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The Week In Politics: Impeachment Trial May Last Much Longer Than Expected

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump was expected to end today with a Saturday session. Now it won't. We're joined now by NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: There has been a vote to subpoena witnesses, or at least one of whom we know. Help us understand this landscape.

ELVING: So the only thing we know we can expect now is that we can't expect what we were expecting just earlier this morning, let's say. We were expecting summations, and we were expecting a vote by tonight. But instead, the Congress has become - or the Senate has become very interested in the testimony of one particular Republican member from Washington state, Jaime Herrera Beutler, who has come forward and spoken of the telephone call that she and others overheard between President Trump and House Minority Leader, that is to say, Kevin McCarthy, who was the majority leader some while ago but has been in the minority since the 2018 elections.

So Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the Republicans in the House, having an expletive-filled shouting match with President Trump on January 6, insisting that the president get his own supporters to leave the Capitol, and the president saying, well, gee, they just care more about the election than you do, Kevin, and the president supposedly also saying that this wasn't really his supporters and bringing up other falsehoods, and Kevin McCarthy losing his temper and saying, you know, you've really got to get these people out of here. What this all brings to the trial is a much keener sense of the immediate state of mind that President Trump was in at the time on January 6.

SIMON: And the implication being an abrogation of constitutional responsibility to protect the chamber, wouldn't it?

ELVING: Yes, yes. You'd have to - that's putting it mildly, actually, abrogation, because these people felt their lives were at danger - in danger...

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: ...Including Vice President Pence, who was fleeing for his life with his family present. And so this was a big deal, and the president didn't seem to understand or didn't seem to sympathize. Look; this is something that, clearly, the senators should hear. And so the impeachment managers have called for witnesses and want to do a deposition of this one congresswoman, and they're proposing to do it by Zoom. The defense objects to that. The defense says, well, we can call hundreds of witnesses. That's, of course, not going to happen, and that's a bluff.

So they're negotiating right now. They're in a recess at the moment. That recess, supposedly, is only going to last a few more minutes, but it could very well last a good deal more than that. And we'll wait to see what they announce when they come out.

SIMON: What interest does each side have to look out for when it comes to witnesses or lengthening the process at all? I mean, for example, Democrats must be concerned about, in the middle of a pandemic, looking like they care about this issue above all others.

ELVING: Not to mention, of course, the COVID relief bill and all of the rest of the agenda that President Biden wants to pursue. If this trial is going to drag on for another week or two weeks, that would seem, perhaps, to defer all those other actions. But it's also possible that they could take the deposition from this congresswoman and possibly from several others and satisfy the defense and be fair to both sides - take those depositions, take them by whatever means necessary over the next several days, next week and then come back later in the week or in the next week, vote on whether or not to bring these witnesses in in-person and then proceed.

SIMON: And Republican Leader McConnell has already indicated how he'll vote, although I suppose, technically, a witness could change his mind.

ELVING: Well, he has not made this announcement, I don't believe, formally and certainly hasn't made it on the floor. It was leaked this morning and credibly, and our own reporters stood it up. Sue Davis got that information. And so we believe that that was his plan. But as you say, all bets may be off.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.