President Trump Impeached on Charges of Obstruction, Abuse of Power For just the third time in American history, the House of Representatives has voted to impeach the president of the United States. The chamber approved both proposed articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Trump is accused of pressuring the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph Biden, a political rival, and will soon face a trial in the Senate.

This episode: White House correspondent Tamara Keith, Congressional correspondent Susan Davis, and National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson.

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President Trump Impeached on Charges of Obstruction, Abuse of Power

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President Trump Impeached on Charges of Obstruction, Abuse of Power

President Trump Impeached on Charges of Obstruction, Abuse of Power

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: All in favor, say aye.





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

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

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

KEITH: Tonight, at around 8:30 p.m., the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president of the United States for just the third time in U.S. history. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set the tone for the debate.


NANCY PELOSI: We gathered today under the dome of this temple of democracy to exercise one of the most solemn powers that this body can take.

KEITH: They voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump on two articles - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.


PELOSI: What we are discussing today is the established fact that the president violated the Constitution.

KEITH: The votes were largely along partisan lines, with Republicans sticking with the president, no defections. On the Democratic side, there were a couple of defections.


PELOSI: On this vote, the yays are 230. The nays are 197. Article 1 is adopted.

KEITH: And while the House voted, literally at the same time, President Trump held a campaign rally in Michigan.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Through their depraved actions today, crazy Nancy Pelosi's House Democrats...


TRUMP: ...Have branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame. And it really is. It's a disgrace.

KEITH: Now, we expected this vote for quite some time, but now it has happened. And it's one of those moments that will go into the history books. And although those books haven't been written yet - this is a very early first draft - Mara and Sue, I want to get your first impressions.

LIASSON: Well, Democrats are from Mars, and Republicans are from Venus, or something like that. I mean, they are definitely living in two different worlds. They were just about as far apart as you could get. The vote was almost perfectly on party lines. There were even fewer defections on the Democratic side than people had been expecting.

And the Democrats focused on the Constitution and on the rule of law and how the president abused his power. And the Republicans didn't focus so much on substance, but on the process and how Democrats had been wanting to impeach the president from day one, how it was a witch hunt and a coup. And there was no overlap at all on the facts.

DAVIS: I think if Donald Trump wins or loses the 2020 election, we'll be able to retrace the outcome back to this week in Congress because on the one hand today, the president has been impeached for conduct. Let's remember what that conduct is. It is soliciting interference in an American election from a foreign government and asking them to investigate a potential political rival, Joe Biden.

The question is, does the country reelect an impeached president on that matter? If it does, I think you can also point to this week because tomorrow, after they impeach him, Congress is going to come back into session and approve one of his top priorities, the USMCA, a rewrite of the 1994 NAFTA trade pact.

And that is how schizophrenic this week has been on Capitol Hill. You have a historic rebuke of the president and at the same time, delivering him the kind of victory that could get him reelected.

KEITH: So we have been covering President Trump for several years now. And there have been so many really big stories and really big moments that felt really huge at the time. Where do you think this one fits?

LIASSON: Oh, this is huge. Impeachment is really big. It's really big. This is the third time it's happened.

DAVIS: This is the story - it's not just here, right? Like, it's - yes, it's a Washington story. But everybody who's waking up tomorrow and looking at their papers or their TVs literally all over the world are going to know that Donald Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives.

I mean, this is - the world is fascinated by Donald Trump. The world is fascinated by the American presidency in general. And this is a stain on him. It's a stain on his legacy. It is - it puts him in a group of people he does not want to be considered. He sees himself as a great man and a great president. And this is a mark of the lack of greatness. It's the worst kind of judgment you can pass on a president.

So whether that's enough to cause his reelection or defeat, we don't know. But, yeah, it's bad. And when the history of Donald Trump is written, this will be a significant chapter in his political life.

KEITH: So I just want to go back to sort of the flow of this day. It was a very long day of debate, with Republicans and Democrats sort of taking turns on the House floor, making their arguments in favor of impeachment or against impeachment. And for Democrats, there was this recurring theme about history. One representative, Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, actually read what he said was an open letter to his children on the floor.


JOE KENNEDY: Dear Ellie and James, this is a moment that you will read about in your history books. Today, I will vote to impeach the president of the United States. And I want you to know why. He broke our laws. He threatened our security. He abused the highest, most sacred office in our land.

KEITH: And other Democrats also laid out their case against President Trump.


JERRY NADLER: We do not hate President Trump, but we do know that President Trump will continue to threaten the nation's security, democracy and constitutional system if he is allowed to remain in office.

ADAM SCHIFF: Madam Speaker, I think when the history of this time is written, it will record that when my colleagues found that they lacked the courage to stand up to this unethical president, they consoled themselves by attacking those who did.

JIM MCGOVERN: I would take losing an election any day of the week when the American people render that verdict. But I will never be OK if other nations decide our leaders for us. And the president of the United States is rolling out the welcome mat for that kind of foreign interference.

KEITH: That was Jerry Nadler, Norma Torres, Adam Schiff and Jim McGovern. And, Sue, you observed at one point during the day that there weren't actually that many people in the room when many of these arguments were being made. So who are they advocating to? Were they trying to sway votes or sway the public?

DAVIS: Debate is kind of a misnomer when we watch this on the floor because they're clearly not debating each other. This wasn't about engaging across the aisle to try to argue the facts of the case again. This is about members being able to make their last, final case to the public. I mean, this is really about public sentiment and trying to move it.

And we didn't really hear any surprising, new arguments today. I think the tone of it got much more heated and dramatic at times because I think the House sees its phase in this process coming to a close. And it shows how sharp and how differently the two parties see what's happening here.

And, you know, I will say Democrats are the party taking on the bigger political risk. The vote for impeachment is the tougher political vote. Democrats represent more competitive races, more swing seats and more places that Donald Trump won in 2016. And a lot of them have been really clear-eyed about the fact that this is not the kind of vote you take if you want to get reelected necessarily. But it was - it's not a vote of political expediency. It was a vote of - it does take a little bit of political courage to vote against your own reelection interests. And that's what a lot of Democrats did today. A lot of them could lose their races next year because of this vote.

LIASSON: And that's what's so extraordinary about this. We're not used to this in Washington. This really was a vote of conscience. And they voted on principle, not politics, because as you said, the politics are very perilous for Democrats.

KEITH: And yet in the end, there were only two.

LIASSON: Very few, two Democrats who voted against one of the articles, and three who voted on the other. And one of them is about to become a Republican. One of those Democrats is about to be - switch parties.

KEITH: And also Tulsi Gabbard, the Hawaii congresswoman, voted present.

LIASSON: Right. And we'll see if she can continue to run for president and appear before Democrats around the country. That's going to be pretty interesting.

KEITH: And on the Republican side, they got up, and they passionately defended the president and also attacked the process.

LIASSON: For the most part, I think that the Republicans were arguing about process, saying that the president has been unfairly targeted. But what the Republicans also argued was - they said on substance that the Ukrainian president never said he felt pressured. He got his meeting with the president - not at the White House. He wanted an Oval Office one, but he did get a meeting at the UN. And in the end, he did get the military aid. And they said with some credibility that some Democrats have been talking about impeaching the president from the very first day.


CHRIS STEWART: This vote, this day is about one thing and one thing only - they hate this president.

STEVE SCALISE: This is a political vendetta. It has nothing to do with the crime committed. There was no crime.

DEBBIE LESKO: This is the most partisan impeachment in the history of the United States.

DREW FERGUSON: This whole flipping goat rodeo is a sham and a shame. And it will not be forgotten.

DOUG COLLINS: Right now, the dark cloud is descending upon this house. And I am fearful, Madam Speaker, when I look out in that abyss, I don't know what see. say. But I'll tell you what I do see. I see coming up, a president who will put his head down even through this sham impeachment, and he will do his job. He will put the American people first. He will tell them that I care about...

KEITH: That was Representatives Chris Stewart, Steve Scalise, Debbie Lesko, Drew Ferguson and Doug Collins.

DAVIS: What Republicans have done and the way they've tried to frame this is part of that broader narrative of the Trump presidency, that he is a man taking on the, quote, unquote, "swamp," and that impeachment is just another example of the Washington establishment trying to take down a president they don't like. In the words of one of those congressmen, he referred to liberal elites and condescending bureaucrats, that they are the people trying to take down the president.

LIASSON: And that is the core of the Trump reelection message. It was the core of his election message in 2016. But as, you know, one Trump official explained recently, it's going to be us against them again, and that means us against the elites, the Acela corridor, the media, Democrats. I mean, this is the Trump message distilled.

DAVIS: This also just isn't as tough of a vote for Republicans. The reality is most of them represent districts where President Trump is wildly popular. National polls do not matter to members of the House of Representatives. They care about what their districts are telling them. And Republicans simply don't represent that many competitive districts anymore. They lost them all in the 2018 elections. So there is just no incentive to take a vote to kick them out of office. Politically speaking, it would be the surest way to get yourself a primary challenge and lose in 2020.

KEITH: Which, just to be clear, no Republicans voted to impeach President Trump today. And just one former Republican, Justin Amash, discovered that if you come out against the president, you don't get to be a Republican anymore. And now he's an independent.

LIASSON: And it was his district that Trump held the rally in, in Michigan, just coincidentally.

KEITH: Or not so coincidentally, shall we say. And speaking of that rally, we heard a little bit of the president before. But what was his reaction to impeachment, to being impeached?

LIASSON: Well, he talked about it the way he's talked about it before, that it was a sham and a hoax. He said it would be an eternal mark of shame for Democrats. He said the Democrats are the ones who should be impeached. He railed against the media. He said they're all Democrats. And the president even said - he tried to brush it off and say it didn't even feel like he'd been impeached.


TRUMP: It's so much fun. They want to impeach you. They want to do worse than that.


TRUMP: By the way, by the way, by the way, it doesn't really feel like we're being impeached.

LIASSON: You know, my - one of my questions, though, is I just wonder how much impeachment is ultimately going to matter in the 2020 elections. If we just think about how quickly the news cycle moves, how quickly the country moves on, the things that are going to matter to voters in 10 months, when most people are really starting to plug in and vote, the people that - the few people in this country who haven't made up their minds. Is impeachment still going to be part of that conversation or are we going to be like, oh, my God, guys, do you remember when we when we covered an impeachment? Is it going to seem so far in the political rearview that it doesn't have much of an impact at all?

KEITH: All right. We are going to take a quick break. And when we get back. What happens next?


KEITH: And we're back. And, Sue, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a little bit of news as we were heading into the studio here.

DAVIS: Definitely a little bit of capitol intrigue now. So in order to understand what happens next, after the House impeaches, the speaker of the House has to name impeachment managers. These are members of the House - Democrats - that will serve essentially as the prosecution in the Senate trial. In order to sort of move the process along, the speaker has to do that. Those are the people that go and technically inform the Senate that the president has been impeached. It's very technical. It's a process step.

KEITH: It's, like, so oldy (ph) time, like they need to get on horses or something.

DAVIS: But without it, the Senate can not begin an impeachment trial. So Nancy Pelosi tonight has indicated she's going to hold back on naming those impeachment managers to see what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer can come up with in terms of a Senate trial, indicating that they want to make sure it's going to be a fair trial. They don't know who's going to be the judge - the metric of that.

KEITH: Who is the arbiter of fairness? It doesn't seem like anyone can agree on that right now.

DAVIS: But it's a total - it's been a total surprise in this. There's been some chatter among Democrats that they might do this strategically because they don't think there's going to be a fair trial in the Senate. But there's a lot of political games being played here. And we're going to have to see how this unfolds before they head out of town for the end of week.

KEITH: And there's a reason why Democrats are sort of raising concerns about whether it might be a fair trial. And that's because the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has essentially said that's not what he thinks his role is.


MITCH MCCONNELL: I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There's not anything judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision.

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, it's not a fair trial. This is politics, people.

DAVIS: Right. This is - the arguments that Republicans were making in the House you're going to hear Democrats start making in the Senate. The minority party is not going to like the way the majority party wants to do things. These are not criminal court proceedings. This is a political process. And the lawmakers who run the chambers write the rules.

LIASSON: What's the bottom line on what the Democrats consider fair? Do they have to have those White House witnesses that Chuck Schumer asked for? What is it that they want?

DAVIS: I mean, that's the question here. And Pelosi did not exactly define what Democrats see as a fair trial. Also, this is a little too congressional, but one chamber of Congress doesn't get to tell the other one how they do business. That's just not how this place works. So I don't think Mitch McConnell is going to be much interested in Nancy Pelosi's input on how he should run the Senate. I think Democrats are going to make a case that the Senate should call the witnesses that the House didn't get to hear from. The two names you hear most often are acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton. The Senate, as it acts in a trial, has the ability to subpoena witnesses. And ignoring a subpoena for a Senate trial is a quite a bit of a different matter than ignoring a subpoena for a congressional hearing.

KEITH: It seems to me that there are a lot of unanswered questions. But the good news is that we have a daily podcast. And we will be back in your feeds as we learn more about this. And, of course, once there is a Senate trial, we will follow it every single day. But for now, we are going to leave it there. And we will be back late tomorrow night to break down everything that happens in the next Democratic debate.

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.


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