Week In Politics: House Votes To Formalize The Impeachment Inquiry
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
All right, it's time now to turn to our weekly political discussion. Today I'm joined in the studio by E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Georgetown's McCourt School and Hugo Gurdon of The Washington Examiner.
Nice to see both of you again.
HUGO GURDON: Thanks for having us.
EJ DIONNE: Great to be with you.
CHANG: All right, I want to start with the House vote this week to formalize rules for the impeachment inquiry. The vote fell pretty much along party lines, with a couple Democrats in Republican-leaning districts voting against the resolution, which brings me to this first question. E.J., what do you think Speaker Pelosi's strategy should be in moving forward with this impeachment inquiry, considering those moderate Democrats in competitive races next year?
DIONNE: Well, I think as the Jesuits say, she should keep doing what she's doing. I think this is a case of the glass, to quote the old commercial, being 99.44% full. Two is way less than anyone would have predicted a week or two weeks, let alone a month ago. And Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey has always been critical of impeachment, and Collin Peterson casts lots and lots of votes with Republicans.
CHANG: Those were the two Dems who peeled off.
DIONNE: The two Dems who peeled off. What's really significant is some really vulnerable Democrats - Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, lots of others - voted to proceed. And Sherrill was typical. She said she had to do this because there's evidence that the president of United States endangered our national security and used his office for personal gain. I think that it wasn't a hard vote because these Democrats can say these are fair procedures. They are very similar to what's been used before.
CHANG: It's not yet a vote on the substance...
CHANG: ...Of the impeachment allegations.
DIONNE: And lastly, I think Republicans are going to say it's unfair no matter what the Democrats do. They could let Trump himself in and throw spitballs at every hearing. They could let him censor the transcripts, as he apparently seems maybe to have done in the White House, and they'd still say it's unfair. I don't think these Democrats are worried about that.
CHANG: Hugo, so far, Republicans have held the line pretty tightly in their support of President Trump. What do you think could erode that support?
GURDON: I think it's highly unlikely to erode. I mean, first of all, on the substance, I think one of the things that they look at is that the money that was held up was actually paid out by the time that it was supposed to be paid out within parameters set by Congress. I think also that they will look at intent, and it's pretty clear that whether or not what President Trump did was wrong or inappropriate, he certainly thought that he was doing something which was OK and that there were 17 people on the call, including people who, when we spoke to him yesterday in the Oval Office, he referred to rather amusingly as apprentices - but anyway, junior people who...
DIONNE: They were about to get fired, I take it.
GURDON: ...You know, people who were fairly junior whose - obviously, whose loyalty he could not presume upon. So I think that it'll be pretty tough on substance, at least the substance that we've seen now, to peel away Republicans. But what's really locked in Republicans is an issue which I entirely disagree with E.J. on in that it seems to me a radically unfair and opaque...
CHANG: You mean the closed-door...
GURDON: I mean, really, what happened - I think that the vote in the House yesterday is essentially very patchy camouflage for an entirely partisan operation.
CHANG: Well, the impeachment inquiry proceedings will launch into a public phase, so...
CHANG: Does that remedy the closed-door phase?
GURDON: Well, no, it doesn't because what the rules that were set yesterday by the vote do is give Adam Schiff an absolute veto over who can be called as witnesses. And it actually - you know, so the Republicans can request witnesses, but - and it will be up - but it will be up to Adam Schiff - who is, I think, a rank partisan - to decide what should be released when things are not in public. And, you know, it is significant. Even though the two Democrats came from Trump-voting districts, it is the Democrats who peeled away from the Democrat bloc rather than Republicans from the Republican bloc.
DIONNE: Right, which just shows that the Republicans are lockstep with Trump. I just so disagree with Hugo on that, and I don't usually disagree with him this strongly. I think that the proof will be in how the hearing is carried out. If there is a legitimate Republican request for a witness and it's denied, then you can make your case then. The notion that the early part of the proceeding is in private - it's just like a grand jury.
GURDON: No, it's not at all like that.
DIONNE: They are gathering evidence. They're going to make it all public, and then there will be public hearings.
GURDON: It's not at all...
CHANG: OK, I'm going to wrench this conversation away from both you for a second because I want to get to the Washington Examiner interview. President - this was an interview. You and three other reporters at The Washington Examiner interviewed President Trump yesterday. We'll get to some of what he said in a moment. But overall, what was your sense, Hugo, of how concerned Trump seems to be right now about impeachment?
GURDON: He doesn't seem enormously concerned at all. He actually seemed buoyant and in good humor. We spent about an hour and 20 minutes with him, so it was a long interview.
GURDON: And, you know, some of it was - it was wide-ranging. He seemed in good form. He did not seem troubled. I asked him if he was going to put together a special, you know, high-powered impeachment defense, and he said no. He felt that he had good people already involved. And he drew comparisons with the previous impeachments, and he said - you know, he said, Nixon did something wrong. Clinton did something wrong. I haven't done anything wrong. And he even, I think, somewhat amusingly - I don't suppose this will actually happen - suggested that he was going to do a sort of televised fireside chat and read the transcript...
GURDON: ...Because he felt convinced that it would be exonerating.
CHANG: I saw that. What are your thoughts on why he thinks a fireside chat would be a persuasive approach? This would be a fireside chat where he would read aloud...
CHANG: ...A summary of the July 25 phone call.
GURDON: Well, one of the things that he often does - generally does usually through Twitter, but in all cases - is appeal over the heads of the media and do something direct. So I think that, you know, he feels that he - if he reads it out and if he says, this is what I said and here's the transcript and you judge, that he - that people will side with him.
CHANG: E.J., you know, President Trump said in this Washington Examiner interview that he believes impeachment will energize his base, though polls show right now the public's pretty evenly split on support for impeachment. That said, do you see a world where impeachment could galvanize Trump supporters and could backfire on Democrats?
DIONNE: Well, we're going to see a test of this to some degree in the elections on Tuesday. Trump is going down to campaign in Mississippi for - and in Kentucky, where both Republican gubernatorial candidates are in trouble - a little trouble in Mississippi, a lot of trouble in Kentucky. That'll be a test of his strength. But I think his base has shrunk, and if you look at a lot of these polls, strong support for Trump is around 25 or 30% of the electorate. He can energize them all he wants. That's still not enough to hang onto power.
CHANG: That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Georgetown's McCourt School and Hugo Gurdon of The Washington Examiner.
Thanks to both of you.
DIONNE: Great to be with you.
GURDON: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.