Sunday Politics

Dec 8, 2019
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The impeachment of President Trump is now inevitable. The House Judiciary Committee released a report yesterday outlining what the Constitution defines as impeachable offenses. And this week, Democrats are expected to begin drafting articles of impeachment against the president.

NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us for more. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Mara, here we go. Impeachment is happening. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that they were going to go forward. And then she was asked if she hated the president, and she really took umbrage at that. She cited her Catholic faith. She made a clear distinction between political differences and constitutional offenses. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: I think the president is a coward when it comes to helping our kids who are afraid of gun violence. I think he's in denial about the climate crisis. However, that's about the election. This is about the - take it up in the election. This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president's violation of his oath of office.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mara, it's been a long road. Pelosi used to be an impeachment skeptic, right?

LIASSON: She used to be an impeachment skeptic. For months and months during the Mueller investigation, she said you shouldn't impeach the president unless there's wide bipartisan support for that in the country, and there isn't. But then she got the information that the president had asked a foreign government to investigate a political rival and a system in his own reelection campaign. For her, that was a clear abuse of power. And even more important, her moderates, who she had been protecting from impeachment, decided that this also crossed a line for them. So Nancy Pelosi feels constitutionally compelled to move forward.

The article - her Article 1 branch has oversight authority over the executive branch. She feels if she didn't move forward with this, her Article 1 powers would be rendered meaningless. What you just heard her say is she makes a very clear distinction between all the policy reasons she's opposed to the president, but that's for voters to decide whether he should stay in office or not. But when he abuses his power and violates the Constitution, then she feels she has to go forward, regardless of the politics.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. Going forward, what's next?

LIASSON: What's next is the Democrats have to decide exactly what they're going to impeach the president for. Do they keep it very narrow and just have one or two counts - abuse of power, obstruction of Congress - because the White House has flatly refused to cooperate with Congress, answer subpoenas for witnesses and documents - or, as some other Democrats want, should the articles be broader and include obstruction of Congress during the Mueller - that the Mueller investigation turned up? So Democrats are debating among themselves. The one thing that we do know is they want this to be pretty quick and done by Christmas.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And where is the White House in all of this?

LIASSON: The White House wrote a letter to the House saying that they would not participate in the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday. They had left that open, but now they've closed the door. They say this is a sham process, a witch hunt. And they are looking forward to getting this thing out of the House and into the Senate, where the president calls that our turf because, of course, the Senate is where Republicans are in the majority. The House has Democrats in the majority. And they say they're looking forward to a fair trial in the Senate, and they want the House to get it off their plate as soon as possible.

Now, no one I've talked to is very confident about predicting the political endgame of this. Democrats could get a backlash against impeachment. Republicans could see a groundswell for impeachment. That would be bad for them. But where there is consensus is that no one thinks there will be 20 Republicans to break ranks and vote for removal in the Senate because there you need 67 votes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. And meanwhile, let's talk a little bit about the president and his foreign policy concerns and, most immediately, the relationship with Saudi Arabia because of the tragedy at the Pensacola airbase yesterday. A Saudi officer opened fire, killing three Americans. How is the president handling this?

LIASSON: Well, it's really interesting. The president's first instinct seems to be to absolve the Saudi government in general. He said that he had talked to Saudi leaders. They're devastated about what's happened. He said that the king will be involved in, quote, "taking care of families and loved ones." Presumably, that means giving them money. He never used the word terrorism, as he would for any kind of attack on U.S. soil by a Muslim person.

But this is very similar to how he reacted to Jamal Khashoggi's death and dismemberment. He considers the Saudis not just staunch allies of the United States, but also personal friends of himself and his family. We have heard reports - not confirmed by NPR - that this might not have been a lone gunman. He might have watched mass killing videos at a dinner party he hosted earlier in the week, that other Saudis might have videoed the attack. So there's a lot more to come in this incident.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent. Thank you.

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