(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")
TAMARA KEITH, HOST:
Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. And today the House of Representatives voted to formalize the impeachment inquiry. That means that what's been happening behind closed doors is about to get a lot more public. So we decided to do something different on the podcast today.
I need a blanket for this room. It's cold.
We got in our steps today walking all over the Capitol, where this impeachment story was playing out.
The time now is 9:36 a.m. on Thursday, October 31. And I am here with Deirdre Walsh, who is our Congress editor and also - how long have you covered Congress?
DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Let's just say, like, a dozen years.
KEITH: This is a big day, right?
WALSH: This is a big day. I mean, Democrats resisted the idea of actually having a vote to formalize it. But after a lot of testimony has come out confirming and corroborating the whistleblower complaint, they feel pretty confident and opinion polls showing that the public is behind the impeachment process for now. They feel comfortable having this vote.
KEITH: And not only is the House set to vote on this impeachment inquiry, but down in the basement, that inquiry is continuing. Tim Morrison, who was a top aide on the National Security Council, he's testifying behind closed doors and is expected to corroborate a lot of what was in the whistleblower complaint. He's expected to confirm and offer firsthand accounts of some of the things that have been already testified to by others in this inquiry.
WALSH: And I think that maybe it's a sign that Morrison - and now his former boss, the former national security adviser, John Bolton, is now invited to testify - that these closed-door witness interviews could be wrapping up so the public will get to hear from these fact witnesses. We're not sure who or how many, but Democrats clearly are moving towards that phase of the inquiry.
KEITH: And there has been an ongoing criticism from House Republicans and the White House about this inquiry, that it's been happening behind closed doors with only selective information leaking out that's detrimental to the president. In some ways, this vote is a response to that criticism, though Republicans are not satisfied, and we're not really expecting them to support it, are we?
WALSH: No, we're hearing this morning what we were hearing last night - that the Republicans expect to stay largely unified against this resolution today. And they are still saying that this is a, quote, "illegitimate" impeachment inquiry, even though they're getting the vote that they were demanding for the last five weeks (laughter).
KEITH: All right, Deirdre, you actually have to run into that chamber through the door over there and cover the vote.
WALSH: Right. Reporters are allowed to go into the press galleries and watch the vote as it happens in real time. We're not allowed to bring recording devices in there, but we'll update you with all the news.
KEITH: But before the vote, there was a lot of debate. So we had enough time to run downstairs to check in with Miles Parks.
The time now is 10 a.m. We have gone down one elevator to get to the basement, and then we got on another elevator and went three floors down into - I mean, we might as well be near the center of the earth, basically. And I am here with Miles Parks, who is part of our NPR POLITICS team.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi, Tam.
KEITH: Hey, Miles. So where are we and what are you doing here?
PARKS: So we are sitting outside of what's called the SCIF, which is this fortress-esque room here in the U.S. House visitor center. Cellphones are not allowed in there. And we've got the staffs of multiple committees, House committees, in there questioning witnesses related to the impeachment inquiry.
KEITH: So I just want our audience to see what I see, which is you actually have a folding chair. You have multiple power sources. You have a whole system now.
PARKS: Yeah, I can't believe you're outing me right now. Yeah, this is a - this has been perfected over the course of the last few weeks. I have multiple bananas and apples, as well as two Clif bars. I have a full cup of coffee inside me right now so I'm quite caffeinated. Got here at 7:30 in the morning. We're expecting the testimony today inside the room to go until 6 or 7 p.m. But that could go longer - a lot of them have been going till 9 or 10 p.m..
KEITH: Yeah. And today Tim Morrison is in there. He's a national security council staffer. But our colleague, Franco Ordoñez, reported last night that he's actually leaving his job in conjunction with his testimony, which is a blockbuster.
PARKS: Yeah. It's really unclear actually, exactly. We think he's still employed by the NSC, but we don't know exactly the timing of his departure at this point. And we're curious to hear, I think, as lawmakers come out later today, if they've asked him any questions about the timing of that or if we can get any more details on when he's going to actually be leaving. But he was subpoenaed to be here today.
KEITH: Right because the White House didn't want him to testify, and the House came back and said, actually, we'd like you to testify, really.
PARKS: Yeah, they've been giving out subpoenas for most of the testimonies that have been going on with the inquiry.
KEITH: All right, we are going to leave you with your bananas and Clif bars and too much caffeine.
PARKS: Yeah, enjoy the sunlight up there.
KEITH: There was no sunlight to enjoy. It's been raining all day. So we went to a windowless studio where we found Tim Mak.
The time now is 10:13 a.m. And we have made it to the TV studio for the House. And I am here with Tim Mak, NPR's own Tim Mak.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.
KEITH: And right now we are waiting for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to come into this room, stand at a lectern and I guess basically describe the Democrats' position on this.
MAK: Right. And what will be interesting to see is whether she's been able to convince every single Democrat and perhaps a small number of Republicans to support these new rules for the process going forward.
KEITH: Yeah, that's sort of the suspense of this day. Whether or not it passes isn't really the suspense; the suspense is whether there are any surprises.
MAK: Right. Will there be bipartisan support for these rules moving forward?
KEITH: All right, Nancy Pelosi just walked in. Let's hear what she has to say.
NANCY PELOSI: This is a sad day. It's a sad day because nobody comes to Congress to impeach a president of the United States - no one. We come here to do the work, make the future better for our children, for America's future. We take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and that's what we cannot ignore and we will not ignore when the president's behavior indicates that that investigation, that inquiry is necessary.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you. Thank you.
KEITH: All right, Tim, she just walked out the door. What were your impressions of that press conference?
MAK: What I'm really struck by is how dramatic the language has been that the Democrats have adopted, right? She said, the times have found us to have a republic and to keep it, quoting Ben Franklin. You know, it's this kind of very dramatic packaging that the Democrats are bringing to the table with this impeachment inquiry right now.
KEITH: I feel like I should be whispering.
All right, we are going to take a quick break. And when we get back, the vote.
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KEITH: And we're back.
BARTON GIRDWOOD, BYLINE: Tam, what time is it?
KEITH: It is 10:40 a.m. Our producer Barton has not had breakfast or coffee.
GIRDWOOD: It's true. I'm starving. I need coffee desperately.
KEITH: We're going to go try to remedy that, though I may get us lost. Actually, I think it's this way.
KEITH: I did get us lost. But we ultimately found coffee down in the basement of the Capitol, and we were drinking it when the debate on the floor of the House ended.
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KEITH: So that sound we're hearing is the sound that rings out all over the Capitol to tell members to get to the House floor because it's time for votes. So we are going to get ourselves up to the House chamber for votes.
We ended up hopping into an elevator with a congressman who was on his way to vote. As he headed into the chamber, we watched from right outside.
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PELOSI: Those in favor, please say aye.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: Aye.
PELOSI: Those opposed, say no.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: No.
PELOSI: On this vote, the yeas are 232, the nays are 196 - the resolution is adopted without objection. The motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.
KEITH: The resolution just passed - 232 in favor, 196 against. Two Democrats crossed party lines to vote against it. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise is coming out to talk about the results.
STEVE SCALISE: It was significant today that there was bipartisan opposition to this Soviet-style impeachment. Even Nancy Pelosi, at the beginning of this Congress, said if there's going to be impeachment, it has to be bipartisan. And in fact, the only bipartisan vote today was against impeachment. Every single Republican voted against it, but there were also Democrats who said that they can't stand this tainted Soviet-style process.
KEITH: Was President Trump involved in keeping Republicans together on this?
SCALISE: No. I mean, the president's been very vocal that when he called Zelenskiy, it was to congratulate him for winning an election that was rooted, in part, in cleaning up corruption. And President Zelenskiy has been very focused on cleaning up corruption. President Zelenskiy was very clear that there was no pressure applied in the phone call. There was no quid pro quo.
KEITH: Now that the vote was over, Deirdre could meet us back outside the chamber.
Deirdre, you were in there while this vote was happening. Can you describe what it was like in the room?
WALSH: I think it was just like it is outside the room; it was bitterly partisan. When the vote was called on the resolution and the presiding officer called it, all the Democrats screamed aye and all that Republicans screamed no. And the votes quickly went up on the board, and it became very clear at the outset that this was going to be a, basically, party line vote.
KEITH: Do these minimal crossovers change anything or matter?
WALSH: I don't think they really changed anything. I mean, I think the two Democrats who opposed the resolution are moderate Democrats from districts that are - have been very competitive. Jeff Van Drew is a freshman Democrat from New Jersey. Even before the vote, he was saying the way to remove this President is to do it in the next election; this is not the way to do it. And he has long been on the record opposing impeachment so it was pretty clear he was going into this - he was going to be a no.
Collin Peterson is a long-serving conservative, so-called Blue Dog Democrat, from Minnesota, who every election is targeted by Republicans. So it wasn't surprising that he was a no.
KEITH: But this was, I think, safe to say, merely a straight party line vote.
WALSH: It was. It was. And Pelosi largely held her caucus together, and Republicans were completely unified, even the ones who have said that they think that there needs to be an investigation. Some who are retiring, who've been on record saying they're troubled by what they're learning in these witness interviews - they voted with their leadership on this.
KEITH: And do you think that that is because this was a vote on procedure and process more than a vote on substance? Or do you think that this is some kind of loyalty test and they're out to prove their loyalty to the president?
WALSH: I think it was a loyalty test. I mean, I think the Republicans have held with the president. I mean, this is the party of Donald Trump, and the House Republicans are, you know, mostly from very red districts. So they have been sort of this strong firewall for this president.
And there is definitely a move with the White House and House Republican leadership to try to hold the line and keep Republicans in the House together so that this - when this - if there's an eventual vote sending articles of impeachment to the Senate, that there isn't Republican breaks over there. So they want to keep the pressure on Republicans over in the Senate, as well.
KEITH: And with that, the impeachment inquiry has entered a new phase. We'll be back tomorrow with our Weekly Roundup, including news about that closed-door deposition that Miles was staking out. Until then, keep up with all the latest at npr.org or on your local public radio station. Thanks to Deirdre Walsh, Miles Parks and Tim Mak for helping us out along the way.
I'm Tamara Keith, and thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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