Analysis Of The Impeachment Proceedings Against President Trump

Dec 18, 2019
Originally published on December 18, 2019 10:05 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

NPR's congressional reporter Tim Mak and national political correspondent Mara Liasson have been following this debate all day and into the night. And they are both with me now.

Hello.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: Tim, you have covered a lot of congressional votes before. Did this one feel as different as the history books will describe it to be?

MAK: It definitely felt very, very serious. There were hours of building anticipation, culminating to when the House chamber was nearly at capacity and that doesn't usually happen...

SHAPIRO: That rarely happens, right.

MAK: ...During the actual debate. Of course, people will come in for the votes, but there were - there was probably an hour, hour and a half, two hours where the place was packed. It got pretty partisan and far more partisan than it usually gets. I mean, lawmakers were interrupting each other's speeches with jeers and cheers, and a lot of members of Congress were giving impassioned speeches about how this impeachment will stand in history. Take, for example, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STENY HOYER: Let us neither turn away from the evidence, which, to me, seems so clear, nor from our good conscience, which compels us to do what, in our hearts, we know to be right.

MAK: We can contrast that with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who brought up his concerns about the impeachment process.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: The Democrats' case is based on secondhand opinions and hearsay. Simply put, there are no grounds for impeachment.

MAK: You know, even as a kind of last protest, Republicans decided not to vote using the typical electronic balloting system. They chose to use red paper ballots to indicate their no votes to force the clerk to count their votes manually and slow the process down. Ultimately, Republicans stayed united. They've been pretty unified in saying that they believe this process has been illegitimate. There were, however, a couple - between two to three Democratic defections; two on the first article relating to abuse of power, three on the second article, alleging that the president committed obstruction of Congress.

SHAPIRO: And Tulsi Gabbard, who is a Democrat running for president, did not vote to impeach.

MAK: That's correct. She voted present. She said that she didn't feel comfortable voting either for or against this process. She said it was very partisan, and she didn't feel comfortable participating in it in that way.

SHAPIRO: And as the debate was unfolding, the president flew to Michigan, where he held a rally tonight. It was almost a split screen. Let's listen to some of what he said in Battle Creek, Mich.

(SOUNDBITE ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It doesn't really feel like we're being impeached.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: The country is doing better than ever before. We did nothing wrong. We did nothing wrong. And we have tremendous support in the Republican Party like we've never had before.

SHAPIRO: Mara, talk about the White House and the president's response today.

LIASSON: Well, he as - at the moment he was being impeached - talk about a split screen. He was in Michigan on stage, giving a long riff about how to pronounce Mayor Pete Buttigieg's name and going on about Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, calling her Crooked Hillary. And, of course, the crowd was chanting, lock her up. He said that impeachment would...

SHAPIRO: You say of course the crowd was chanting lock her up. Let's pause for a minute. The...

LIASSON: The crowd has always chanted lock her up ever since the campaign.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, yeah.

LIASSON: They've never stopped. He's never stopped running against Hillary Clinton or whipping up the crowd against her.

SHAPIRO: Even as he's being impeached.

LIASSON: Even as he's being impeached - he said that impeachment would be an eternal mark of shame for Democrats. And what's interesting is during the day, he had been rather quiet. He had tweeted once in all caps with four exclamation points, such atrocious lies by the radical-left, do-nothing Democrats. This is an assault on America. But he didn't stop to talk to reporters on his way out of the White House to the helicopter, which he almost always does. But the president is giving a speech at this rally very similar to other speeches. He's given lots of grievances. He gets a lot of energy from these rallies, where he can counterpunch against his political enemies. And I should say this is his fourth trip to Michigan. It's a state he won by only 0.3% in 2016, so he really needs this state.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. OK, so if we're doing the split screen thing - to go back to the Capitol Hill side of the split screen. Tim, there has been so much talk about the freshman Democrats who were elected from districts that Trump carried in 2016 - sounds like most if not all of them voted for impeachment. What are the political implications of this?

MAK: Right. Well, there are 31 districts that the president won in 2016 which then turned around and voted for Democrats in the 2018 midterms. And the vast, vast majority of those members stuck together and voted to impeach the president this evening. Their message was that while it might be politically perilous to do so, their conscience required that they vote to impeach. Here's Abigail Spanberger. She is a freshman Democrat from Virginia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABIGAIL SPANBERGER: And today, especially today, I reflect on the founding documents that have set us apart in the world, leading people across generations and across the world to risk everything because of their belief in our great nation. Today and especially today...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Gentlelady's time is expired.

SPANBERGER: I affirm my commitment to upholding and protecting the Constitution, the rule of law it defines...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Gentlelady's time is expired.

SPANBERGER: ...And the people it governs. I yield back.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Gentleman from Georgia.

MAK: So unlike other votes, the Democratic Party's leadership has stated that this was a vote of conscience. Leaders were not whipping or advocating or pressuring their members vote a certain way.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, Mara, it now moves into the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial, where the ball will be a little bit more in President Trump's court.

LIASSON: Yes, and he's actually said he's looking forward to that. He said, then it will be on our turf. House leader - House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed a desire not to have any witnesses, to have a fairly short trial. Democrats have been asking for some witnesses, but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen. Although one senior Republican member of the Senate, John Cornyn from Texas, said today he would be open to a compromise on witnesses, to have them maybe testify - give private depositions behind closed doors.

SHAPIRO: Mara Liasson and Tim Mak as the House has voted to impeach President Trump.

Thank you both.

MAK: Thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.