STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
On this New Year's Day, no matter where you are, I can tell one thing about you for certain. You - yes, you - live in interesting times. In 2019, you witnessed the impeachment of a president. Sometime in 2020, you can expect a Senate trial. In 2019, you followed an enormous number of Democrats running for president. In 2020, you will follow an enormous number of Democrats running for president. And there is no reason not to expect a blizzard of further headlines on immigration, foreign policy, the economy and much more. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been our guide for so much of this, continues to be and is on the line. Mara, happy New Year.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy New Year to you. You're making me exhausted, and it's only January 1. (Laughter).
INSKEEP: I'm sorry, Mara. We'll give you a nap in about five minutes. But first, if you just don't mind mentioning it, when does this impeachment trial start?
LIASSON: Well, that is an excellent question. We are waiting for Congress to get back to Washington to find out when Speaker Nancy Pelosi will send the Senate the articles of impeachment. Democrats have been delaying sending those articles over, hoping that somehow a couple of Republicans would decide that they agree with the Democrats and want witnesses at the trial, witnesses who've been subpoenaed but the White House refused to provide them.
But even though President Trump has said he wants witnesses like the whistleblower and the Bidens, he also has said that he would follow the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has described calling witnesses as mutually assured destruction because if you want Joe Biden, you probably also have to provide Mick Mulvaney or former National Security adviser John Bolton.
McConnell wants a short trial - long enough to show the Senate is taking impeachment seriously but not long enough to allow for new information to emerge because we are learning that new information would likely be bad for the president instead of good. We saw that Freedom of Information Act lawsuit result in some OMB documents turned over that showed how White House officials not only froze the aid to Ukraine as the president was seeking an investigation of Joe Biden, but also tried to hide the fact that they were freezing the aid.
INSKEEP: Mara, I hate to even imply that these senators would ever think of their own reelections when making these serious impeachment decisions. But do some of them have to think about how this process could affect their reelection prospects?
LIASSON: Yes, there are several Senate Republicans in blue states that Hillary Clinton won - Colorado and Maine, for example - that are up for reelection. And, sure, they have to do that. But the polling doesn't give them a lot of good guidance on which way to go because the public is very evenly split on impeachment. Big majorities tell pollsters they think what the president did was wrong, asking a foreign government to investigate a political rival. But when it comes to impeaching and removing him from office because of that, the public is split down the middle.
INSKEEP: And I guess we don't know that further question of whether the public would decide their vote on this or even be thinking about impeachment given all the things that could happen between now and November.
INSKEEP: The Iowa caucuses are much closer at hand for the Democratic presidential contenders. What are you seeing there?
LIASSON: The top of the field - that's Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg - are the top tier. Biden is still at the top of the polls, although he is still considered a very vulnerable front-runner. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is fighting to get into that top tier, trying to make a good showing in Iowa, which is a neighboring state to her home state of Minnesota.
And Democrats I talked to say that Biden cannot be a distant third in Iowa. People say there's three tickets out of Iowa. You've got to place in the top three in order to get some momentum to go on to New Hampshire and the other states. But Biden really needs to place close to the top.
We do know that five candidates have qualified for the Iowa debate that's coming up on January 14. That'll be the smallest debate field on stage so far. And those five are the top tier - Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg and Klobuchar.
INSKEEP: Can I mention somebody who's not in the top tier? Mike Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, has done a couple of things recently - one is he got a lot of attention on social media for saying he would turn part of the White House into an open-concept office. And he's also spent a hundred million dollars on advertising, to what effect?
LIASSON: Yes, I can't really explain what an open-concept office would be...
LIASSON: ...In the Oval Office or the East Room. But I can tell you that he is the best-funded wild card we have ever seen in politics. As you said, he spent a hundred million dollars on advertising so far. And his strategy is to hope that there is a muddled outcome in the first four states, either somebody different wins each of those first four states or they're all bunched up within a point of each other. And then when the primary comes to the point where big states vote all on the same night, there he is with his hundreds of millions of dollars ready to spend.
INSKEEP: Mara, I'm going to embarrass you. I've really appreciated your insights the last many years, and I'm looking forward to one more year of it. Thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.