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Divided day on Capitol Hill sees articles of impeachment, trade agreement

The fallout regarding President Trump’s Ukraine policy reached a new milestone on Tuesday, as the House Judiciary Committee introduced two articles of impeachment against the president. But at the same time, recently warring congressional Republicans and Democrats arrived at a major bipartisan agreement on trade. Lisa Desjardins reports and joins Judy Woodruff and Yamiche Alcindor to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new act in the impeachment of President Trump has played out today, but, this time, a rare agreement between two normally warring sides shared the spotlight.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Two historic announcements, one accusing a president, the other embracing a major trade alliance, within an hour of each other, with starkly different tones.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    On this solemn day…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    First, the somber. House Speaker Pelosi and a few key committee chairmen gathered to announce articles of impeachment against the president.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    No one, not even the president, is above the law.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler announced two charges, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Those two articles of impeachment are nine pages' long in total.

    The first, on abuse of power, centers on Ukraine, charging that President Trump — quote — "conditioned" millions of dollars in aid and a White House meeting on Ukraine announcing an investigation into the Biden family.

    The article of impeachment charges that — quote — "President Trump abused the powers of the presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit. He has also betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections."

    The document alleges the president "will remain a threat to national security if allowed to remain in office."

    Article two, on obstruction of Congress, points to indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas in the Ukraine investigation, and goes further, alleging that the president has a pattern of "previous efforts to undermine investigations into foreign interference." That is a clear reference to the Russia investigation and Mueller report.

    House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff helped lead the impeachment investigation.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    We stand here today because the president's continuing abuse of power left us no choice. To do nothing would make ourselves complicit in the president's abuse of his high office, the public trust, and our national security.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The White House immediately rejected the charges, with Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham calling them baseless and writing — quote — "The president will address these false charges in the Senate and expects to be fully exonerated, because he did nothing wrong."

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.:

    This is not a day that America will be proud about.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The president's Republican allies in Congress, like House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, threw their own counterpunch, accusing Democrats of wasting time on politics.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy:

    I just hope no Congress, regardless who is in the majority, will ever take us down this path again. We have such great potential in this nation. But to have wasted a majority on this is an embarrassment to this Congress.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Democrats answered that charge with their other major event.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    This is a day we have all been working to and working for, on the path to yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats struck a deal with the White House over trade. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, known as the USMCA, was crafted to replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which President Trump opposes.

    This new deal represents the largest single trade deal for the U.S., with trillions of dollars in goods flowing both ways. The deal still must be voted on by Congress, but has been months in the making.

    And, at this announcement, Pelosi was exuberant and surrounded by House members.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi:

    There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA. But in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republican Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas said the new trade pact was a major win for America.

  • Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas.:

    This agreement means more jobs, more customers for made-in-America goods, and a stronger economy for the United States. I give President Trump credit for creating a new bipartisan model for free and fair trade that levels the playing field for American workers and can be used in future trade agreements.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Not all Republicans agree. Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey called the bill far too liberal.

    But President Trump disagreed. In a statement, the White House called the USMCA a huge win for American workers.

    Overall, a divided day of compromise and constitutional clash in a very divided government.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa joins me now, along with Yamiche Alcindor, who's been tracking developments today from the White House.

    So, hello to both of you.

    Lisa, on the same day, within a few hours, you have the impeachment articles unveiled and you have this trade agreement. How do they — how do Democrats explain how this all happened on the same day?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It was remarkable. Republicans are asking, is this a coincidence? Is it that Nancy Pelosi wants to show they're doing something of substance while they're doing something that they say is political, impeachment?

    Nancy Pelosi was asked this question today. The speaker said, yes, actually, it's no coincidence. It's matter of fact that we always have a lot of legislation at the end of the session, end of the year like this.

    She raises a good point. That's true. But, Judy, I have never seen this much significant legislation, agreements, privileged motions like impeachment, announced in a 24-hour period, and we haven't even spoken of everything that they did in the last day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, the president is now facing, what, an impeachment battle that only three presidents in American history have faced.

    The White House, obviously, they haven't presented their side of the argument. They haven't put lawyers forward. How do they now plan to make their case?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    We can expect the White House is going to be launching a pretty vigorous defense over next weeks and months.

    We can also expect that they're going to be making the case that Democrats are doing this because they don't have a viable candidate in 2020, really trying to make this a campaign issue, both from the Trump campaign, but also from the White House.

    The president was just talking about this on the lawn. He says that these two articles of impeachment are — quote — "very weak." He made the case that he thought that he was actually asking for America to have a favor when he said to the president of Ukraine, "I need you to do us a favor, though."

    There are, of course, Democrats who say that he was asking for a personal favor, because he was talking about investigating Joe Biden.

    Another thing to note, I was spending a few hours at the White House today, walking around, talking to aides. The mood was really that this was an inevitable day, that — and I had a lot of aides tell me, Democrats should have done this a year ago. They don't like President Trump. They want to undo the 2016 election. They should just go ahead and get this over with.

    So, in some ways, the White House has been feeling in some ways pretty solemn, pretty ready for this fight, but also feeling like, this is just what we were going to end up doing.

    Another thing to note, I was talking to lawmakers last night and today about the articles of impeachment. They didn't include it, didn't tie Mueller in a very direct way to these articles of impeachment. They say this is that's because they didn't really want to — well, really talk about Mueller again and relitigate that issue.

    But the White House is pointing out that this is really an extension of Democrats making the case that Russia is part of the president's calculations here. So even as Democrats — as Lisa has noted, even as Democrats want to talk about Russia as being a pattern here from the president doing things to benefit that country, the White House is saying there's something fishy there and that Democrats really still want to hit President Trump when it comes to Russia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So they're bringing up Mueller and the Russia investigation regardless.

    Lisa, what do we expect — what should we expect in the days to come on impeachment?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK, here we go. Let's roll up our sleeves.

    We're going to have — the next thing to happen will be around this time tomorrow; 7:00 Eastern is when the House Judiciary Committee will begin to mark up the actual articles of impeachment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the evening.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In the evening.

    I don't know why they chose that time. There's some speculation that they wanted to hit maybe a prime-time news cycle. One other issue is that the markup takes quite a long time.

    Tomorrow night, we will have opening statements from all members of that 41-member committee. That will take three-and-a-half-hours tomorrow night, just opening statements for the markup.

    Then, Thursday morning 9:00 a.m. Eastern is when we will see sort of that debate in committee, including any attempts at amending the articles of impeachment. That could take all day. It could be short. We don't know.

    And this is all in preparation for an expected vote on the House floor next week.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, how is the White House balancing all this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The White House is making the case that Democrats decided to announce this deal on USMCA because they really wanted to be able to say that they're getting some work done, even though Republicans and the president say they're really wasting time by moving forward with impeaching the president.

    The president at the White House just a few moments ago said there's a silver lining on this impeachment day. And he said that is that I got my trade deal. There's been this emerging theme of President Trump's 2020 campaign, promises kept, promises — promises made, promises kept.

    This is something else that they would say is a promise kept. He said he was going to pull out the Paris climate accord. He said that he was going to get out of the Iran nuclear deal, and he said he was going to get a new trade deal.

    It's also important to note the president is heading to Hershey, Pennsylvania, today. That's a big manufacturing town. He's going to be taking his victory lap in Pennsylvania, which is a crucial 2020 state.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But this trade deal has also been so important for these moderate Democrats who have had trouble with impeachment, some of them.

    And they say they're going to go home to their district and talk about this trade deal, and not impeachment, in districts that maybe the president has won. So the trade deal is also very important politically, and especially in places like Texas, where Democrats have been picking up congressional seats. They want to talk trade.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And very, very interesting, all that.

    But, Lisa, separately from all this, there was this major defense authorization bill that they came to an agreement on today.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. That's right.

    This is something that would have headlined our newscast any other day. And I want to talk about it quickly. This was a 3,500-page national policy about defense. They do this every year, but it is a critical document, a must-pass bill.

    And this one is special, because it had some special things in it. First of all, let's take a look. This will include a 3.1 percent pay raise for our military. Also, inside this bill will be something new, a new kind of policy, which is 12 weeks of paid family leave for federal workers.

    Mothers, fathers that want to take off time with the birth of a child, and also some other family issues, you will be paid if you're a federal worker now. Also, in exchange for that — Democrats wanted the paid family leave. Republicans wanted a U.S. Space Force.

    This national defense authorization bill creates the Space Force. Judy, it's notable. It says this Space Force will be our sixth military agency. It will be operated by the Air Force. It does not seem to get an extra budget, but it is within the president's budget request. It's something to watch.

    It was a trade-off, the Space Force for paid family leave. That's what's in this bill.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    And something the president wanted. He wanted this Space Force a lot. So, he really got two big things today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's so interesting.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Compromise.

    (CROSSTALK)

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On the day of articles of impeachment.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Thanks.

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