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Tamara Keith and Amy Walter on Trump’s impeachment and his enduring influence

NPR’s Tamara Keith and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest political news, including how former President Trump's second impeachment trial will be different from the first, how partisanship plays in to the trial, Trump’s continued influence on the Republican Party and President Biden’s relief plan.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Never before has a former president faced an impeachment trial, and never before has one president been impeached twice.

    Here to navigate these uncharted waters with us, our Politics Monday pair. That's Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

    Hello to both of you on this Monday evening.

    And, Tam, it took us, what, 20 years from the impeachment of President Clinton to get to the impeachment of — first impeachment of President Trump, but only one year to get to the second impeachment of President Trump.

    How is this trial going to be different?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, that one year was 2020, and it felt like 20 years.

    But this is going to be different, because this is a much different case. With the first impeachment, it was something that happened behind closed doors. It was a phone call. There was a transcript. There wasn't video. There wasn't a public campaign, as there was this time, where President Trump lead a public campaign over a series of weeks to try to undermine the outcome of the election and reverse the outcome of the election, which culminated on January 6 with that rally that was followed by the insurrection that left five people dead.

    And so House impeachment managers are going to be able to make a much clearer case, one that doesn't require understanding foreign policy or sort of what the role of the president is or what the president can ask another leader to do.

    This is, in a way, much simpler. The case that the president's lawyers will be making is that it's unconstitutional to impeach someone or to convict someone, a president, after they have left office. It will be more of a process argument, which often is — I mean, I think they also made a process argument last time too.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Amy, what would you add to what is different, but also in terms of the public view of this, compared to how the American people were watching and thinking the last go-round?

  • Amy Walter:

    Sure.

    I mean, I think the most obvious, Judy, is that there is not a sense of urgency in this case, as there was back in January of 2020. Obviously, we were talking about removing a president from office during an election year. The last year then, if he were convicted, would be completed by Vice President Mike Pence.

    So, with President Trump now no longer in office, obviously lost reelection, that's not just not — it doesn't have quite the same intensity as it did back then.

    As Tam pointed out, I think the other thing that is missing is — that will be different is, there is going to be more video and less testimony, right, less talking and more of the video coming from the Democratic managers.

    And, finally, I think that there is a skepticism, especially among — or even among many Democratic voters, and the skepticism born of watching politics in the Trump era, watching whether it was the first impeachment, whether it was the other series of controversial things that President Trump did, and watched Republicans in Congress really stand aside, not criticize, not vote against, continuing to unify behind him.

    And so the idea that you're going to find 17 Republicans, I think you hear from even Democrats who would like to see this process work through, they don't see that happening. And I think voters, even Democratic voters, are ready to kind of turn the page and move on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about those Republican senators, Tam?

    We assume that all the Democrats or most of the Democratic senators will vote to convict. We don't know that yet, but we will see. But the Republicans being watched more closely, what kind of pressure are they under from the Trump base, from the Republican base?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Well, and we got a bit of a preview with this vote on whether it is constitutional to impeach a president after he's left office. And the majority of Republicans, the vast majority of Republicans, voted in favor of that, saying that is not constitutional.

    So, what is going to happen this time that is different than last time? It's not clear? And for these Republicans, look at what happened to the Republicans in the House who voted for impeachment this time around. Those Republicans have been punished.

    There is no reward in the Republican Party for distancing yourself from President Trump. And these are House members, Republicans who were in the chamber or were personally affected by this insurrection that came into the Capitol. And they voted their conscience, as their leaders told them they could.

    And they have been censured by the Republican Parties in their state, which tells you that there are consequences. People who cross President Trump time after time after time, no matter how, at the moment, it seems like maybe this will be the time that he loses his grip, every time, ultimately, the people who go against him are punished by the party.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy, how real is the Trump enduring influence over these senators? Are we seeing any waning of it?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, it is a really good question, Judy.

    And I think what we are starting to see, at least in some polling, is that there is some frustration, even among Republican voters, even among Republicans who voted for Donald Trump, with the way he behaved in those final weeks of his presidency, denying that he lost the election, pressuring Republicans to overturn the results, pressuring Congress to overturn the results, and then, of course, the attack on the Capitol.

    But we also don't know — a year from now, two years from now, when we are up for, yes, another election — we have the midterm elections in 2022 — the five Republicans who, as Tam pointed out, voted to allow this to go forward, saying they thought it was constitutional, of those five, only one is up for reelection.

    The rest of them either just won reelection or they're not up until 2024. So, we — they don't have an immediate consequence in the same way that House members do, who are up every two years. But I also know that, historically, look, it's the person who sits in the White House that becomes the focal point of politics.

    It's very hard when you are not in the bully pulpit to continue to drive the political conversation and the party. The one way where I think we could expect him to still get involved is in primaries, where the core voters are still going to turn out and listen to what the president has to say.

    This is why there are a lot of Republicans very worried about states like Arizona and Pennsylvania, states that would determine control of the Senate in 2022. If President Trump gets involved and endorses a candidate like Trump or a candidate who is in that same mold, that could put those seats at risk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I have tried not to let the word 2022 slip from my lips, Amy, until you forced me to say it just now.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amy Walter:

    Sorry, Judy. I can't help myself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just about 40 seconds left.

    I just want to quickly ask both of you, how much do you think the Biden White House is truly counting on some Republican support for their COVID relief plan?

    Tam, Amy, quick.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, let me just say they are redefining what bipartisan is, citing Republican mayors, for instance, saying that makes it bipartisan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy?

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, I don't know that we're going to see a lot of that support.

    Again, it goes to this, Judy. Those two races, those special elections in Georgia, it changed everything. It gave Biden a lot more opportunities to work just with his own party.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, we are watching it all.

    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, Politics Monday, thank you both.

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