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Ruth Marcus and Michael Gerson on impeachment inquiry, withdrawal of Beto O’Rourke

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus and syndicated columnist Michael Gerson join Amna Nawaz to analyze the week’s political news, including details emerging from witness depositions in the impeachment inquiry about President Trump's dealings with Ukraine, current public opinion on Trump and impeachment and 2020 campaign updates, including the withdrawal of Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    This week marked an historic moment. For only the fourth time in U.S. history, the House of Representatives passed a resolution formalizing public impeachment procedures against the president.

    Meanwhile, the race to head the Democratic ticket has shrunk by one.

    Here to help make sense of it all are Marcus and Gerson. That's Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus and syndicated columnist Michael Gerson, also with The Washington Post.

    Mark Shields and David Brooks are away.

    But you both are here. Happy Friday, and thanks for being here.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Good to be here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    A lot to cover.

    Let's start with the little bit of news we already have tonight on the impeachment process.

    Ruth, there's some reporting late tonight about details from one of the testimonies earlier this week. This was a man named Lieutenant Colonel Vindman. It's being reported now that he, as a member of the national security staff in the White House, was on that call between President Trump and President Zelensky, and that he was instructed after that call by a top White House lawyer not to discuss that call with anyone.

    When you take into account all the reports about testimony this week, what are your takeaways?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Well, for a conversation that the president has told us was so perfect, he's going to read it to us in a fireside chat, there certainly was a lot of alarm about this conversation.

    It's difficult to tell whether this was a lawyer being careful and just simply telling the people he advises not to make more of this conversation than there was, or whether this was a lawyer trying to cover up and conceal this conversation.

    It's one of the many things that we need to know more about. And it's one of the many things that we have learned in the last several weeks that really makes this impeachment inquiry so central and so essential, and just means that we cannot avert our eyes from this and go on with the election as if we didn't know what was going on here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Michael, as we have mentioned, the president keeps saying it was a perfect phone call.

    Vice President Pence has also said there was no quid pro quo. He said this several times in an interview with our own Judy Woodruff earlier this week.

    The more information we get, it seems to contradict those two claims.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, I think it's fair to say that the professionals, the non-political appointees that were involved in this process from State and the NSC, were deeply concerned, contemporaneously, when they found out about it, and they brought it up to superiors, and didn't get much result.

    Even the political appointees that were involved in this, however, didn't exonerate the president. They actually pretty much confirmed the account from the whistle-blower.

    So the effect of all this is to take away the argument no quid pro quo. That argument doesn't work anymore. It's been deflated and defeated.

    And I think Republicans are now driven to other positions, because that has been taken away.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Well, we will see if they let it be taken away.

    But I completely agree with Michael. Asked and answered on quid pro quo. That was the significance of this week. Not only Ambassador Taylor from the previous week, but Lieutenant Colonel Vindman and Tim Morrison, another aide at the National Security Council, reaffirmed quid pro quo.

    The second question is, OK, if you don't have the "there's no quid pro quo" argument, do you have the unfairness argument? That's the other significance of this week is, we finally have — debate about whether we should have had it earlier — a resolution that will set forward what the procedures should be going forward.

    Republicans are claiming that this is deeply unfair and the whole thing is tainted by the previous unfairness.

    But I guess I would ask them, if they had video — if the impeachment inquiry came up with video of the president shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, would they say we should ignore that because the proceedings were unfair?

    They weren't. And they shouldn't ignore anything. And they have set out fair proceedings going forward.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, what about the process here, Michael? Because that is the sort of the core of the Republicans' protests at this point, right, that the process has been unfair.

    As it looks like we're moving into an open public hearing set now, what about those protests? Are those valid?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, it seems basically fair, what they have outlined.

    As far as the Judiciary Committee, the president's lawyer gets the right to bring witnesses, challenge witnesses. In fact, we may next week get a lot of the closed hearing information come out next week, as far as the transcripts of these other things.

    So there's a degree of transparency there that I think just makes intuitive sense.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    And if…

  • Michael Gerson:

    But the Republicans love to talk about process, because they don't want to talk about substance.

    I mean, they're happy when they can talk about process in this case, because their arguments are pretty weak otherwise.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Go ahead, Ruth.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    If these procedures aren't fair, then they weren't fair to Bill Clinton, because they're essentially the same procedures.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let me ask you about how some of these messages and information are going over with the American public, because we heard Judy ask this of Vice President Biden earlier, is there a potential political cost for Democrats here?

    We saw that House vote really strictly along party lines. Take a look at this poll now, the new numbers from The Washington Post and ABC News.

    People were asked, should Congress impeach and remove President Trump from office? That's obviously a different bar, impeach and remove. But the country is very evenly divided when it comes to that.

    What do you say to that, Ruth? Is there a political cost for how this is moving forward now for Democrats?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Well, one thing I would say to it is — and I suggested this before — it doesn't matter. This conduct is serious enough that it needs to be taken seriously, political cost or not.

    And the other thing I would say is that, if you look at those numbers, which show a very divided country, but look back at numbers from July before the Ukraine story broke, when the question was asked, not whether he should be impeached and removed from office, which is a dramatic outcome, but simply whether an impeachment inquiry should go forward, the number was 37 percent.

    So, from 37 percent supporting an inquiry going forward to 49 percent supporting removing him from office, that's a dramatic change. And the reason for that dramatic change is because the facts have emerged, that people understand this is something serious going on.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Michael, very briefly, moving into next week, there are some key White House officials who have been invited to testify.

    What do you think we will be hearing next week? And could it change the narrative at all?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, I think that Bolton holds a lot of power in his hands right now.

    I don't know when he might appear. But it's — this is a case where he could confirm a lot of things and have some significant influence.

    And I think, as we move into the public hearings, some of these witnesses, like the lieutenant colonel, are going to be great witnesses.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    In his dress blues. Imagine that.

  • Michael Gerson:

    Right. Exactly.

    So, I think Democrats can look forward to that, I think. And some of those witnesses will be very effective.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about the 2020 race.

    We had some news on that front as well tonight, as we reported earlier. The field has been narrowed by one on the Democratic primary front. Beto O'Rourke announced today he is dropping out of the race, saying: "Though it is difficult to accept, it's clear to me now this campaign doesn't have the means to move forward successfully."

    What does that say to you, Ruth?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    He didn't have the money.

    This crowded field has made it all but impossible for individuals who might otherwise have broken through to break through. Beto O'Rourke just two years ago was the new thing. But, this cycle, there's a new new thing in the form of Pete Buttigieg.

    And he — I'm sorry, in a sense, that he didn't make the decision to run for the Senate in Texas again, because I think he would have had a better shot at that. And I think it might have been better both for him and the country.

  • Michael Gerson:

    And he took positions, though, in the campaign that would make a run in Texas impossible, in my view.

  • Ruth Marcus:

    That is true.

  • Michael Gerson:

    When you come out against tax exemptions for churches that disapproved gay marriage…

  • Ruth Marcus:

    And take guns.

  • Michael Gerson:

    … talking about gun confiscation, I mean, I think Trump's support survives on fear. And he justified those fears for a lot of people.

    I think it's better for the Democratic Party that he's gone.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What does it say to you about him leaving now? And where do his supporters go, given some of the movement we have seen recently off of those fund-raising numbers, right?

    We saw Judy asking Vice President Biden about some of the struggles he had with fund-raising. He had what some would say is a meager $15 million at the end of the last quarter. Kamala Harris restructuring her campaign, probably under financial pressure there, too.

    This is a key moment in that race. Where does his crowd go?

  • Michael Gerson:

    Well, there's some winnowing going on in the race.

    I don't think his crowd was large enough to make much of a difference, to be honest. But he certainly represented kind of liberal idealism in the race.

    And there are others that take that up. I mean, the candidate that has risen over the last few weeks and months is Elizabeth Warren. And she now has her plan out about how to pay for Medicare for all.

    And I think the reaction to that, the way that the views settle on it, is going to determine whether people think she can win or not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And very briefly, Ruth, in 30 seconds, has she done a good job defending that now?

  • Ruth Marcus:

    Well, kudos to anybody who puts out a plan with some meat on the bones and some explanation of what she thinks it's going to cost and how she thinks — is going to pay for it.

    But I'm going to quote Nancy Pelosi here on Medicare for all. There's a comfort level that people have with their current private insurance. And if that is to be phased out, let's talk about it, but let's not just have one bill that would do that.

    And she questions whether you can win the Electoral College with that message. I think that's a serious question for Democrats.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That's going to be a conversation to continue there, for sure.

    Ruth Marcus and Michael Gerson, thank you so much for being here.

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