ‘stuff’ on the Impeachment Hoax,” he tweeted Friday.

Democrats used more than 21 hours, spread across three days, to lay out their case against Trump, using video evidence and impassioned rhetoric in an attempt to sway senators and the public to back the president’s removal. Some of the oratory performances by chief House impeachment manager Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) have gone viral online.

Some Republicans broke ranks from their colleagues, complimenting Democrats for putting forward a comprehensive case or saying that they had personally found the process interesting.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said that while the House Democrats’ presentation was “at times repetitive,” he did not find it boring.

“I’d say this is important to the country, these proceedings, and it’s historic,” he said on Saturday. “I wouldn’t describe any of this as boring.”

GOP lawmakers have shrugged at each new piece of evidence that has come to light outside of the Senate trial process — such as an audio file obtained by ABC News of Trump urging the removal of his then-Ukraine ambassador — and several have said they are prepared to block efforts by Democrats to subpoena witnesses who could provide more context about Trump’s conduct.

Unless four Republicans vote with Democrats this week to compel testimony from key figures such as former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, the trial could quickly come to a close. That’s an outcome some Republicans are eagerly embracing, specifically using the boredom argument to make their case.

“I’ve been there for 36 hours, I’ve listened to all the testimony,” Paul said Saturday. “It’s repetitive and partisan and I don’t think anybody in Kentucky, my constituents, want the president to be impeached. They view this as a partisan witch hunt.”

Top White House aides have tried to downplay the trial as unimportant even as the president has shown his interest by tweeting hundreds of times about the proceedings.

Kellyanne Conway, a top White House aide, told reporters Friday that the trial was “sort of unwatchable,” comparing its television ratings to regular daytime programming.

“My own family member informed me that the soap operas on CBS went back on, much to her joy,” she said. “It just seems to me that many Americans are tuning out. . . . How many times can you say the same things over and over and over again, expecting people will still want to tune in?”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham also mentioned television ratings during an interview on Fox News.

“As you’ve seen, the ratings keep going down every day in terms of viewers,” she said. “I think the country is tired of this.”

Two-thirds of Americans overall say the Senate should call new witnesses to testify at the impeachment trial, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Friday. Only 27 percent of Americans say they believe the Senate should decide the impeachment case without calling new witnesses, the poll found.

But most Republican senators have expressed a reluctance about extending the trial. Several Republicans have argued that if the case was as ironclad as the House impeachment managers have claimed, there is no need to subpoena additional witnesses and documents.

GOP lawmakers were notably more engaged with the trial on Saturday as Trump’s legal team launched the start of its case. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), just appointed to the Senate, jotted notes, as did Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and others.

McConnell sat still, hands clasped, listening and staring at the speaker.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said he noticed a “tonal” difference in the way Saturday’s session unfolded compared with the sessions where Democrats presented.

“If you looked around the Republican side, at least, particularly during [White House Counsel Pat] Cipollone’s presentation, I didn’t see anybody reading anything. I saw them sitting and listening and taking notes,” Hawley said. “Rapt attention.”

But Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Republicans’ public displays of boredom earlier in the week belied the private angst among GOP senators about the evidence presented by Democrats.

“I hear from individual Republicans about how troubled they are, that they really are becoming convinced” of Trump’s guilt, Brown said. “Those are private. The question is, how afraid are they of this president?”

Rosalind S. Helderman, Elise Viebeck, Karoun Demirjian, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.