Republicans Largely Stand Behind Trump Following William Taylor's Testimony
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
To talk more about the fallout from this week's testimony, we're joined by NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Welcome back, Susan.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: Let's talk about that protest. How did it unfold?
DAVIS: So the three committees that are conducting the investigation - that's the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees - were scheduled to meet this morning at 10:00 a.m. and to hear from a woman named Laura Cooper. She's a top Pentagon official who oversees U.S. policy in Ukraine. Shortly before that testimony was scheduled to begin, about two dozen Republicans - you heard some there - held a press conference. This included members of the leadership. Minority Whip Steve Scalise was part of this protest.
Republicans have been very critical about this investigation happening behind closed doors, although many congressional investigations do happen behind closed doors. And they attempted to enter what is known as the SCIF - that stands for Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. This is the room three floors below the basement of the Capitol where members go to for classified briefings. Here's Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, who led the group's protest.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MATT GAETZ: We're going to try to go in there. And we're going to try to figure out what's going on on behalf of the millions of Americans that we represent that want to see this Congress working for them and not obsessed with attacking a president who we believe has not done anything to deserve impeachment.
DAVIS: They did proceed to try to enter the secure facility. They took their phones with them, going past places where those phones were allowed. They were effective at essentially disrupting the proceedings that was stalled for about five hours, although Cooper did begin to testify early this afternoon.
CORNISH: So talking to the cameras, bringing in their smartphones, trying to get into a secured facility without clearance, how big of a violation is this?
DAVIS: Well, it is a violation of the House rules. Members can't attend committee hearings they're not allowed to go in. You also can't enter SCIFs with any electronic equipment. It's not just against the rules of the House. It's against national security protocols. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence chairman, did suggest he could file ethics complaints against these Republicans, although I talked to one Democrat who is part of the investigation, Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, who said Democrats just didn't want to escalate things. Here's what he said.
STEPHEN LYNCH: I think the theatrics, you know, just having members hauled off - even though it might give some people great pleasure - I just think that we've got to handle it in a better fashion and that, you know, hopefully with some deliberation, cooler heads will prevail.
DAVIS: In terms of norm-busting, I did talk to one security expert who said part of the reason why they're so sensitive about electronic equipment in this SCIF in particular is because of the vast amounts of classified information that come through it that go far beyond the scope of just this impeachment inquiry.
CORNISH: We heard the clip that Republican earlier saying they don't believe the president did anything wrong. We hear complaints about how they don't like the way Democrats are running the investigation. What's the defense about the substance of the allegations?
DAVIS: Republicans have largely avoided the substance, although I will say I've talked to some Republican sources today who say this process argument is good for now. Democrats are promising public hearings when they plan to call back people like William Taylor to offer testimony in public. And Republicans aren't really prepared yet for how they will defend the president against the substance of these allegations. Republicans I've talked to have said they really need to start strategizing how they will confront that reality. The short answer is they don't have any good answers right now, especially - the White House keeps shifting its own defense. We saw President Trump on Twitter today indicate that yes, maybe the aid was withheld, but since Ukraine didn't know about it, it couldn't be a problem.
The one thing I would say is if you see how much they rallied behind the president today, I do think it's a safe reminder that don't expect many Republicans to break from this president if and when articles of impeachment come to the floor.
CORNISH: That's NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks for your reporting.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.