LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
To tell us more about what to expect from the upcoming hearings and how the White House will respond, we're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Basic question as we head into the new week - is this inquiry that's unfolding just about that call with the Ukrainian president?
LIASSON: That hasn't been completely resolved, but all of our reporting from the Hill indicate that the House leadership would like to confine the inquiry to this issue. They feel it's a clear abuse of power easy to understand. You know, if the Mueller report was this massive tome that nobody read, the House leadership feels this whistleblower complaint is kind of like beach reading. If you look at the rough transcript and the whistleblower complaint together, you could read it on your lunch hour and decide for yourself if there's an abuse of power.
There are other committees looking into obstruction of justice and financial questions about the president. But right now, it looks like the impeachment inquiry will focus just on Ukraine.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So what's happening as we speak, and what's in store for the week?
LIASSON: The House has sent out subpoenas for information that could corroborate the whistleblower complaint. They've sent these subpoenas to Secretary of State Pompeo. They want documents and witnesses, including Marie Jovanovic, the former American ambassador to Ukraine. They want her to testify. And they want Kurt Volker, who was the United States special envoy to Ukraine who dealt with Rudy Giuliani on this. And he resigned his post on Friday. Also next week, we get a closed-door briefing with the intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.
And of course, we're watching public opinion, which is split on this. Support for impeachment has bumped up somewhat, but we don't have a groundswell. We're also watching for what else might happen. Remember, the late John McCain said this whole story about Russian involvement was like a centipede with a hundred shoes. We've already gotten reports of more phone calls with Vladimir Putin and Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia that have been put into this top-secret file. We've gotten more information about what the president said to the foreign minister of Russia in the Oval Office. That's something that Robert Mueller failed to find. So this story has a lot more chapters to it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess the central question for the White House is, are they ready for what is a very serious process?
LIASSON: That's a very good question. You know, in the last impeachment with Bill Clinton, his White House set up a war room. They kept the impeachment business completely separate from their legislative agenda. That isn't happening in this White House. President Trump wants to be his own war room. He's been talking and tweeting about this nonstop.
There is a kind of metaphor for how prepared or unprepared the White House is for this. Last week, the White House sent out talking points. And by mistake, when they pushed send, the talking points were sent to House Democrats, and then the White House tried to recall the email. So they're not quite ready for this. The big question for people in the White House is going to be, do they want to cooperate with Congress or hire a lawyer and fight?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what about the public? What is the PR campaign going to look and sound like this week?
LIASSON: Well, you can just open your phone and see the messaging from both sides. From the president and his supporters, this is a witch hunt. The Democrats want to undo the 2016 election. The real scandal is what Joe Biden and his son did, or it's just a big nothingburger (ph).
Democrats say this is abuse of power. Go read the complaint for yourself. They point out that while U.S. presidents have often harnessed U.S. aid as leverage for - to accomplish U.S. foreign policy goals, never before has a president used taxpayer-funded military aid for their own personal political benefit. If you look at that transcript of the call, nowhere in the call does the president discuss U.S. policy. It's all about his personal political rival.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, I mean, this is all going to land in the Senate - right? - because that's where the question of removal ends up if the House does decide to impeach. So that, of course, makes one wonder, what is Mitch McConnell thinking? Do you know?
LIASSON: Well, McConnell actually told NPR's Embedded podcast last year what would happen if the House impeached, and he's basically said there's no getting around the Senate dealing with it. Here's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
MITCH MCCONNELL: If it were to happen, the Senate has no choice. If the House were to act, the Senate immediately goes into a trial.
LIASSON: So that raises a big question for a lot of people, including Democrats, who think Donald Trump is guilty of an abuse of power but are very wary of taking away the right of voters to decide for themselves if the president should stay in office or not. And they're wondering, is there an off-ramp? Is there a place for Nancy Pelosi to land the impeachment plane other than on the Senate tarmac, where it will certainly be destroyed? - because no one thinks that 20 Republicans are going to flip and decide to convict and remove the president.
So there has been some talk about censure as a possible alternative to impeachment. We have never had impeachment in an election year. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were both reelected before they were impeached, and removal denies voters the opportunity to decide if Donald Trump should be president or not.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But the whole complaint is about the fairness of this upcoming election. And so one could argue that it is pertinent to these very elections coming up in 2020.
LIASSON: Absolutely. But one of the sticking points for the House Democrats - and you see this in the polling - even people who think that Donald Trump is guilty of an abuse of power feel that the most legitimate remedy is for voters to make the decision for themselves whether he stays in office or not.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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