House Judiciary Committee Will Begin Drawing Up Charges Against President Trump
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made it official today. She is asking committee chairmen to draft articles of impeachment against President Trump.
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NANCY PELOSI: The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit.
CHANG: President Trump immediately turned around and criticized Pelosi, but he is thinking ahead, too - to what should happen if the House votes for impeachment and the Senate holds a trial. To talk about all of this, I'm joined now in the studio by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
Hello to both of you.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.
CHANG: All right. Claudia, let's just start with Pelosi's announcement. How did she explain her decision to now move ahead on impeachment right after the first Judiciary Committee hearing?
GRISALES: Yes. She said that there was this aha moment after the whistleblower came forward with this report of grave concern involving a White House pressure campaign with Ukraine. She said the facts uncovered in this investigation of the president changed everything, including public polling, which shifted from a minority of the country supporting this move to now just about half the country. She also said the president gave her and other Democrats no choice but to move forward or this behavior could continue. And she also defended the speed of drafting the articles of impeachment. Now, she noted, it's been more than two years since the Mueller investigation began and started many of the same questions of President Trump drawing foreign interference into our elections.
CHANG: I also know there was sort of this dramatic moment that came up during Pelosi's press conference. She got a question she didn't quite like. Can you tell us a little more about that moment?
GRISALES: Yes. So she was walking away from the podium at that moment, and a reporter for Sinclair Broadcast Group - it's a conservative network of television stations...
GRISALES: ...Yelled out a question to her, asked her if she hated the president. She stopped. She turned to face Rosen and pointed at him and said that she didn't agree with kind of the tone of his question. And we have tape of when she returned to the podium to respond further. Let's take a listen.
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PELOSI: I don't hate anyone. I was raised in a way that is full - a heart full of love. I pray for the president all the time. So don't mess with me when it comes to words like that.
LIASSON: That's pretty unusual for Nancy Pelosi. She often gets questions as she's leaving the stage, but she rarely comes back to the podium to answer them.
LIASSON: Don't mess with me. That was the - her bite of the day. But it did capture the gravity of the moment. She's trying to communicate that this has nothing to do with personal feelings or politics. It's about protecting the constitution. And we do know that she resisted impeachment for many, many months...
LIASSON: ...Until the whistleblower report came out.
CHANG: Until the whole Ukraine affair...
CHANG: ...Came to surface. So when reporters asked President Trump today about the House's decision to move ahead on impeachment, he said this.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's a hoax. It's a hoax. It's a big, fat hoax.
CHANG: Which sounds kind of familiar, right, Mara? I mean, what more has the president said about Pelosi's announcement today?
LIASSON: Well, the president has been tweeting a lot. He said Pelosi had, quote, "a nervous fit." He talked about the do-nothing radical left Democrats who are going to impeach him over nothing. He did say, if you're going to impeach me, do it now fast so we can have a fair trial in the Senate. So it sounds like he's really looking forward to the House proceedings like a root canal, but he's seeing a more friendlier venue...
GRISALES: Right, in the Republican-controlled Senate.
LIASSON: ...In the future on the other side of the Capitol, when he can go to the Republican-controlled Senate.
CHANG: All right, so let's turn to what we think these articles of impeachment might look like. Claudia, have you heard any specifics yet on what shape these articles might take?
GRISALES: So we have heard members touch on some possible articles of impeachment, but we're not clear yet what they're going to look like. Democrats such as House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff laid out the potential for bribery or obstruction to be part of those articles, but how broad these articles will be remains to be seen. It could focus just on Ukraine, or it could expand and include Mueller's Russia investigation. There's some Democrats arguing to keep this narrowly focused on Ukraine, but there's others that might argue they want a broader list of articles, giving them an opportunity to vote against some of these and get some political cover.
CHANG: OK, so let's assume Democrats do draft these articles. The House passes those articles, then everything bounces over to the Senate side. The Senate holds a trial. Mara, can you just give us an idea of - how is the White House preparing for that phase?
LIASSON: Well, you just heard Donald Trump tweet he wants a fast trial. White House officials have said that they want witnesses on the floor, live witnesses. The president also tweeted today. He said he wanted, quote, "Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more" to testify. Now, it's unclear whether that would happen and, even if it did, if it would be a case of be careful what you wish for. Do you really want to give Joe Biden that kind of a platform? But nobody really knows what the political endgame is here. The rules for the Senate trial have not been worked out yet between Majority Leader McConnell and Democratic Leader Schumer, and the only thing that people seem certain about is there will not be 67 votes to remove him from office.
LIASSON: That would mean 20 Republicans would have to flip.
CHANG: So more immediately, President Trump faces a Friday deadline to decide whether he will be sending a legal team to participate in next Monday's House Judiciary Committee hearing. Do you get any sense of what the White House is going to do?
LIASSON: Well, you know, they didn't - they decided not to participate in the Wednesday hearing, although they left the door open to participating in future hearings. There is no indication that they will participate on Monday. It seems as if they don't see any value in participating in the House proceedings. They are really focused on the Senate.
CHANG: That's NPR's Mara Liasson and Claudia Grisales.
Thanks to both of you.
LIASSON: Thank you.
GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.