AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman shocked his party when he announced Monday that he will not run for reelection next year. The senator sat down this morning with NPR congressional correspondent and NPR Politics podcast co-host Susan Davis to discuss his decision to retire the upcoming Senate impeachment trial and the prospect of working with the Biden administration. Sue Davis joins us now.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So how did Senator Portman explain why he decided to announce his retirement just - what? - days into this new administration?
DAVIS: Yeah. You know, he said he was getting tired of the partisanship in Washington. He's known for an ability to work across the aisle to get bills passed. He's a traditional kind of conservative, and he's been a critic at times of former President Trump. He also hasn't ruled out voting to convict Trump in the upcoming Senate trial. So I wanted to talk to him about his thought process there. And here's part of our conversation.
ROB PORTMAN: I've got a duty as a juror. And I think senators should listen to the arguments on both sides before they make their decision. That's what I intend to do. I've also said two other things. One is that I do have questions about the constitutionality of holding a Senate trial to remove someone from office who is now a private citizen. And I think that's a dangerous precedent. And then second is just, you know, what's the right answer here in terms of bringing the country together?
DAVIS: But isn't there also a danger and a precedent that says a president can act in the way that Trump did in that lame duck period? And if you take the argument that they cannot be convicted - he was impeached while still in office - that you do set up a precedent where there is essentially a lawlessness to what a president can do in that time period after he loses election. That seems equally as dangerous to me.
PORTMAN: Yeah. I think it's a good question. And I think, you know, right up to the end, of course, you know, a president needs to be accountable. So how do you do that? And that's a challenge. I mean, obviously, the House did impeach prior to his removal from office. So there has been that reprimand that's already, you know, in place. But now he's gone and has been gone for a while. And by the time we get to the Senate trial, it'll be even longer. And I think that that raises, again, a serious question. Do we want to go back and convict presidents from previous times? And I think that, you know, that is going to sow, you know, more division, in my view.
DAVIS: So this raises the question, though, of what role Donald Trump is going to play in the party going forward. Lindsey Graham this week said he wants to see the party make a comeback and to grow, and in order to do that, quote, "we're going to need Trump, and Trump needs us." Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, is down in Mar-a-Lago today meeting with the president. What role would you like to see Trump play in the Republican Party? And should the Republican Party be a welcome place for Donald Trump?
PORTMAN: Well, I'm not running again (laughter).
DAVIS: Yeah, that's why I ask.
PORTMAN: No. Look. I think our party is in much better shape in terms of policies and even ideals than it is in terms of the personality issues and the style, I'll say, that we referenced earlier. In other words, when you look at what happened in 2020, you know, some pundits have said, gosh, the Republican Party is in big trouble. I mean, just the opposite.
There were some positive aspects there that we've got to be sure that we continue to emphasize going forward as a party. And that means, I think, that you try to keep everybody in the coalition, including a lot of folks who - blue-collar workers and others who, you know, joined the party because they liked what Donald Trump was saying, you know, about some of those issues. So I think there's a way to keep it together, but we'll see. I mean, obviously, if there was a new party founded, which some are talking about, that would definitely divide the party.
DAVIS: Would you like to see Trump run in 2024? Do you think the party could be better served by a different nominee?
PORTMAN: Well, I don't think he's going to run in 2024. I think - I mean, maybe that's an easy answer. But I think it's kind of an academic question. I just don't see it. But maybe I'm wrong.
DAVIS: Is your vote as gettable as Joe Biden would like it to be, and if it is, where do you see this possibility for Republicans to work with Democrats?
PORTMAN: I was very encouraged by his inaugural address and the notion that we can figure out how to get back to a time when we're working together as Republicans and Democrats. And yet the actions have not been consistent. And specifically the top issue that he has identified, which I agree with the president on this, which is dealing with COVID-19, you know, they sent us a $1.9 trillion bill on the heels of us just passing several weeks ago a $900 billion passage of a bill that was the second-biggest appropriation in the history of the country.
And now they want to use what's called reconciliation, which allows you to go around the 60-vote majority, super majority in the Senate. And apparently people are interested in putting things there that have nothing to do with reconciliation, which has to be about revenue. It's just wrong. And I think it's bad for the administration. And I've made that point repeatedly to the White House in the last several days, including last night. We'll see what they do.
CHANG: So, Sue, it sounds like Portman's saying there could be serious consequences for the Biden administration if they choose to go forward with their relief package without seeking Republican support.
DAVIS: And it looks like that's what they're going to do. And Portman told me it could poison the well, not just for the next few weeks, but maybe the first two years, he said, of the Biden administration and their ability to get Republican support for any part of their agenda.
CHANG: That is NPR's Susan Davis. Thank you, Sue.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
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