Here's what Democrats accomplished in the first day of impeachment hearings

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Bill Taylor and George Kent
Bill Taylor and George Kent are sworn in to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on the impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump, on Capitol Hill on Nov. 13, 2019.Jim Lo Scalzo / Pool via Getty Images

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann

WASHINGTON — We told you to brace for the unexpected at Wednesday’s public hearing in the impeachment inquiry, and we weren’t wrong.

Here’s what we learned yesterday:

  • There was a new revelation linking President Trump to “the investigations”

“The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador [Gordon] Sondland about ‘the investigations,’” testified acting Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor.

“Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for."

Bottom line: Sondland’s testimony next Wednesday is going to be must-watch TV.

  • The Democrats had strong, credible witnesses

Both Taylor and State Department official George Kent were knowledgeable, unflappable and sincere.

You couldn’t say they weren’t credible.

  • The GOP’ relied on a “hearsay” defense

But Republican questioners were able to poke holes in their testimony by arguing that their revelations were hearsay.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio: "You didn't listen to President Trump's call, President Zelenskiy's call?"

Taylor: "I did not."

Jordan: "You never talked with chief of staff Mulvaney."

Taylor: "I never did."

Jordan: "You never met the president."

Taylor: "That is correct."

Of course, the Democrats’ counter to that “hearsay” defense is point out that President Trump and Mulvaney have refused to testify.

  • The GOP kept trying to muddy the waters

We also saw Republicans try to muddy the waters – to reduce the accusations against President Trump into mere partisan warfare.

“The Democrats have a long habit of accusing Republicans of offenses they themselves are committing,” said House Intel Committee Ranking Member Devin Nunes. “Let's recall, for years, they accused the Trump campaign of colluding with Russia when they themselves were colluding with Russia by funding and spreading the Steele dossier which relied on Russian sources. And now they accuse President Trump of malfeasance in Ukraine when they themselves are culpable.”

If the Democrats’ goal yesterday was to raise anticipation for future hearings (like Sondland’s), they accomplished that.

If their goal was to present credible witnesses who made the impeachment inquiry relevant and worthwhile, they accomplished that, too.

But if the goal is to remove Trump from office — bypassing next year’s presidential election — they still have a lot of work to do.

That remains a very high bar for them to clear.

How Fox News covered yesterday’s hearings

And one of the main reasons that high bar exists is how Fox News and conservative outlets covered the hearings.

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

Here’s what CNN’s Brian Stelter observed while watching Fox’s coverage yesterday:

“I heard [White House Press Secretary] Stephanie Grisham say that ‘today was a joke.’ I heard Donald Trump Jr. say ‘it's insanity.’ I heard Jeff Sessions ask, ‘Where's the beef?’”

More: “Here's what else I heard: Wednesday's hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a ‘disaster’ for the Democrats and a ‘great day’ for the Republicans. Impeachment is ‘stupid.’ Impeachment is ‘fake.’ There's nothing impeachable here. There's no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.”

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: All of Deval’s challenges

Well, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is officially in the 2020 Democratic presidential race.

And with some 80 days out before the first nominating contest, here are his challenges:

He’s unlikely to qualify for December’s debate, depriving him of national attention.

He’s well behind in raising money and hiring staff.

And maybe most important of all, he faces this question: What does he offer the current Democratic presidential field that it currently doesn’t have?

It already has a current Massachusetts politician (Elizabeth Warren); two African-American candidates (Kamala Harris and Cory Booker); and a current two-term governor who also can’t make the debate stage (Steve Bullock).

He doesn’t answer that question in his announcement video.

“I admire and respect the candidates in the Democratic field – they bring a richness of ideas and experience and a depth of character that makes me proud to be a Democrat,” he says in it. “But if the character of the candidates is an issue in every election, this time is about the character of the country. This time is about whether the day after the election America will keep her promises. This time is about more than removing an unpopular and divisive leader as important as that is, but about delivering instead for you.”

There are openings in this Democratic field. It’s missing a statewide pol from a red Midwest state (hello, Sherrod Brown), a military person (William McRaven) and a statewide pol from a Sunbelt State (Stacey Abrams).

It’s just that Patrick and Michael Bloomberg don’t fill these potential openings.

On the campaign trail today

President Trump attends a rally in Louisiana for GOP gubernatorial nominee Eddie Rispone… Joe Biden holds a community event in Los Angeles… Amy Klobuchar also is in California…. Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in DC, release their Green New Deal housing plan… And Republican Joe Walsh files for the New Hampshire primary.

Dispatches from NBC’s campaign embeds

Pete Buttigieg is slightly altering his attack on Elizabeth Warren’s plan to pay for Medicare for All, NBC’s Priscilla Thompson points out. “During an interview with PBS, Buttigieg was asked for his thoughts on Warren’s plan to pay for Medicare for All. He said, ‘Well, there is a lot of aggressive math in there about cutting the military, assuming that immigration reform happens, and getting about a trillion out of that, and some other areas that are controversial among the economists. The point I'm making is that we don't need to spend tens of trillions of dollars in order to address this problem.’ This is a sharper answer than he gave when asked this exact question during a gaggle on his bus on Sunday, and when discussing the issue on Morning Joe on Monday, when he said, ‘If you’re just counting on immigration reform for a trillion dollars-worth of the funding for a hallmark plan it raises some concerns about how achievable it is.’”

Data Download: The number of the day is … 4 percent

Four percent.

That was Gov. Deval Patrick's level of support in a May 2018 Suffolk University poll of New Hampshire — back when he was weighing a presidential run the first time.

That's compared with 26 percent support for Elizabeth Warren and 13 percent support for Bernie Sanders — both of whom, like Patrick, hail from a state that neighbors New Hampshire.

Joe Biden had 20 percent support in the 2018 poll.

The Lid: Take it to the limit

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when we asked if Elizabeth Warren has hit a ceiling or if she has more room to rise.

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

The White House is trying to be two places at one — in the impeachment fray and above it.

Here's what the 2020 candidates have been up to as the public impeachment hearings take up all the oxygen.

Coverage of the impeachment hearings is pretty ubiquitous on TV. Will it matter?

Michael Bloomberg has a history of demeaning comments towards women, writes the New York Times.

Trump Agenda: Alarming

Bill Taylor's description of a call placed to Trump from a Kiev restaurant is alarming security experts.

More Democrats are calling for Stephen Miller's resignation.

Nowadays, Ukraine is pining for a stable political situation in the U.S.

The Trump tax records case appears to be headed for the Supreme Court.

North Korea is threatening a nuclear escalation — again.

POLITICO reports on Roger Stone's unusual legal strategy.

Trump aides reportedly retaliated against a career State Department civil servant, in part because of her Iranian background.

2020: Stretching it out

Republicans in the Senate are toying with a long impeachment trial that would take some of the top candidates off the trail for weeks.

Mike Bloomberg won't file to get on the New Hampshire primary ballot.

The RNC is spending $1 million on the air in the final days of the Louisiana gov race.