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As House debates impeachment, parties adhere closely to established messaging

Our panel analyzes a momentous day in the House. 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 and Robert Costa of Washington Week and The Washington Post join Lisa Dejardins, Nick Schifrin and John Yang to discuss the impeachment developments.

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  • John Yang:

    Lisa, I'm going to ask you to stay right there, just steps away from the House chamber, while we introduce the rest of our panel here at the desk, where they have been 9:00 this morning.

    "NewsHour" foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin, who has been anchoring our special coverage of today's proceedings, Mieke Eoyang, vice president of the National Security Program at Third Way, a Washington think tank, and former House Intelligence Subcommittee staff director when the Democrats were in the majority, and Michael Allen, managing director at the advisory — advisory firm Beacon Global Strategies and former staff director of the House Intelligence Committee when the Republicans held the majority, and, from The Washington Post newsroom, Bob Costa, moderator of "Washington Week" and a Post national political correspondent.

    Thank you all for being here, all day long in many cases.

    Bob, I want to start with you.

    We have been able to watch the proceedings on the floor all day long. What have you been able to learn about what the president's day was like?

  • Robert Costa:

    Just minutes ago, The New York Times photographer Doug Mills published a photo of the president before we headed out to the helicopter to then head on Air Force One to Michigan for tonight's rally.

    And it was a black and white photo that showed the president scowling.

    In talking to the president's closest confidants today and top Republicans, it's clear that President Trump throughout the day was following the proceedings at the Capitol, closely keeping tabs on who was speaking against him, who was speaking in support of him. But he was also looking ahead to tonight's rally.

    And he is planning to give a grievance-filled speech tonight to his core voters, looking not just at what happened today in Congress, but ahead to the 2020 campaign.

    Inside the White House, already, the focus is on how to turn impeachment into an issue to galvanize his own voters in 2020.

  • John Yang:

    So we're likely to hear more about this even beyond the trial, after the trial ends in January?

  • Robert Costa:

    It will not end, because impeachment now is, of course, historic, but it's historic in the sense that it's happening just before a presidential campaign season.

    And President Trump wants to run away from this, in part. He doesn't like his own personal brand being associated with impeachment, but his political advisers are telling him he can use impeachment as a cudgel against Democrats, if he can find a way to explain it as an anti-establishment mood that is forming against him, and he wants to use that sentiment to get his voters out in the Republican Party.

    But there is some personal grousing behind the scenes today, Trump associates tell me, that the president just doesn't love his name, his name that he so prizes, was central to his business enterprises, now being stained through history by the word impeachment.

  • John Yang:

    Mieke and Michael, you have both spent time on the Hill. You have seen big moments in the House.

    Mieke, I want to start with you.

    How did you think the Republicans and Democrats used their time today in this debate, the message that they delivered, the arguments that they made?

  • Mieke Eoyang:

    So, what you saw today between the Democrats and Republicans was very different messaging, Democrats calling back to history, quoting Alexander Hamilton, talking about founding principles of the country.

    And I think what they are trying to do there is to make a case to swing voters, right? These are voters that were necessary to build the Democrats' majority. And you saw in a number of those districts that had flipped from Republican to Democrat in the 2018 midterm election those members coming out in favor of impeachment on a national security case.

    So, you saw that very much reflected in what they were doing, in contrast to Republicans, who, as Bob noted, were really arguing about grievance and victimization for the president, using very loaded language, trying to really fire up the base.

  • John Yang:

    Michael, what did you — what was your takeaway?

  • Michael Allen:

    Well, usually, we're used in the House of Representatives to seeing emotion and passion.

    Today, they acted more like senators, in my estimation. They were very careful. They made solemn arguments. But the messaging was also very, very tight.

    From the Democrats, I heard over and over that the president solicited foreign interference for personal gain and hurt national security. And from the Republicans, I heard the following formulation over and over. It's that it's politics, it's a sham process, and they're trying to overturn the election.

    So, all in all, I thought they were all flying in formation, trying to message their base and the larger country about what they're doing tonight.

  • John Yang:

    And perhaps a preview of what each side is going to be saying in the Senate during the trial?

  • Michael Allen:

    I think so.

    I think you will see, in the Senate in particular, a lot of the grievance-style politics that we have heard so far. It will slow down, of course, because it'll be more like a trial and less like an indictment that we will see tonight.

  • John Yang:

    Nick, they both mentioned the national security arguments. I mean, that — where we got here — or how we got here, rather, was because of a phone call about Ukraine, about giving aid to Ukraine.

    Did we hear much about that today?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We didn't. There wasn't a lot of focus of what brought this about, and not a lot of focus of the importance of this policy.

    John, as you and I have talked about, Ukraine is the only country in Europe at war. And the Trump administration had a policy, and that was different than the president's policy on Ukraine over the last six months. And that's how I see it.

    A couple years ago, the Trump administration decided to help Ukraine, sending more offensive weapons that the Obama administration did not, increase dollar amounts, maintain support for Ukrainian reformers who were trying to end corruption in the country.

    There was bipartisan support for that and, that dreaded word, interagency consensus for Ukraine.

    Fast-forward to this year. Rudy Giuliani leads a different policy, questioning military aid, and changing the focus of corruption to Joe Biden's son, who was on the board of the largest energy company in Ukraine, and a discredited theory on Ukraine being involved in the 2016 hacking.

    And that's what led to that July 25 phone call and that often quoted phrase, "Do us a favor, though."

    And what happened was, the president or aides around him froze military aid. They conditioned a White House meeting on President Zelensky of Ukraine and Ukraine overall doing those specific corruption investigations.

    What Democrats say is, that freeze, that withholding, that's an abuse of power, because that's the president elevating his own interests over national security. Republicans say aid was delivered in the end and the president was right to question all kinds of corruption in Ukraine.

  • John Yang:

    Lisa, this is processes still going on, the action is still going on, on the House floor.

    Give us a sense of what's going to happen in the next several hours, couple of hours. And then what happens beyond that?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    This debate will wind up. I think we will see some on both sides, who they feel are their strongest speakers in the next hour, potentially. And then we will move to votes expected. They will split this single resolution into two votes on — one on each article of impeachment.

    We do expect those votes to be somewhat different. At least one Democratic member, Jared Golden of Maine, has said he will vote yes on one and no on the other.

    After that, we also expect a resolution who the House Democrats elect to appoint as their managers, who essentially will be their prosecutors when this goes to the Senate. So we're looking into that as well.

    And then here's the big question tonight, John. There is some talk by a few Democrats of holding on to these articles of impeachment even after they have passed, not transmitting them to the Senate right away, as a negotiating tactic to try and change the Senate rules.

    That is a remarkable idea. And there's a lot of debate about whether it could even work. But the next step after this would be to transmit those articles. It's not clear when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will do that, and it is a matter of discussion tonight as to when that will happen.

  • John Yang:

    Help us understand that, Lisa.

    You — by delaying the transmission over across — across the building to the Senate, what would that do? That would delay the Senate trial?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, as I said, this is an untested, I think — perhaps the panel will agree — idea.

    But the idea is that Mitch McConnell wants a trial to happen without much delay. And the House could use that as leverage, withholding those articles, leaving that hanging over the Senate and the president, until McConnell allows, say, more of the witnesses the Democrats want.

    But knowing how Leader McConnell works, I haven't seen him bow to that kind of pressure in the past. And I don't — I think this could be a strange cat and mouse game that these Democrats are playing. It is a small group of Democrats. It is not clear at all if House Speaker Pelosi agrees with this idea.

    But it is something in the air we're going to watch. It will be important when they transmit these articles.

  • John Yang:

    Michael and Mieke Eoyang, you're Hill veterans. Do you have any sense of what the parliamentary gamesmanship here is?

  • Mieke Eoyang:

    I mean, this has not happened before, so we're really in uncharted territory in terms of articles of impeachment timing.

    But I would just note that the political calendar starts to change once you get out of January. You start impacting the Democratic primaries. You start getting into filing deadlines for senators. So a delay could have some political ramifications.

  • Michael Allen:

    Taking hostages in legislative log rolling is as old as the republic.

    But if you take a hostage, you got to be willing to shoot the hostage. And when Mitch McConnell doesn't want the impeachment bill coming over, I can't see, like Lisa, a situation where he's negotiating down what he wants to do in order to get impeachment sped up to the — to the Senate.

  • John Yang:

    Bob Costa, I want to ask you, what are you hearing from the White House about the White House's participation in the trial in the Senate, whether, how much they're going to participate?

    They said they didn't want to participate in the House impeachment proceedings, but what are they going to do when they come to trial in the Senate?

  • Robert Costa:

    There is an appetite within the White House to call some witnesses like Hunter Biden and Vice President Biden to be part of that trial.

    But it's unlikely that that's going to happen, because the White House is not just going to get what it wants or what White House counsel Pat Cipollone wants. It's going to come down to what 51 senators in the Republican majority, perhaps some Democrats, agree should be the rules outlined in how this trial unfolds.

    And, for now, when I was up at the Capitol this week, senators like Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate up in 2020, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, a more moderate Republican, have told me and other reporters that they want to see a trial that plays out in a civil way, that, even though it's a political exercise, has the feeling of a trial.

    They want to take it seriously. So the White House will want to direct this to some extent. But it will be the senators driving the process. And you're going to see the White House try to nudge Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, at some point to maybe dismiss the trial, adjourn the trial, to move to a vote.

    Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the president's ally, told me he may move to call for a vote two weeks into the trial or maybe even a week in if he feels he's heard enough. So, that conservative clamor is something that's on my radar.

  • John Yang:

    And, Bob, you're talking about calling witnesses.

    Was Senator Schumer's attempt sort of an opening bid in this negotiation or gamesmanship, asking for White House witnesses like John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, essentially saying, OK, you want witnesses, you want Hunter Biden, you want Joe Biden, but we want these guys?

  • Robert Costa:

    I wouldn't frame it as gamesmanship.

    Senator Schumer, whether you loathe him or support him politically, he is someone who represents the Democratic view, a culmination of frustration on the Democratic side with the White House's refusal to provide witnesses to Congress as they investigate the president's conduct.

    And Senator Schumer is reflecting the calls from so many Democrats to try to hear a firsthand account from Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador John Bolton, the former national security adviser, about President Trump's role in the Ukraine episode, what exactly he did, and what others did in terms of asking the budget to be held off and the spending to be held off.

    So many facts remain and questions remain unanswered at this point. And so Senator Schumer, of course he would like to see President Trump defeated. He's an opponent of President Trump politically, but he also wants to hear more of this story.

  • John Yang:

    Bob Costa at The Washington Post, Lisa Desjardins on post, as always, at the U.S. Capitol, Michael Allen, Mieke Eoyang, Nick Schifrin, thank you very much.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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