Nation & World

A divided America digs in on impeachment inquiry

Tensions, Iowa bar manager predicts, are about to get worse

John LuGrain, a bar manager in Dubuque, voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for him again in 2020. He’s convinced the impeachment inquiry is a “witch hunt.” (Tyrone Beason/Los Angeles Times)
John LuGrain, a bar manager in Dubuque, voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for him again in 2020. He’s convinced the impeachment inquiry is a “witch hunt.” (Tyrone Beason/Los Angeles Times)
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DUBUQUE — It was a day like many across the divided states of America, brimming with anger, resentment and grudges.

For just the fourth time in history, the House of Representatives has begun formally weighing impeachment of a president.

In El Paso, Texas, Rebecca Reyes was pleased. It was, she suggested, about time.

“He’s the worst president we’ve ever had,” said Reyes, 60, a Democratic lawyer. “Not only has he abused his power, he’s destroyed the psyche of many Americans.”

In Dubuque, behind the bar of Choppers, manager John LuGrain saw things differently.

Impeachment, he suggested, was more of the same old, same old.

“It’s still a witch hunt,” he said, quoting the words of President Donald Trump to disparage his pursuers. “The Democrats just cannot let it go that Trump was elected.”

Impeachment, the first step in ousting a president, is a political sanction and provocation like no other. In a country already blazing with animosities, the mere prospect was like adding matches and several buckets of gasoline.

The allegations — a Trump phone call seeking “a favor” from Ukraine’s leader, a president reaching overseas to get dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden, foreign aid possibly held up as leverage — were fuzzy to most. Indeed, in dozens of interviews from Winooski, Vt., to Southern California, the Democratic move on Capitol Hill seemed not to change very many minds.

Opinions were formed a long time ago.

For those opposed to the president, the effort to impeach was a long-awaited reckoning.

“I feel like we all knew this is what happened with Russia,” Alex Worthy said of interference that critics say helped cost Hillary Clinton the 2016 election, “and we couldn’t get the evidence, and now have it.”

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The 28-year-old Democrat, a Laguna Hills, Calif., lawyer, was rooting for impeachment even before the Ukraine scandal broke.

For supporters of Trump, the Democratic investigation was a continued attempt to delegitimize a president whose unconventionality and shattering of political norms has always been a strong part of his appeal.

Becky Hinkle not only sees impeachment as unwarranted, but a sad ploy to try to boost Democratic prospects in 2020.

“It really hurts the United States and the people and divides us,” said Hinkle, 65, a Republican who was meeting with friends in Long Beach, Calif., to plan a lake getaway.

Not everyone, however, fell back on partisan positions, or allowed their feelings about Trump to sway them.

Ronald Kelley, a lifelong Republican who refused to vote for Trump, said he has long favored the president’s ouster.

“He feels like he doesn’t have to play by any rules,” Kelley, a 71-year-old retired Delta Air Lines employee.

“You can’t just do what you want to do. What gets me is that they’re issuing subpoenas to testify (before Congress) and he’s telling people not to talk. It’s an abuse of power!” Kelly said as he strolled across the town square in McDonough, Ga.

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As the Winooski River gushed over rapids on a sparking fall afternoon in Vermont, urban planner Sarah Pelkey greeted news of the impeachment investigation with ambivalence.

A political independent, she is no fan of the president. “There’s so much negativity ... the way he speaks to his constituents, foreigners,” said Pelkey, pausing to photograph intersections for a city signage project.

But impeachment is “just more noise” from Washington, said Pelkey, who prefers Trump is ousted at the ballot box.

For the most part, though, the start of a formal impeachment inquiry seemed to merely ratify what Trump-lovers and Trump-haters have believed all along.

Standing on a sidewalk of the nation’s capital, Tracy Wang has gotten used to people sneering at the Trump-themed merchandise she displays at her vending booth. Sometimes, she said, passersby throw her “Keep America Great” hats on the ground. Bit impeachment, said the 67-year-old Republican, is a more grievous insult.

“Maybe some people don’t like his personality or the things he says, but he does such good for this country,” said Wang, who likes Trump’s hard line on immigration.

“Some people who come to this country are too lazy to work because there are government handouts,” said Wang. who came to the United States from Taiwan 35 years ago.

In Georgia, Alfred Jones, 49, a child support case worker from Jonesboro, struggles to understand how any Republican could still back Trump after such revelations as hush-money payoff to porn actress Stormy Daniels.

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“He shouldn’t be in a position of power in the United States. He wants to be like Putin,” the Democrat said, invoking the name of Russia President Vladimir Putin.

And then there was the rare case of bipartisan agreement.

In Dubuque, Bob Kaukaskie and Carl Wubben are among a group of retired John Deere engineers who meet for breakfast every week at the Sunshine Family Restaurant.

Kaukaskie, 74, is a Republican who voted for Trump. Wubben, 75, is a Democrat who voted for Clinton. Both, however, oppose impeachment because, they said, lawmakers have better things to do.

“The country’s not in favor of it,” Wubben chimed in, “so why go through the process?”

Over on the north side of Dubuque, a neighborhood of working-class families known for its German flavor, ba manager LuGrain had his own sense of where things are headed.

“I think the tension in this country is going to get a lot worse,” he said.

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