What Does It Mean to Be “for Impeachment”?

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S1: When Congress is in session Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds these weekly press briefings this morning. She stands at a podium and does her best to troll the Republicans. She’ll bring these posters with her. Last week she propped one up that read Trump said Mexico would pay for his wall.

S2: But look who’s paying. Just when you think you’ve seen it all. The children will pay for the president’s wall.

S1: But this poster it is not with the reporters taking notes in front of her wanted to discuss any questions.

S3: On the other topic of the day.

S4: Impeachment when this guy says the word impeachment Pelosi’s face hardens. She starts flipping through the papers in front of her as if she’s steeling herself.

S3: Do you agree. You see now that impeachment can create a President Trump is underway.

S2: Do I concede now. Have you not paid attention to what we’ve been talking about.

S4: For months earlier that same day. House Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler left no doubt about where he stood when it comes to impeachment. He’s in favor of it. In fact he said he’s in the middle of an impeachment investigation right now. But back at the speaker’s press briefing just a follow up.

S5: Are you uncomfortable with the term impeachment for years or another term we should be. I’m not at this point.

S4: Pelosi throws up her hands. We are on our path.

S6: Where it takes us is whether we will follow the facts.

S7: That’s what it is. I will say I’ve noticed her rhetoric has shifted a little bit in the recent weeks.

S8: Rachel Obaid reports on Congress for the Washington Post. She says the way Pelosi talks about the president has been changing in the last week ever so slightly.

S7: She went from saying he’s quote not worth it and impeachment is too divisive and saying they need Republican support to now the only thing she says is Oh we’re investigating and impeachment is possible. So her pushback on this publicly has sort of softened. There’s just a lot of questions about where they’re going to actually go with this and rightfully so.

S1: All this back and forth between Democrats it does have a downside. At the same time Pelosi was briefing reporters on Capitol Hill and Jerry Nadler was laying out the case for impeachment. House Republicans were getting together for their annual retreat.

S7: One of the first things they started talking to reporters about during this three day retreat they had in Baltimore wasn’t each. And they were laughing at the Democrats saying is impeachment is it not impeachment. Pelosi’s losing control of her caucus. Nobody knows what’s going on.

S9: They’re a disaster.

S10: It does sound a little bit like a plot of a sitcom.

S11: Yeah I mean like impeachment is like one of the most serious things you can do when it comes to congressional oversight. It is the most serious thing you can do. And so the fact that the Democrats are not united on what is exactly going on. I mean it is befuddling.

S10: Today on the show the House Judiciary Committee has decided impeachment is no longer a dirty word and they’ve upgraded their investigative powers.

S12: So will any of this shift how the public thinks about the I word I’m Mary Harris you’re listening to what next.

S9: Stick with us so last time we talked it was June.

S12: There were maybe 70 odd House Democrats in favor of impeachment. Now it’s looking like over 100 134. Yeah. Does that movement surprise you.

S7: No not exactly. Those numbers were bound to go up and for a lot of these people I’ve talked to people who hate the idea of voting on and teach men who are backing an impeachment inquiry and that’s what a lot of them are saying we want to investigate to see if we want to impeach Trump. That’s what their public position has these 134 House Democrats. But you know it’s sort of we call it congressional reporters like myself because it’s sort of like a free vote. This idea of backing a position without having serious blowback because you don’t have to actually go to the floor and vote to impeach the president. You can just say come out and say Oh I support an impeachment inquiry. The Democrats the House Judiciary Committee they’re already doing it. So of course I support it. And that’s sort of different than voting to impeach the president. So I think a lot of these folks are doing it because just Democrats in their district want them to. But how many of those actually would vote to impeach the president. That’s a totally different number. And I actually don’t know what the number is.

S8: So there is a vote tomorrow with the whole house. You’re not sure if those hundred thirty four would all turn out.

S7: Oh absolutely not. But even if they did I mean there’s an argument to be made that unless they’re actually going to impeach him to go all the way that a vote on the Florida just sort of test this would actually help Trump because they wouldn’t get enough votes and he would be able to say look even the House Democrats have acquitted me and we’re not able to do it.

S8: OK so let’s talk. Let’s talk a little bit about what happened last week. So last Thursday the Judiciary Committee got together and they voted to change some rules. Can you tell me a little bit about what happened here.

S7: Yeah. So these are they basically voted to give them themselves sort of new authority that the one that everybody’s talking about is this rules change that would allow their own counsel their own lawyers to interrogate witnesses in a public hearing. So that’s one of the big changes that they made. Now these are changes that were used in impeachment proceedings against Clinton and Nixon. So yes it’s significant in that it does something different. And it really seems to heighten what they’re doing or give them this this new power. But it wasn’t an impeachment vote and it was really interesting because when the news came out Politico initially reported it on a Friday night that they were going to have this impeachment vote their first formal impeachment vote the following week. And you know I was like confused because I had heard about this vote but nobody had framed to me like an impeachment vote. And I was like this is OK. What’s going on. So I make all these calls on a Saturday trying to find out are they real. Is it really an impeachment vote. And everybody particularly in leadership really pushed back on that and they were like It’s not a real impeachment vote. This is just a procedural thing. And so that really set the stage for that coming week where we saw all these Democrats on all the front pages are we impeaching or are we not. Is an impeachment investigation is an impeachment inquiry. Are they impeachment proceedings and everybody being all on different pages but from the judiciary standpoint that vote was significant and they very much framed it as the first formal vote they took in their impeachment investigation. You know Jerry Nadler gave like a little speech. Some call this crisis.

S3: An impeachment inquiry. Some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms. They no longer care to argue about Nolan plagiarist who what we are doing is carry on an inquiry and investigation as to whether to recommend. And whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the president.

S7: Right. And that’s how they. I mean that’s the frame they’ve been taking with reporters and it’s been interesting because it’s really put the leadership in a position obviously reporters like myself chasing them and saying Are you OK with this language like you’ve always not liked the idea of impeachment. What do you say to that. And then you have some like Steny Hoyer and some other members who said no it’s not an impeachment inquiry and then had to walk back what they said and a large part of that is because legally in court they can’t be saying anything other than yes we are investigating to impeach President or an impeachment inquiry otherwise they could possibly lose in court. You know if leadership is out there saying they’re not impeaching him they’re actually undercutting the judiciary committee because they’re arguing in court right now that you should side with us because we’re impeaching we could possibly impeach him. And that helps their argument. The question is are would they really do it. I don’t know. I increasingly I will tell you I’m hearing from Democrats who both want to impeach him and who do not say they feel like they are on a train right now and there’s no stopping this train and we could very much see articles written by the end of year at the end of the year and a vote in committee. And if a vote happens in committee any Democrat could force the issue on the floor. So you know there is a possibility that this really does happen without the blessing of the leadership. And what happens from there. I don’t know. They have the votes to do it. It’s just it’s there’s so many different things that could happen in the next few months that its people don’t seem to know.

S8: Well let’s talk a little bit about what this rules change means. You laid it out a little bit that it means that the lawyers who work with Judiciary Committee can question people themselves. And my understanding is that that matters because the lawyers often know a lot more about the nitty gritty and can press people in a way that the members might not be able to.

S7: Yeah I would say that’s true. I mean they know this in and out and a lot of them aren’t there to necessarily grandstand or score political points back home like they’re trying to get some substantial information.

S13: So I think that the committee really they’re going to try to press people.

S4: And one of the first people they plan to press is Corey Lewandowski Trump’s former campaign manager. He’s set to sit before the Judiciary Committee later today. Rachel be watching. She wants to see if the committee puts any of its new investigative powers to work.

S7: So Corey Lewandowski Trump’s former campaign manager is going to be up there answering questions about potentially the Muller report and this will be the first hearing where they actually can use these tools if they want to.

S14: We’ll see if he actually answers questions. I mean I don’t know if his lawyer’s going to advise him to take the Fifth. I don’t know if he’s going to answer some questions but not others. And remember he is looking at a Senate run. And if he’s going to run for Senate he’s going to want Trump’s backing.

S8: He’s thinking of running for Senate in New Hampshire. Right.

S7: That’s right. That’s right. And so when this hearing was first announced he said of course I’m going to go up there I’m going to you know I will absolutely take on the Democrats if they’re going after Trump. So this is one of those blockbuster hearings that Democrats are hoping people are going to tune in to.

S1: And you know that it could possibly change some minds on whether they should pitch Trump and the Democrats need to change minds right now because polling shows a majority of Americans don’t support impeaching the president. When Rachel interviews Democrats in Congress a lot of them talk about President Nixon and how impeaching him was unpopular first too. But Rachel says that analogy only gets you so far.

S7: The thing that’s striking in my view is that we had the entire Mueller report come out where a special counsel laid out 10 areas of potential obstruction of justice. And instead of moving the impeachment numbers so that more people supported ousting the president we’ve seen the numbers go the opposite way over time. And if that is not going to move people I just don’t know what is. And so that’s one of the things I was asking the Dems is. Are you guys going to do this even if the public sign on board. And again they keep bringing up. Listen you know in the Nixon investigation they were able to lay out all this stuff and convince the public that this is not a president who should be in office and that’s what we’re gonna do. And maybe they will be able to do that. I mean we’ll see with Lewandowski and his hearing. Are they able to move any voters on that. But if the numbers haven’t moved in the past few months since Mueller’s report came out in April I mean are they really going to move. I don’t know.

S8: I really don’t know. Here’s another question I keep coming back to. Do we know what the House is impeaching Donald Trump for.

S14: So they’ve talked about I just story last week about how they’re mapping out articles of impeachment. They don’t have language per say. I’m told they don’t have a draft by the committee but they definitely know sort of what it’s going to look like and it’s going to take the frame of Nixon some of it at least you’re talking about you know obstruction of justice laying out some of the instances that Mueller talked about where Trump tried to stop more from doing his work on the Russia investigation you’ll perhaps have some about abuse of power. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw some things in there about pardons and his promise of pardons to officials that he wants to carry out his orders who might find that they’re not legal. This seems like a lot worse than that. Well that’s there’s actually in fact some of the folks for joking that they have too many things that they want to put in the articles and it’s going to be a challenge of actually whittling them down was interesting hearing you talk about inquiries into all sorts of things.

S8: And I wonder a little bit if the Judiciary Committee has given up on the Mueller Report as the linchpin. Any investigation moving forward.

S7: I don’t think given up because you know Lewandowski that’s the top thing they’re gonna be questioning him on. So they’ve obviously. Well I’m not obviously but I did a story on Friday saying that they’ve been in touch with Sessions the former attorney general and talking about having him come in and testify about how Trump tried to get him to recuse himself so he could sort of oversee the entire Russia investigation. So I don’t think they’ve let that go. And again the question is are these things going to resonate with voters enough that we see those impeachment numbers actually shift because right now a majority of Americans don’t think he should be ousted and that Democrats should be doing this.

S8: Mm hmm. Can we talk a little bit about the characters here and like who you’re paying attention to moving forward because it seems like there are so many stakeholders and it seems to me from the outside like Jerry Nadler has become really important because he is single handedly shifted the conversation from were carefully investigating to actually we’ve been trying to impeach the whole time and you know he really seems to be trying to move the needle here.

S14: Yeah and he’s been making this case privately to Pelosi for a while. I mean Nadler. When he ran for the judiciary post you know before they even had the majority they had the majority. But before you know things had really taken off you know he said he would be one of the best Democrats that is say we’re going to do impeachment. You know he would be the best Democrat to oversee it.

S8: He actually passed out like a leaflet to people saying here I’m the best person for this job.

S7: I don’t know about the leaflet but it definitely was part of the article. But like another thing that’s interesting about now there is that he has a long time relationship with Trump that goes way back decades ago when he was sort of a local official fighting against Trump as he was trying to build this huge massive apartment complex in Nablus neighborhood. And he was somebody who was against it. He tried to put up roadblocks as much as he could from a local government standpoint to stop Trump from building. And then when he was elected to Congress he said his number one priority was going to make sure that Trump did not get a certain amount of federal funds to help him with this project that he was building. So they are actually longtime nemesis nemesis. And it’s just been really interesting to see that dynamic play out from back then to now on this national stage.

S12: How does Trump see Nadler.

S14: Well we reported a little bit ago that he calls him Fat Jerry in private and says some really nasty things about his weight. Neither has been open in the past about how he has sort of struggled with his weight and you know at one point he did weight loss surgery and this has been you know a challenge for him and he’s spoken about that before especially to local media in New York. While Trump you can imagine sees that and sort of picks on it. And so there were a lot of there was a lot of really nasty commentary going back and forth between the two of them way back in the day decades ago when they were fighting over real estate in New York. And we’ve been told that privately Trump says the same sort of things about Adler at the White House. And in fact after we ran that story Trump tweeted about it and said Yes I have this history with Jerry Nadler. Now he’s after he’s after me again because he’d lost the fight when it comes to building his real estate complex in New York who did lose that fight. Well Trump lost federal money because of Nadler. He would have gotten more if neither hadn’t really stood his ground in Congress. But ultimately the project was built. It just you know it delayed it. It caused some financial problems. But I mean that development is still there today. And in fact had Trump’s name on it for a long time.

S12: It’s funny I found this quote from Jerry Nadler from 2018 so not that long ago. But he’s talking about the idea of impeaching Trump. And he said if you’re going to impeach him you ought to be pretty sure you can convict him and remove him from office and you should have good reasons for doing so.

S7: I’m wondering if you think he still believes that if he does. I mean I would be skeptical just because I think everybody including pro impeachment Democrats who say they have a job to do in impeaching him. None of them are saying that the Senate is going to convict him and remove him. So the pro impeachment Democrats they have sort of argued that that should not be the top factor anymore. Pelosi obviously has used that to argue we shouldn’t impeach him or Democrats should and teach them saying that he will be acquitted in the Senate. And then he’ll say Look I’m innocent. He’ll hold that up and try to use it to his benefit.

S14: But Democrats who do want to do this increasingly just say look this is a guy if we don’t do something history is gonna judge us and we’re going to be our grandkids are going to read someday about how we did nothing when Trump was you know trampling all over the rule of law from the White House. We’ve got to do something we’ve got a job to do regardless of what the Senate does.

S8: So it’s not an argument that we’re going to get him out. It’s just an argument that we’re good soldiers.

S14: Yeah. And in fact I’ve talked to a lot of Democratic lawmakers who don’t want to impeach him. And they say voters who do support impeachment don’t understand that that’s not going to remove him like this is a nuance that a lot of people back home apparently don’t don’t get like they think if you’re going to. If if he teach somebody that means they’re probably going to be removed.

S7: But they’re finding that they have to explain to people Look we could take this vote and nothing is going to happen. It’s literally just a vote.

S1: There’s one more thing Democrats are hoping to do by using the I word they want to get the attention of some judges. That’s because the president has vowed to block all of Congress’s subpoenas. And so far this tactic is working or at least delaying the testimony of former White House staffers. But if a judge hears the Judiciary Committee isn’t just investigating they’re impeaching the Democrats hope it will make their case stronger because impeachment is enshrined in the Constitution.

S7: I think you know the Trump administration doesn’t care what they call it. They can call it an investigation. They can call it that peach met the Trump administration strategy is not changing. And that is that they’re not going to let people talk and they’re going to use everything they can to block folks and try to get you know former Trump aides to ignore subpoenas. So it’s going to come down to the courts. Right. And we are waiting for a judge the second level the circuit court to rule on a series of subpoenas that the Trump administration has been fighting. We expect those rulings perhaps later in October early November. And if judges actually come behind the Democrats we could see Don McGann actually be forced to testify. That would be a huge deal. The former White House counsel. Yes the White House counsel who the White House blocked he was again a huge witness in the Mueller report and would constitute one of those huge blocker cluster hearings that they want to have to try to move public sentiment. So again where they’re fighting the clock right now they see 2020 and the presidential election kicking into high gear as soon as January. So they’re really feeling a time crunch and they’re waiting on the courts to help them. So we’ll just have to see if they’re able to really have those hearings that they need to have to change that public sentiment like they want to. We’ll just have to see.

S15: Rachel babe thank you so much for joining me. Yeah happy to do it. Rachel Baird is a congressional reporter at The Washington Post. All right. That is the show. What next is produced by Mary Wilson Jason de Leone Daniel Hewett and Maura silvers. And I’m Mary Harris. I will meet you back here tomorrow.