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Our panel analyzes the impeachment of President Trump after a marathon day of debate in the House. Lisa Desjardins reports and joins Third Way managing director and former House Intelligence Subcommittee staff director Mieke Eoyang, former House Intelligence Committee staff director Michael Allen of Beacon Global Strategies, Nick Schifrin and John Yang to discuss a historic day on Capitol Hill.
President Trump has been impeached tonight, making him just the third president in history to receive that rebuke.
Tonight, the House of Representatives approved two charges brought by the Democrats, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The near party-line tallies followed a day of long debate.
Our coverage begins with congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins telling us about how this momentous day unfolded.
The House will be in order.
Perhaps it was a specter of history.
Today marks a sad day for America.
Or the high stakes involved.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla.:
This president, elected by the American people, has violated his oath of office and violated the rule of law.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.:
The president is, as we speak, abusing his power and placing himself above the law.
Or perhaps a sense that the die was already cast.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.:
Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Democrats have been on a crusade to stop him by any means.
In the House chamber today, weeks of fiery words over hypothetical impeachment turned somber and serious when lawmakers faced the reality.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:
I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi wore a large broach of the House mace, a symbol of the power of the speaker of the House, as she charged that the president has undermined his office.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi:
If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president's reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice.
Democrats laid out their argument, that President Trump abused his power, using his office to pressure Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky into opening investigations that would help Mr. Trump politically. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts:
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.:
Our inquiry is simply to answer the following question: Did President Trump and his top advisers corruptly withhold official government actions to obtain an improper advantage in the next election?
We now know, through the hard work of our investigative committees and because of the president's own admission, that the answer to that question is yes.
And Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.:
The president told us himself on national television exactly what he wanted from the phone call with President Zelensky. He came onto the White House lawn and he said, I wanted President Zelensky to open an investigation into the Bidens.
He solicited foreign interference before, he is doing it now, and he will do it again. The president is the smoking gun.
But Republicans portrayed President Trump as the victim here, offering several counterarguments, first assailing Democrats' evidence as incomplete. Tom Cole of Oklahoma:
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.:
My colleagues in the majority believe they have proven their case. Let me be clear. They have not. The entire premise of these articles of impeachment rests on a pause placed on Ukrainian security assistance, a pause of 55 days.
The majority has spun creative narratives as to the meaning and the motive of this pause, alleging the president demanded a — quote — "quid pro quo" — unquote — but with no factual evidence to back it up.
Argument two from Republicans, that Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats are motivated by politics, not principle. Utah's Chris Stewart:
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah:
This vote this day is about one thing and one thing only. They hate this president. They hate those of us who voted for him. They think we're stupid. They think we made a mistake.
They think Hillary Clinton should be the president, and they want to fix that. That's what this vote is about. They want to take away my vote and throw it in the trash.
And Florida's Ross Spano.
Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla.:
The American people see through this sad charade for what it is, an attempt to undo the 2016 election, based on hearsay and opinion, not fact. This is incredibly divisive and has lowered the bar for what future presidents will face.
I strongly oppose the articles before us today, and I hope that we will finally move past this nightmare!
The rhythm of the day was partisan, but the tone was less caustic than recently, even as Republicans repeated the president's bottom line.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:
This impeachment is a total joke and a total sham.
And Democrats repeated that, for them, this is about principle and protecting the future.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:
To my friends on the other side of the aisle, I say this: This is not about making history. This is about holding a lawless president accountable in the way our framers intended.
President Trump responded at his own event, a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan.
President Donald Trump:
It doesn't really feel like we're being impeached.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
The country is doing better than ever before. We did nothing wrong.
But, near the end of the debate, closing speakers for each side threw more sparks.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.:
This impeachment asks whether we are still a republic of laws, as our founders intended, or whether we will accept that one person can be above the law.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.:
He is president today. He will be president tomorrow. And he will be president when this impeachment is over. Elections matter. Voters matter. And, in 11 months, the people's voice will be heard again.
More than 10 hours after the first gavel, the House took the historic votes, first the article of impeachment accusing the president of abuse of power.
On this vote, the yeas are 230, the nays are 197. Present is one.
Article one is adopted.
Then the second, charging Mr. Trump with obstructing Congress.
On this vote, the yeas are 229, the nays are 198. Present is one.
Article two is adopted.
And there you have it, John, just moments ago, that — those two historic votes, saying the president should be impeached and removed from office.
That is what House — the House of Representatives has decided. Those articles will be forwarded to the U.S. Senate. We do not yet know when we.
Lisa, let me ask you about the vote.
The Republicans held together. There were no Republican votes in favor of either article of impeachment. What about the Democrats?
There were some noteworthy change — there were some noteworthy breaks, just a few. Number one, that vote present, the number one vote, that was Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.
Then the two — there were two Democrats who voted no on both articles, Jeff Van Drew, who represents essentially Southern New Jersey, including Atlantic City, and also Collin Peterson, who represents Western Minnesota. Both of them have Trump districts.
And, in fact, Congressman Van Drew is expected to switch parties very soon and become a Republican. He spent near the entire — the entire debate on the Republican side of the chamber, technically voted as a Democrat, but he voted with Republicans. And we do expect that to be his new party soon.
Tulsi Gabbard voting present. Tulsi Gabbard, of course, briefly ran for president.
Has she explained why she voted present?
And I was in touch with her spokesperson, and just a few minutes ago got a statement from them. It's an interesting statement, and it is of some length.
She writes that she feels that the president's supporters are wrong to say that he did nothing wrong. Clearly, he did do something that needed to be addressed. But, on the other hand, she writes that the president's opponents insist that, if we do not impeach him, the country will collapse in dictatorship. She says that is also too extreme.
She said she voted present because, instead, she wants to censure the president, not remove him from office. She believes that what's happening now is both parties sort of playing politics. She says she wants to heal the divide, not further the divide, and she believes this impeachment vote, yes or no, would further the divide.
Obviously, many Democrats will have a problem with this. Some who I spoke to leaving the chamber were shaking their head at her vote. But she has a significant explanation for why she made that decision.
Lisa, this has been a long and momentous day. You have seen every second of it up there, literally a front row in the House gallery overlooking the House chamber.
What was it like? Give us a sense of what it was like to be in that chamber, what it was like to be on the Hill today.
This was a day like no other I have experienced on Capitol Hill.
For the bulk of the day, John, it really was so quiet, and it almost seemed anticlimactic. In fact, it did seem anticlimactic, up until just the past, let's say, hour-and-a-half. That was the first time that we saw the majority of the House come together, listen to speeches, listen to the final speakers for each side.
And that was the first time we also heard those speakers really kind of elevate their tone and sound like they were at a historic event.
After that, once the voting happened, there was an incredible electricity in the room.
I don't know if viewers could notice, but they did something unusual. Instead of having the normal electronic vote, members of Congress had to go to the front, to the well, we call it, to the dais, and hold up their voting cards, pass in red or green voting cards.
So, what you had was a very dramatic scene, a huge crowd, dozens of members of Congress, all crowded in together, trying to get their votes in, raising their hands, green and red, all of them watching the vote board.
It was something. And there was a feeling of electricity and drama that we had not felt previous in the day.
Lisa, stay right there.
I want to bring in the rest of our marathon panel, who has been here at the desk this very long day, "NewsHour" foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin, who has anchored our special coverage, Mieke Eoyang, vice president of the National Security Program at Third Way, which is a Washington think tank. She's a former House Intelligence Subcommittee staff director when the Democrats were in the majority.
And Michael Allen, managing director at the advisory firm Beacon Global Strategies, he was staff director of the House Intelligence Committee when the Republicans had the majority.
Nick, let me start with you.
You have been listening to the — to the president at this campaign rally. What more is he — has he been saying as we have been — as we have been talking?
Yes, I mean, just to make the first point, it is remarkable that we are watching a president speak as he's getting impeached.
He had three main points, which tie into what some of the Republican talking points were on the House floor today. Number one, he said, they're trying to impeach me from day one.
That's something that we heard Republicans talk about all day. He talked about the politics of this for a while. He called it a political suicide march. He said it was an eternal mark of shame on the Democrats and that tens of millions of voters next year will vote Pelosi out of office, so that argument, that this was going to be a political loser for the Democrats.
And then he spent a lot of time on this. He called — he said that this was an illegal impeachment. And he said that Democrats were declaring their deep hatred and disdain for the American voter. He used the words trying to nullify the ballots of tens of millions of patriotic Americans: "Democrats do not believe that you have a right to select your own president."
And, John, he used that as a segue to 2016, not only 2020, but 2016. Of course, he won Michigan, where he was tonight, by 10,000 votes, 0.3 percent. It helped him get into office.
And so what a lot of Trump allies are saying tonight, are pointing out, as Bob Costa pointed out earlier, that President Trump is worried about his name, right? His name has been so important to the business, and his name will now always be associated with impeachment.
But, two, as we saw from the letter that he sent to Speaker Pelosi yesterday, the language here today, the language his allies have used, it is clear that the president is going to use impeachment, not only tonight, not only yesterday in that letter, but going forward in this election year that is about to start.
We have never, of course, seen a president impeached and then run for reelection. He is clearly deciding to embrace this idea as this is a loser for the Democrats and a winner for him.
Michael Allen, as Nick says, he is now an impeached president, but he's also a president running for reelection, and he's going to have to campaign with this.
How does he handle that? Do the Republicans see this as something they can use against the Democrats?
One, I think the Republicans are relieved that, just about eight weeks into this, we haven't seen any more support go for impeachment than was at the very beginning of this.
Second, this is going to test sort of President Trump's ability to sort of deny the rules of political physics. He's always the one that's able to jujitsu an issue and turn it to his advantage.
Here, he has the most grave levy that could be put upon him, almost, by the Constitution, and that's impeachment. Can he turn this into a political winner?
Well, we have got about 11 months to see how he does it.
And, Mieke, how do the Democrats handle this?
Yes, what you saw today is the Democrats calling out to history, making this a very somber tone.
What they're clearly trying to do here is win over swing voters. And what you see in the polling on this is that Democrats have a slight edge in the case that they're making with independents, with women, with the suburban voters.
These are the voters who gave them the victory in 2018 and who've actually really helped the Democrats in a number of these gubernatorial races in deep red states.
So, I think there's a sense from the Democrats that the Republicans' combative tone is not working with that group of voters, and that they are trying to make a case that calls out to common American values.
Lisa — Michael, Lisa was talking about the transmission, actually the — when the articles of impeachment gets sent to the Senate, which would trigger — trigger the trial.
Apparently, there is some talk among the Democrats that they want to use this as leverage, that they want to see if they can get — negotiate favorable terms for the trial. And, if they can't, they're not going to send them at all, so there will be no trial, the president wouldn't be acquitted, and he would just carry the scarlet I, as it were, of impeachment without the acquittal.
Is that something that would play, do you think?
I would be really surprised if Nancy Pelosi fell for that.
If I were — I am a Republican. And you see Mitch McConnell out there always arguing that the Democrats are trying to obstruct all legislation. If I were him, I'd love to have the talking point that the Democrats are so obstructive that they can't even pass over their own articles of impeachment to the United States Senate.
And, Mieke, this now goes to the Senate, where the Republicans are in control, where the Republicans have the majority.
How — what is the challenge now for the Democrats, given the fact that everyone is — assumes that the president will be acquitted?
The challenge that the Democrats are facing here is that Mitch McConnell will set the terms of this debate in the Senate.
But he actually has to watch out for his center flank. He's also worried about being able to control the gavel at this next election. And he has a number of vulnerable Republican senators sitting in states that went to the Democrats last cycle who are up for reelection, people like Senator Cory Gardner, Senator Susan Collins, who need to be seen as more impartial, as taking their job as senators seriously.
You have a couple of other senators who have said that they have concerns about railroading this through, Mitch McConnell (sic) in Utah, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska.
So, there's a — there's an appeal that Democrats can make there to say, we need a fair process here. We want to hear from these witnesses that didn't come before the House. If this isn't a fair trial, we need to hear from those witnesses.
It's been a long day. I think you said Mitch McConnell of Utah.
I think you meant Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney of Utah.
Talk also about the — what the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, is doing with this letter asking for White House witnesses.
So, Chuck Schumer, who's the leader of the Democrats, sent a letter to Mitch McConnell saying, we should have a fair process here. We should model that on the bipartisan approved procedures of the Clinton impeachment.
And we should hear from some of these witnesses, the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, the president's national security adviser, John Bolton, people who were fact witnesses who got direction directly from the president, and who didn't appear before the House because they were resisting subpoenas that the House had issued.
I understand Lisa Desjardins on the Hill characteristically has got some — some new information for us.
What's going on, Lisa?
Well, I have to give credit.
We have a big team on the Hill tonight — for us, anyway. We're small, but scrappy. Our excellent producer Saher Khan is at Speaker Pelosi's news conference right now and is telling me that the speaker has said she will not transmit the articles of impeachment tonight.
She does plan on doing it at some point. But, notably, the speaker is saying — did say in her press conference that she is considering the idea that she wants to think about how the Senate is going to handle its debate.
She also has said that she doesn't like the idea that the Senate leader is in cahoots with the president.
So, it seems that Pelosi is at least considering the idea of holding onto these articles of impeachment briefly perhaps. At least she's holding her cards close to her vest, and thinking about her next move. She will not be transmitting articles of impeachment tonight, and she is thinking about if she can influence the way the Senate handles the next step.
This is a remarkable and unprecedented step, if she decides to take it. So, it's something we're going to have to pay very close attention to.
Of course, as they — the old saying of the Hill is that the real rivalry is not Republicans and Democrats. It's the House vs. the Senate.
Nick, remind us how we got here. We got here because of a phone call about aid to Ukraine. And how much about this — of this issue, of this policy about Ukraine have we heard, or has this gotten forgotten, lost in the shuffle?
Yes, the policy on Ukraine, of course, is the source of impeachment, but it is the politics of the day that dominated the discussion.
But it is important to remind people that there is a policy here, and that it is life and death for some people. Ukraine is the only country in Europe at war. And the Trump administration, two years ago, took major steps to try and improve Ukraine's ability to deter and defend itself against Russian-backed separatists in the east.
The Trump administration sent more aggressive weapons, sent more money, and generally improved the efforts to combat corruption inside Ukraine. And that was the Trump administration policy until this year.
And then there was a Trump — President Trump personal policy or Rudy Giuliani policy, and that changed things. They questioned military aid. They changed the focus on corruption more specifically to Joe Biden's son Hunter, who was on the board of Ukraine's largest energy company while his father was running policy in the Obama administration, and a discredited theory that Ukraine was somehow involved in 2016.
And so the freezing of military aid that led from there, the withholding of the White House meeting for Presidents Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president, was the Trump administration policy vs. President Trump's policy.
And those withholdings, that freezing is what Democrats have used to try and say the president abrogated national security. Republicans say, well, wait a minute, the aid was released eventually, and corruption in Ukraine is a big deal; the president was just worried about corruption overall.
To our Cal Ripken of panels, Nick Schifrin, Mieke Eoyang, Michael Allen, and our all-star on the Hill, Lisa Desjardins, thank you very much.
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