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Week In Politics: House Democrats' Impeachment Inquiry Against Trump

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's time now to talk about the week in politics. And, my God, I can't believe it's only been a week. To do that, I'm joined by E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Georgetown's McCourt School.

Welcome back, E.J.

EJ DIONNE, BYLINE: Great to be with you.

CORNISH: David Brooks of The New York Times, thank you for being here.

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Thank you.

CORNISH: Let's pick up where my co-host just left off, these communications with foreign leaders. Can you tie together a trend? Is the Ukraine call a coda to a kind of long-running story of this president's tenure?

BROOKS: Yeah. I guess what strikes me, especially reading the transcript of the Ukraine call, is Donald Trump is incapable of thinking about any national problem. And everything is a personal problem to him. And so it's all revolving around how is Donald Trump doing, what can you do for Donald Trump. And it's almost a narcissism gone into the White House, and that's why he tramples all these protocols. It's also ironic to me that a guy who ran on America First is happy to have foreign countries interfere with our elections.

CORNISH: E.J.

DIONNE: I think that was a great piece that showed that Trump doesn't know how to be president. It's why he shouldn't be president. When he says the word us, he's not talking about the United States of America. As David suggested, he's talking about himself. And that's why he is now facing an impeachment inquiry and why I think he should be impeached. The conversation with the Ukrainian leader just showed that he has learned nothing in his time as president and wants to do all over again what apparently happened in the last election but with another power.

CORNISH: Many lines of investigation with this inquiry according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Here she is talking about the handling of the call with Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: This is a cover-up. This is a cover-up.

CORNISH: And here's the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes. And here's how he characterized the whole idea of an impeachment inquiry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEVIN NUNES: They don't want answers. They want a public spectacle. And so we've been treated to an unending parade of press releases, press conferences and fake news stories.

CORNISH: David, you wrote in your column yesterday that Trump is guilty, but impeachment is a mistake. Is that because you agree with Congressman Nunes?

BROOKS: No.

(LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: You know, I think the key goal here is to remove Donald Trump from office. And the problem with impeachment is that it will not remove Donald Trump from office. There is almost zero chance that 20 Republican senators will vote to convict this guy. And so at the end of this, Trump will probably emerge victorious and call himself victorious because he got acquitted.

And so to me, what we have is an inside-the-Beltway spectacle, where Trump gets to run against exactly the people he wants to run against, Nadler and Nancy Pelosi. And in the meantime, we will distort and overshadow the way we really should be getting rid of this guy, which is through an election, where people talk about the issues they actually care about.

CORNISH: Can I hit pause for one second? I'm going to come to you, E.J., but I spoke to Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy. He's an informal adviser to the president. He said he had actually spoken to the president this week. Here were some of his insights.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CHRIS RUDDY: I think Nancy Pelosi is the smartest person in Washington right now. And I think she didn't pull the trigger on this without knowing that she had more ammunition in her guns.

CORNISH: He is massively against this thesis that somehow this will energize the base and be good for Trump. E.J., where are you in this conversation?

DIONNE: Well, that - this is one occasion where I agree with him. Look; in general, my view is it's always better for the country to decide this in an election. And nothing would be better for us in the long run than Trump being rejected by a massive vote by the voters, which is what may yet happen.

But nothing could be worse for our constitutional system for Congress to sit by timidly in the face of clear evidence of Trump's desire once again to get foreign help in the election, the cover-ups all through the administration so we wouldn't learn about this phone call, his indifference to the law or his responsibilities. Trump thrives on weakness. And if Congress didn't act now, if Nancy Pelosi hadn't crossed this line on impeachment, we could expect a lot more from Trump. Bullies only respond to pressure.

CORNISH: And then they're going to go home. So Congress is going on recess. What does this do to whatever - I guess what you would call political momentum that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have gotten from her comments and everything, the momentum of this week? What are you guys going to be listening for to come out from the voters over the next two weeks? E.J.

DIONNE: Well, first of all, the intelligence committee is going to continue its work. They're talking about having hearings. So a lot of members may be home, but they're not just stopping right now and letting it sit for two weeks. I have a hunch if you look at the polls, Ukraine has already started moving more voters toward the impeachment side. I think Democrats will hear great relief from their base. And I think they're going to be listening carefully to see if middle-ground voters looked at the Ukraine thing and said that's enough for us.

CORNISH: The elusive middle-ground voter.

DIONNE: (Laughter) There you go.

BROOKS: (Laughter) Democrats have a - you're looking at me. Democrats have consolidated around impeachment. It's now, like, 50-50, 47-47. So it's broken down along party lines in the way we expected. I think what I'm looking for is how big is this investigation. I think Pelosi wants to get this out of the way fast, focus on Ukraine. But we've also already got multiple committees saying no, we want to investigate, too. We want to make it bigger. And that would make it a lot slower.

CORNISH: What's the likelihood of that? You guys have both seen impeachment processes, right?

DIONNE: Democrats know, I think, that if they don't do this quickly, things will get bogged down in a way that will only help Trump. Now every committee chair has his or her interests at stake. I think Pelosi's going to stare them down and say we've got to move fast, and we've got to have a limited number of impeachment articles. Maybe a few beyond Ukraine, but not much.

BROOKS: The lesson of the Gingrich impeachment was very clear. These things take on a momentum of their own, and they grow and grow and take a lot longer than everybody expects.

CORNISH: That's New York Times columnist David Brooks. Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: And from The Washington Post and Georgetown's McCourt School, E.J. Dionne. Thank you.

DIONNE: Bless you. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEACH FOSSILS SONG, "SAINT IVY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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