House Will Vote To Formalize Impeachment Procedures In Ongoing Inquiry House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House will vote this week on a resolution outlining the process for the next steps in the inquiry into President Trump. This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, congressional correspondent Susan Davis, and national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Email the show at nprpolitics@npr.org. Find and support your local public radio station at npr.org/stations.
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House Will Vote To Formalize Impeachment Procedures In Ongoing Inquiry

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House Will Vote To Formalize Impeachment Procedures In Ongoing Inquiry

House Will Vote To Formalize Impeachment Procedures In Ongoing Inquiry

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MATT: Hi, I'm Matt (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: And we're his groomsmen.

MATT: And dad - and I'm going to marry my beautiful fiancee Margot (ph) in a few hours. This podcast was recorded at...

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 29.

MATT: Some things may have changed by the time you hear this. And I'll be married. I love you, Margot. And I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with you.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: OK, here's the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUIT & TIE")

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) Oh, I be on my suit and tie.

KEITH: Oh, my gosh.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Oh, marriage is wonderful.

KEITH: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KEITH: So you are hearing some music that is relevant to the theme of our podcast today. Those men in tuxedos were relevant to the theme of our podcast today because the impeachment inquiry is about to get a little bit more formal.

DAVIS: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUIT & TIE")

TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) And as long as I've got my suit and tie, I'ma leave it all on the floor tonight. And you got fixed up...

KEITH: So we have in our hands right now language of a resolution directing certain committees to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representative - oh, my God. Sue, this is a long title.

DAVIS: This is a resolution that Democrats said they didn't need to do but are going to do anyway and Republicans have demanded and now are not likely to vote for. Does that...

KEITH: (Laughter).

DAVIS: That seems to sum up the politics of it.

KEITH: But it is formalizing the impeachment inquiry, and the House is set to vote on it on Thursday.

DAVIS: Well, it is formalizing the process of the impeachment inquiry. Democrats will say they are already in an impeachment inquiry. What this resolution is doing is outlining the next steps in the ongoing impeachment inquiry. So what the resolution outlines - a couple of major principles. It gives the House Intelligence Committee the authorization to publicly release the transcripts of these ongoing depositions that have been happening behind closed doors. It sets the terms for public hearings that Democrats have promised, although none have been scheduled yet. And it gives the president certain legal protections or due process, as Republicans have been calling for, in the Judiciary Committee if and when they begin impeachment proceedings.

KEITH: So in other words, this is laying out the rules of the road.

DAVIS: It is. It's also intensifying the impeachment investigation and, I think, one further sign that the House is very likely to move forward on articles of impeachment of the president. They wouldn't be taking this step if they didn't think that they had what they needed to continue the investigation. And I think it's a little bit of calling the Republican bluff. Republicans in the White House for weeks have been saying, this is not a legitimate investigation. The House has not voted to authorize this. You know, neither the Constitution nor House rules require that to happen. But in past precedence, the House has taken a full chamber vote to say, this is what the House is going to be doing. Democrats are going to do that now, but Republicans are saying, this still isn't good enough. It's a sham. We can't support it.

LIASSON: And, you know, even though - when the White House counsel sent up that scathing eight-page letter to say, we're not going to cooperate at all. Your inquiry is illegitimate. At that time, White House officials said even if the House took this kind of vote, they still wouldn't guarantee to cooperate. I have had several Republicans say, she's put Republicans in a box - Nancy Pelosi - by doing this. She's basically kind of choked off one of their arguments that this - these subpoenas that the House has been sending to various White House officials are not authorized by rule or reason. Well, now they're going to be authorized by a vote.

KEITH: OK, so the president, the White House, the president's allies, Republicans on the Hill have all said, this is not a legitimate inquiry. It hasn't been voted on. It's going to be voted on this week, so then what?

LIASSON: Then the House has a slightly stronger argument to make when they go into a courtroom. It's not going to convince the White House all of a sudden, oh, thank you, Nancy. You did what we wanted. Now we're going to cooperate. It just means that when they go into these court battles over enforcing these subpoenas, the House has a stronger position because they have now formally authorized this.

KEITH: OK. So why - if this thing has been going on for a month or longer, why now? Is this Nancy Pelosi capitulating to the argument that the Republicans were making?

DAVIS: It's a good question because Democrats will also say this is a resolution that they don't necessarily have to do either. So if you don't have to do it, why are you doing it? It does suggest that the Republican criticism focused on process has had some effect. You know, Democrats are acknowledging that the House needs to go on record on this question. The counter here is I don't know any Democrats who are wary of taking this vote. This isn't a vote that Democrats seem to be struggling with or have to whip or try to get them on board. This is what I think is more, as I said, Democrats sending a message. We're taking this seriously. We're moving forward with impeachment. And OK. We're going to give you this vote, but understand we are moving towards articles of impeachment of the president of the United States.

LIASSON: And Nancy Pelosi would not be doing this unless she knew this was not a tough vote for the vast majority of her Democrats.

DAVIS: The thing that it has given Republicans is an ability to vote against it. And by that I mean if Democrats had done that process vote earlier in the process, I think more Republicans would have struggled with saying, no, this doesn't even merit an investigation. I think a no vote for Republicans now and at the - every indication from the minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, and the minority whip, Steve Scalise, is they're against it and they want Republicans to be against it - is they can blame that lack of initial vote as saying, this whole process can't be trusted, so I'm going to vote no. I think it's given Republicans a little cover to continue to be against it. I'd also say the White House has seen pretty clear that they see all of these votes as tests of loyalty to the president. And there's not a lot of House Republicans who are eager to draw the ire of President Trump on this question.

KEITH: Yeah, so this becomes a loyalty test. Does it also then become a signal of the sheer partisanship of the inquiry?

DAVIS: I think it does. And I think one of the things we're realizing here is that Nancy Pelosi's initially stated standard of hoping impeachment could be a bipartisan process is less and less likely to happen, certainly, at least, in the House. There has been no movement on the Republican side of the aisle. If anything, I think there's been a solidification against what Democrats are doing. And the tougher reality for Democrats is even if they're comfortable right now, the reality is if we are moving towards impeachment, it is increasingly looking like this will be a question of party line loyalty. You may be more likely to see Democrats voting with Republicans here than you will see Republicans voting with Democrats.

LIASSON: And that is not unusual because the Clinton impeachment was also partisan.

KEITH: All right. We are going to take a quick break. And when we get back, the impeachment inquiry has been continuing behind closed doors. And this time, there was a top White House official who says that he raised concerns over the president's demands that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden.

And we're back - another day, another witness. Today that witness speaking to the Intelligence Committee was a man named Alexander Vindman, who is the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. That is the group inside the White House compound that advises the president on foreign policy. And he is also active duty in the military. Is that right?

DAVIS: He is, and he is another witness that especially Democrats have pointed to. And some Republicans have also defended him today, saying, this is someone of character. He's a patriot. He served his country. We should not be attacking him personally. Democrats point to that record as saying, one more reason you can trust what he's telling Congress. Republicans have said, look. He's a good man, but we fundamentally disagree with his take on things.

KEITH: And he received a Purple Heart for his service in the Iraq War.

LIASSON: He was wounded by an IED, yeah.

DAVIS: He is also the first person to come to Capitol Hill who was on the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy.

LIASSON: Vindman is the first current White House employee to testify. Now, we're supposed to hear from another one later this week, Tim Morrison. But so far, we haven't heard from anyone else who currently works in the White House.

DAVIS: We don't know what's being said behind these closed doors, but we do know what his statement was to Congress. He - his opening statement, which was released - it outlines a story that corroborates the allegations at the heart of this impeachment inquiry, namely that the White House and the president's allies took steps to withhold military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the country to investigate political rivals, including Joe Biden. And Vindman says that he raised concerns about those efforts to the NSC lawyers on July 10, before that July 25 call. He was on the call, heard what the president said and again raised questions to the NSC lawyers about the contents of that call. Clearly, another person who believed that what was happening made them uncomfortable, challenged national security principles of the United States and backs up other testimony that the committee has heard from people like Bill Taylor, who is the top diplomat in Ukraine.

KEITH: And isn't...

LIASSON: And Bill Taylor heard from others about the call. But today Vindman says, I was concerned by the call. He heard it. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen. And I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine. What he actually said that he was worried about is that if they got involved with investigating the Bidens, that then Democrats in Congress wouldn't want to help them anymore. They - it would be seen as a partisan act. He wanted Ukraine to stay out of U.S. politics to maintain the bipartisan support for them.

DAVIS: There was also some drama of his arrival. He arrived on Capitol Hill in full military uniform. And it's a sort of stark reminder that he is an active duty member of the military testifying, essentially, against the commander in chief.

KEITH: And that is what the president's allies are sort of keying in on is this idea that Vindman should have been working for the president, that he should have been following the chain of command. And if the president of the United States says that the money shouldn't be going to Ukraine right now, then Vindman shouldn't be questioning that.

LIASSON: Well, that is a really interesting point because it's the foreign policy of the United States, and this money was congressionally appropriated. So as far as Vindman was concerned, he was absolutely carrying out the foreign policy of the United States. And he said that he went up the chain of command. He was following the book. He told his superiors about this, and that's what he was trained to do in the military - to go up the chain of command.

KEITH: And we should just say that the president has weighed in at least on the prepared testimony - the news reports of the prepared testimony that Vindman was offering. He tweeted this morning, supposedly, according to the corrupt media, Ukraine call concerned today's Never Trumper (ph) witness. Was he on the same call that I was? Can't be possible. Please ask him to read the transcript of the call - witch hunt - exclamation point. And I will say that this is in line with what President Trump has been saying a lot, that the only thing anyone should care about are the words he said on that call on July 25.

LIASSON: And Vindman said he heard the words that Trump was, quote, "demanding" that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen. You know, the transcript is out there, and everyone can decide for themselves if that's what the president was doing or not.

KEITH: So, Sue, how have Republicans over on Capitol Hill been reacting to the testimony?

DAVIS: So on the whole, Republicans have focused almost exclusively on the process arguments. And one of the big questions going forward are, how are they going to defend the president on the substance, especially when this investigation does start to turn more public in hearings and depositions and otherwise? And so House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked today not just about Vindman's testimony but how Republicans are going to defend the president. And I want you to hear what he says because I think it gives you a glimpse of how Republicans are going to mount that defense.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: He is wrong in this. We have differences of opinion. But more importantly, we have a rule of law. The entire country, the entire world has the transcripts. No one questions, was that the phone call? Even if you ask the American public from poll, even if you ask scholars, nothing in that phone call is impeachable.

DAVIS: So you can hear some of the top line arguments that, I think, you should get ready to hear Republicans make more and more. One is that they just don't agree that what Democrats are saying happened on the call happened on the call. They're backing up the president. There was no quid pro quo. He didn't pressure him to do anything. He didn't bring up military aid, so you can't say that he was - it was a pressure campaign. They are going to maintain that the president's done nothing wrong. Nothing he's done here is an impeachable offense. And they will also focus, to Mara's point, that he was asking them to look back to the 2016 elections, although he does clearly mention the Bidens in that phone call. And I think the broader argument is they're going to just try and say Democrats have wanted to impeach the president since they took over the House. This is just a campaign to try and get him out of office - still not directly answering the substance of the charges. McCarthy was also asked, OK. If Republicans could bring people to Capitol Hill to defend the president, who would you want to call? He couldn't answer that question.

KEITH: All right. That is a wrap for today. We will be back tomorrow. Until then, head over to npr.org/politicsgroup to join our Facebook group. It's a place where you can connect with other podcast fans and ask your questions to us and others about politics.

I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

LIASSON: And I'm Mara Liasson, national political correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE SONG, "SUIT & TIE")

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