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Public Support for Impeachment Inquiry Surges as Key Republicans Distance Themselves From Trump

October 23, 2019, 4:22 PM UTC

More than half of all U.S. voters, 55%, approve of the House inquiry into the impeachment of President Donald Trump—an all time high, according to a Quinnipiac poll out Wednesday morning. The survey also found that 48% of all voters believe President Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office. 

The results show a large surge since last week, when only 51% of voters approved of the official impeachment hearings. And while approval and disapproval largely fell along party lines—93% of Democrats approve while 88% of Republicans disapprove—Independent voters bolstered the jump, with their approval of the inquiry growing 8 points in just one week. 

But while Republicans oppose impeachment, they still question the president’s motives around his dealings with Ukraine. About 3 in 10 on the Right say they believe Trump put his own interests above the nation’s when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate possible 2020 opponent Joe Biden and the 2016 presidential elections. The House is currently looking into whether the president offered a quid pro quo arrangement in exchange for the investigations. 

“Republicans remain rock solid in opposing both the impeachment of President Trump and the House impeachment inquiry,” said Quinnipiac University polling analyst Mary Snow in a statement. “But when it comes to the president’s motives in Ukraine, Republicans aren’t all on the same page.”

Roughly 7 in 10 Republicans said the president was pursuing the national interest in his dealings with Ukraine, Snow said. The rest said he was pursuing his own personal interest or they don’t know.

The poll comes just one day after Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, testified for 10 hours to nearly 50 members of Congress in a closed-door session. In leaked testimony from the hearing, Taylor claimed that Trump sought to withhold military aid to Ukraine and refused a White House visit unless the country opened politically-motivated public investigations into his rivals. 

“It is a rancorous story about whistle-blowers, Mr. Giuliani, side channels, quid pro quos, corruption and interference in elections,” said Taylor in his opening statement, which was first acquired by Politico. Taylor, who has served in government for 50 years, added that “[U.S. ambassador to the European Union] Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.” 

One of Trump’s key allies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), also distanced himself from the president’s Ukraine phone call on Tuesday afternoon. When asked by reporters whether he had told the president that his phone call with the Ukraine was “perfect,” as Trump claimed he had, McConnell said that “we’ve had not any conversations on that subject.” Reporters then asked the leader if this meant the president was lying, McConnell responded, “you’ll have to ask him. I don’t recall any conversations with the president about that phone call.”

On Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), the second most powerful Republican in Senate also distanced himself from the president. “The picture coming out of [Ambassador Taylor’s testimony] based on the reporting we’ve seen is, yeah, I would say is not a good one,” he told NBC Congressional reporter Frank Thorp. 

While Thune and McConnell have not gone so far as to condemn Trump, their reluctance to support him shows a key change in Republican Senate outlook. It has long been assumed that while the House, with a Democratic majority, may vote in favor of impeachment, there would not be enough support in the Senate-majority Senate.

Impeachment hearings continue Wednesday with Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs and Michael Duffey, OMB associate director for national security expected to testify.

On Thursday, Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s director for European affairs, and Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of Defense will testify.

On Friday, Suriya Jayanti, a Foreign Service officer in Kyiv and Tim Morrison, the NSC’s senior director for Russia and Europe, will also speak with members of Congress in closed door testimony. 

The sheer volume of testimony and speed of the hearings put the Trump impeachment inquiry on an unparalleled timeline. It has only been one month since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the official start of the inquiry, just 11 days after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) issued a subpoena to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire for a whistleblower report on the Ukraine phone call. 

For comparison, there were nine months between the first reports of an affair between former President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky and an official House impeachment inquiry. There were about 18 months between the Watergate break-in and the start of former President Richard Nixon’s impeachment inquiry. 

More must-read stories from Fortune:

A running list of questions on the impeachment inquiry, answered
5 lessons history has taught us about impeachment
—How Gordon Sondland, ‘a guided missile for getting access,’ landed in the middle of Trump’s Ukrainian mess
—How whistleblowers have taken down titans of American business
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