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Week In Politics: Trump's Impeachment And Its Political Implications

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A three-month buildup reached its climax this week, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's announcement of an impeachment investigation in late September to Wednesday's House debate and vote on two articles of impeachment, making Donald Trump only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. Before we take our regular Friday step back to look at the impact of the week in politics, let's listen to some of the voices from this historic week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The House will be...

JIM MCGOVERN: This is a democracy-defining moment.

JOHN LEWIS: We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.

BARRY LOUDERMILK: When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilot gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers.

ADAM SCHIFF: Ambition is set against ambition in which no branch of government can dominate another.

DOUG COLLINS: I see coming up a president who will put his head down even through this sham impeachment, and he will do his job. He will...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, I think we have a vote coming in.

NANCY PELOSI: On this vote, the yeas are 229, the nays are 198. Present is one. Article II is adopted.

TRUMP: So we got every single Republican voted for us.

MITCH MCCONNELL: If the Senate blesses this slapdash impeachment, if we say that from now on, this is enough, then we invite an endless parade of impeachable trials.

SHAPIRO: Well, joining us here in the studio are Susan Glasser of The New Yorker and Eliana Johnson, editor in chief of The Washington Free Beacon.

Good to have you both here.

ELIANA JOHNSON: Thank you.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Impeachment is historic. Does that necessarily mean that it is politically significant, or are both sides so baked into their views that this won't make a difference? Susan, what do you think?

GLASSER: Well, you know, look - I think that it is significant. And one thing we've learned from the last few years is it's a big mistake to bet too much on the current conventional wisdom. The current conventional wisdom might hold that it's not going to be a major voting event by November of 2020, if only because there've been so many events in the Trump area. This feels like one more controversial and divisive chapter.

But I would say that it's really the impact not too much on politics but on presidents. This is an incredible moment in the life cycle of a presidency. It's only happened three times before in American history. President Trump can't write that out of his obituary.

SHAPIRO: Eliana, what do you think?

JOHNSON: I think that's right. I think it's tremendously significant. I think the clip you played - you hear Republicans making the point that Democrats have lowered the bar for impeachable conduct. I think that reflects the increasing partisanship of the electorate. And I think what may happen, and this is just a guess - but what's happened with federal judges and now even Supreme Court justices, that you don't see those kind of 97-2, 98-1 votes anymore, that we may see more impeachments simply because they reflect the gross partisanship of the country.

SHAPIRO: I want to ask you about this because Republican Congressman Steve Chabot of Ohio said something similar to me on Wednesday night just after he cast these votes. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

STEVE CHABOT: I think we're going to see these all too common from now on, and so I don't think they're going to be that unusual. I think the Democrats have lowered the bar so much on impeachment that these are going to be much more routine.

SHAPIRO: What does that actually mean, Susan? The next time there's a Republican House and a Democratic president, there will be an impeachment no matter what? I mean...

GLASSER: You know, I - color me skeptical. You can literally find the exact same quote from many Democratic members of Congress during the Bill Clinton impeachment. They said, you know, if you impeach a president of the United States for lying under oath about a sexual affair, you've destroyed the significance of the impeachment clause. You've demeaned it. This is going to just become a routine part of our politics. And by the way, they also said this during the Nixon era.

And so I find that there's a real historical resonance and rhyming to many of the arguments that we've been having about process, about the politics of it. Impeachment is unpopular among the American people, who view it as a dangerous, almost in-case-of-emergency-break-glass type constitutional weapon. So you see a lot of members of Congress warning about future impeachments in part because they perceive that Americans would resolve - would prefer to resolve our differences at the ballot box.

SHAPIRO: And now you have the standoff between Pelosi and McConnell, where she says she won't send the articles of impeachment to the Senate until he provides more information about the rules for the trial. Eliana, what difference do you think that makes?

JOHNSON: You know, Susan and I were just talking about this before we came in. My speculation has been that Pelosi is working to deprive President Trump of being able to go out on the campaign trail and say, see, look - the Senate has acquitted me, and that shows that the House impeachment was a sham from the beginning.

SHAPIRO: Does that mean this could draw out for another nine months? I mean, are you talking about until the election?

JOHNSON: That's what I've been wondering. I think the other possibility is that she doesn't quite know yet who the House managers of the impeachment will be. And we could see the articles sent over in early January.

SHAPIRO: Susan, what do you think this is about?

GLASSER: Well, look - first of all, it gives us something to talk about over...

SHAPIRO: This kind of - (laughter).

GLASSER: ...The two weeks of the holiday. My own view is that we are very likely to see the articles sent over the first week of January. But remember - you haven't seen an agreement yet between Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, on the rules of the trial. Back during the Clinton impeachment, it was similarly partisan, but in the Senate, at least, they were able to come together in a unanimous way around the rules. People are skeptical that that can happen this time. So it may just be a matter of Pelosi bargaining or offering Democrats an additional bargaining chip.

But to Eliana's point, people haven't talked about it - the issue of what the Senate does at the end of the trial. We pretty much know there aren't 20 Republican senators who want to remove Donald Trump.

SHAPIRO: Right.

GLASSER: But the nature of this trial - and is it going to be a vote at the end of the trial to acquit him? Is it going to be a vote on whether or not to remove him? And I think that matters to Democrats as they think about this.

SHAPIRO: The last thing I want to ask you about has nothing to do with impeachment. It's about the Democratic presidential debate last night, where everyone at the end of the debate was asked to either name a gift they would give another candidate or ask forgiveness from one of their rivals. Each of the men offered a gift of a policy proposal or the book they had written. The only two women on stage each had this to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELIZABETH WARREN: I will ask for forgiveness. I know that sometimes, I get really worked up.

(LAUGHTER)

WARREN: And sometimes, I get a little hot

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY KLOBUCHAR: I would ask for forgiveness any time any of you get mad at me. I can be blunt, but I am doing this because I think it is so important.

SHAPIRO: No gift or policy there from Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, both asking for forgiveness. What do you both think this says about the gender dynamic in the race, in our last minute?

GLASSER: You know, it's the old joke, right? The man says, I'd like to give you the gift of my brilliance. I thought, actually, of the testimony of Fiona Hill, during the impeachment proceedings, where there's a huge argument that she had with Gordon Sondland. She says, why are you taking over my portfolio? And it's a meeting in her own office. And she got very angry. She was asked about it by the mostly male members of Congress. And you know what she said? She said, I'm sorry. I really - I get, you know, so passionate about my job. And I - these moments resonated with me, and I'm glad that there are so many women in our public life.

SHAPIRO: I want to give Eliana a brief last word here.

JOHNSON: You know, I think these men were mostly regifting because they've already given their policy proposals on the campaign trail.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

JOHNSON: So, you know, no gold stars for them.

SHAPIRO: Eliana Johnson and Susan Glasser, good to have you both here, and happy holidays.

GLASSER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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