MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to turn now to what may or may not be a new third rail in the new Congress. It is the question of impeachment. Congressman Brad Sherman quietly reintroduced articles of impeachment against the president, while the president and some Republicans seized on newly-elected Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's ad-libbed call for impeachment at a reception where she was speaking to lambaste the Democrats as unserious and uncouth.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders are advocating a cautious approach. Today on "CBS Sunday Morning," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Congress needs to wait to see what comes out of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS SUNDAY MORNING")
NANCY PELOSI: If and when the time comes for impeachment, it will have to be something that has such a crescendo in a bipartisan way.
MARTIN: Yesterday, though, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt added his name to the list of those calling for impeachment - or at least for the Democrats to hold aggressive hearings to make the public case for it. In a lengthy op-ed he wrote that, quote, "waiting to remove President Trump from office is too dangerous and that the cost of removing a president from office is smaller than the cost of allowing this president to remain" - unquote. And David Leonhardt is with us now.
Welcome. Thank you so much for talking with us.
DAVID LEONHARDT: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: As I said, it's a lengthy piece, and we don't have time to discuss all of the details of it. But it addresses two issues - why impeachment and why now. So I'm going to start by asking you, why now?
LEONHARDT: I think the answer to why now is that the dangers that President Trump presents to the country are growing. You can see that the moderating influences in his administration like Gen. Mattis are leaving. You can see him acting on more of his impulses, like pulling troops out or shutting down the government. And so we have long known that he is unfit for office, but Republicans are starting to have a sense for the political costs he creates for their party.
MARTIN: And, as you know, that this isn't going anywhere without congressional Republicans getting on board, either publicly or privately. So what's your evidence that a focus on - I mean, for you, this is a matter of substance. This is a matter of fact. But for other people, you know, whether or not it is a matter of fact, it's a matter of facts that they can or cannot explain to their supporters, right? So what is your evidence that congressional Republicans would be amenable to these facts as you understand them?
LEONHARDT: Yeah. So, in the end, politicians almost always act in their own personal self-interest (laughter), their political self-interest. And I think that when Republicans look at the reality - they just lost the popular vote in the House midterms by almost 9 percentage points. President Trump's approval rating is just 40 percent. And maybe it's not going to go a lot lower, but it shows no evidence of going higher. And so I just think that if Democrats are able to keep - try to keep some attention on how unpopular his agenda is and how corrupt he and his administration have been and the many ways he is acting like no president before him, I think there is a significant chance. It's not guaranteed, but I think there's a significant chance that his support starts to weaken.
And the only other thing I'd add to that is that he already has less support from his own party in Congress than any other president in memory. So Republicans have not defied him the way I wish they would, the way I think it's their patriotic duty to do. But they have also not supported him the way Obama or Bush or Clinton or Bush or Reagan - and I could go on - were supported by members of their own party. I think his support right now is broad but shallow, and it would not shock me if he struggles to keep that support as Robert Mueller issues his report and as the year goes on.
MARTIN: And, finally, many Democrats and many other outspoken individuals like, for example, the former FBI director, James Comey, who is no fan of this president, you know, obviously...
MARTIN: ...Have argued that, you know, impeachment is a distraction from credible opponents to get themselves sorted out in advance of the 2020 election, including some of your own colleagues on the New York Times editorial board. Why are they wrong?
LEONHARDT: Well, I'm sympathetic to a couple of parts of their argument. I agree with the idea that impeachment right now would be a distraction. I think that impeachment right now would be a mistake. But I think Democrats should continue making the case for removal from office. The reason why I don't think it's OK just to wait for 2020 - I think people are underestimating the potential for a true crisis. Imagine if there were a war somewhere in the world, and the United States had to decide whether to get involved. It would be really irresponsible to leave Trump in office knowing he is unfit for the presidency.
The second reason why I don't think we should just passively wait for 2020 is the precedent. He, again, has acted the way no president in our lifetimes has. He's treated the presidency as a branding opportunity. He's broken campaign finance law. He's obstructed justice. I don't think that we want to set a precedent that as long as you win election, you're allowed to complete your term no matter what.
MARTIN: That was New York Times op-ed columnist David Leonhardt talking to us about his piece, "The People Vs. Donald J. Trump."
David Leonhardt, thanks so much for talking to us.
LEONHARDT: Thank you very much for having me.
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