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Week In Politics


The president's choice for director of national intelligence - no longer his choice. And are House Democrats at a tipping point for impeachment? Turn now to Molly Ball, national political correspondent for Time magazine. Molly, thanks for joining us in the studio today.

MOLLY BALL: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: John Ratcliffe, a congressman from Texas, was the president's choice. He didn't even have a chance to disappoint people in congressional hearings. What happened?

BALL: (Laughter) Well, there were a lot of questions raised about Congressman Ratcliffe's resume. He did not have a background in intelligence or in law enforcement. And there was a noted lack of enthusiasm for him among the Republicans in the Senate, who would have been called upon to confirm him.

And this is part of a pattern - the president's sort of nominate-first, ask-questions-later approach to a lot of these jobs that require Senate confirmation. And so we've seen over and over again these poorly vetted nominees who have to withdraw their nominations. And the result of that, also, is important posts in the administration going vacant for months at a time.

SIMON: Yeah, including cabinet positions - right? - particularly in the security area.

BALL: Yeah. And this becomes kind of alarming to a lot of experts in the field when, for example, there was no United States defense secretary for seven months. And the Pentagon's doing kind of a lot right now. It's kind of important to have someone in charge of it. But that was another case where, first of all, the person who'd been there - General James Mattis - resigned in protest of the president's actions - in fact, his impulsivity in announcing things without running them...

SIMON: Yeah.

BALL: ...Through the chain of command. And then the person that the president nominated for the post had to withdraw after questions were raised about his record. So there's a real pattern here of not going through processes, not vetting and then that having consequences, both in terms of people in important positions and in terms of the president's track record in getting nominations through.

SIMON: This week, number of House Democrats who say they support impeaching or at least considering impeaching President Trump hit a numerical majority in the House - 118 Democrats, according to NPR's impeachment tracker. This is going to be a tortured analogy, but is an impeachment train beginning to chug out of the station?

BALL: Well, in my opinion, the impeachment train has been chugging slowly since Democrats took over the House majority. In fact, we - Time magazine - I personally wrote a cover story back in March arguing that impeachment was all but inevitable simply because so many Democrats, even before the Mueller report came out, believed that the president had committed impeachable offenses, had abused his power, was violating the Constitution. And that sentiment continues to increase among Democrats in the House, not among Republicans. So this is a majority of the Democratic majority but not a majority of the members of the House of Representatives, which, of course, you'd have to get to actually forward impeachment to the Senate.

The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi continues to oppose proceeding with impeachment, and there's no law that says she has to go forward if a majority of her caucus wants it. And something that you do hear in the nuance of these statements from members of the House is they're not putting a lot of pressure on the speaker. They're not vocally opposing her strategy, going after her. They're saying this is where they are personally, and, in fact, she's given them permission to do so. But they're not saying, you know, the leadership is wrong, and we've got to push this through. So there is some patience, I think, that allows the speaker to continue to move the process forward.

SIMON: So she is still the engineer.

BALL: She is. I...

SIMON: But not necessarily plotting the course. I told you this analogy would be hard to take.

BALL: (Laughter) Well, she has very firm control over the caucus of House Democrats. And, so far, they have deferred to her, even if they differ with her on where this train, as you put it, is likely to end up.

SIMON: Molly Ball, thanks so much for being with us.

BALL: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.