WASHINGTON—In a city known for its political activism, the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump began Tuesday afternoon in a puzzlingly quiet way.
Neither protesters nor supporters of the president turned out in great force. A small crowd of anti-Trump demonstrators, barely visible from the U.S. Capitol steps, gathered on a nearby lawn.
Some wore bright orange vests or black shirts with white block letters that read “REMOVE TRUMP” or carried signs with the same message. Nearby, a news crew did interviews, and about three or four police officers stood guard. One man wearing a Make America Great Again cap moved through the crowd, followed by a colleague with a news camera, seeking to document protesters’ reactions to him calling the entire situation “a sham.” Some protesters, to drown him out, began using noisemakers. The situation never got testy enough for the police to intervene.
The anti-Trump demonstrators belonged to a group called Remove Trump that is associated with the Women’s March, the March for Truth, and Indivisible. Individuals with the group told me demonstrators plan to be there every day of the trial to press the Senate to oust the president. Other pro-impeachment protesters also briefly set up in the Russell Senate Office Building, including outside the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Capitol Police said they arrested 11 people throughout the afternoon for obstructing or crowding the area.
But the protesters’ presence barely registered as a disruption compared to just over a year ago when demonstrators flooded the U.S. Capitol for the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. From Day One of the proceedings on Sept. 4, 2018, demonstrators interrupted the hearing with chants. Groups such as Planned Parenthood, the Women’s March, and the Center for Popular Democracy helped organize a steady stream of demonstrations that led to hundreds of arrests and dozens of news reports, including a viral video of a protester confronting former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Even now, weather-beaten anti-Kavanaugh posters can be spotted in the city.
The impeachment trial opened Tuesday following several pre-planned rallies, including the fourth annual Women’s March on Saturday, a parade for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, and a massive gun rights rally in Richmond, Va., also on Monday. The annual March for Life will cap off the week with thousands of pro-life advocates descending on Washington on Friday.
WORLD contacted the Women’s March to ask about the small number of impeachment-related protesters but did not receive a response.
Adam Carrington, an assistant professor of politics at Hillsdale College, speculated neither the president’s supporters nor detractors have shown up in force because “it’s been really argued that this isn’t going to result in a conviction. As opposed to the Kavanaugh hearings—it really did seem like the nomination was hanging on a thread and what was done publicly really might tip the vote or two that was needed.”
He added that for the Senate to convict Trump, “you’re going to need 20 Republicans to switch sides, and that’s really almost impossible for that to happen. This can have a deflating effect when people are told—repeatedly by people who agree with them—that this is a foregone conclusion.”
Meanwhile, a steady stream of observers got tickets through their lawmakers’ offices and waited in line to observe the trial, some for as long as three hours. But they did not seem to be there to protest. Two men waiting in line declined to give me their names or discuss their political views. “I don’t think anybody would be interested in our views,” he said.