NEW YORK, NY – For a few moments, most of the talking ceased, replaced by simple recitations of “aye" or “no.”
The House Judiciary Committee's vote Friday on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump made for a short and solemn television show, in contrast to hours of debate that stretched over two days and ended in rancor near midnight Thursday.
The cable news and broadcast networks all covered the blink-if-you-miss-it moment live Friday, although they had to hustle: Voting was underway before ABC broke in, for example. It all took less than 10 minutes.
“The vote was quick, the results consequential,” CNN's John King said.
The coverage reflected the nation's partisan divide over impeachment.
President Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998 “seemed to capture the imagination of the country. Everyone was paying attention to it. You don't get that sense today,” said Bill Hemmer, appointed this week as Fox News Channel's chief news anchor.
Meanwhile, CNN's Dana Bash was awed by the decorum and sense of history. On MSNBC, commentator Eddie Glaude said the vote represented "the death rattle of the Republican Party.
“This is the moment,” Glaude said. "I think I'm hearing the last breath."
Fox's Hemmer interviewed Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat who said she hasn't made up her mind on an impeachment vote. She characterized her constituents as “definitely engaged” on the issue, so much so that her district office had to add another phone line to handle the calls of people who wanted their opinions heard.
Hemmer pointed out that Slotkin, a former CIA analyst, won her election by 3 percentage points in a district carried by Trump by 7 points in 2016, and asked if she would lose next year if she voted for impeachment
"If this is the end of my political career, at least I'm doing what I think is right, and I'm basing my decision on integrity," Slotkin said. “That's the most I can do.”
Hemmer said that, Ï'm trying to read your mind. That last answer sounds like a ‘no.’"
Slotkin cautioned him against such an interpretation, saying she would look at the evidence over the weekend and decide Monday. Hemmer went on to ask her whether she thought the punishment of impeachment fit the accusations and to respond to Republican charges that the process was unfair.
"I do think there's a focus on the process rather than the substance," Slotkin said, “and I'm a substance person.”
Friday's vote followed two marathon days of discussion on the impeachment articles that dominated coverage on the cable networks until ending abruptly late Thursday night. The Democratic majority said they didn't want a vote when many Americans were sleeping; angry Republicans suggested they were playing to the cameras.
CNN aired the House debate live for a longer period than rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC, who seemed more reluctant to preempt their highly-rated lineups of opinion hosts. During the hearing, for example, Fox aired Sean Hannity's interview with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about the potential impeachment trial.
On Thursday, CNN aired 11 hours, 48 minutes of the impeachment discussion. MSNBC had 10 minutes, 39 seconds and Fox had 7 minutes, 35 seconds, according to an analysis by the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America.
Earlier in the week, CNN spent notably less time than its two competitors covering the Senate Judiciary Committee with testimony of the Justice Department inspector general about the FBI's handling of the investigation into Russian election interference.
During daytime coverage of the impeachment discussion on Thursday, Fox News averaged 1.89 million viewers, MSNBC had 1.1 million and CNN had 959,000, the Nielsen company said.