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Week in preview: impeachment, inauguration, potential protests loom

With what is sure to be a historic week ahead of us, NewsHour Weekend’s Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss Donald Trump’s impending second impeachment trial in the Senate, President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ swearing in under extraordinary conditions, and the number of inauguration conventions being broken in 2021: No parade, procession, crowds, or predecessor handshake will happen, but thousands of troops will be present.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For a look at what to make of the week ahead with President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, and potential impeachment trial and more, I spoke with special correspondent jeff greenfield from Santa Barbara, California

    So, Jeff, let's start with impeachment, even some strong critics of the president are saying basically, what's the point? He will be gone before any trial even begins. And then there's the sort of separate question. Can he be impeached once he is out of office?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    The short answer to the question of can he be impeached is yes, and the theory is, if you didn't have that power, the most wrongdoing miscreant could evade any of the consequences by just resigning and keep benefits and not lose what he would lose or she would lose if that person were convicted.

    The more serious reason is that if there were 17 Republicans who would vote to convict Trump this time, the Senate would then move to a different question, should this person be barred from holding any office for the rest of his or her life? And that would require a simple majority. And finally, there's the whole notion of accountability, given what happened on January 6th, where some people feel even if it has no real impact, the president has to be held accountable and impeachment is one way to do it.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You have members of Congress, mostly Republican, singing from a very similar songbook that says here is President-elect Biden coming in. His entire campaign was about unifying the country. Is an impeachment really the right way to start this?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, the cynic in me says that's like the boy who kills his parents and pleads for mercy because he's an orphan. For weeks and weeks, we've had virtually most of the Republican Party, most of the members of the House, key senators, the President of the United States, spreading this false story that the entire election was a fraud. And if they say, well, gee, look at how divided the country is, well, gee, how did that happen? Maybe if they had acknowledged, you know, Biden won this weeks ago, we wouldn't have spared this. And I think what Biden's response might well be is, OK, if you're serious about unifying the country, let's take a look at what we do about this rampaging pandemic and this catastrophe that it's a product of that.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    $1.9 trillion dollars, that is what we now know President-elect Biden's plan is to try to jumpstart the economy, fix the problems with the pandemic and so on. Direct access payments, $1,400 checks to people. They have an incredibly slim majority in the Senate. There are several Republicans who are not likely to sign on for this kind of spending again, where do we go?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    First of all, I think that two of the biggest challenges Biden faces, the pandemic and the atmosphere after that January 6th assault might actually help him.

    The pandemic is unlike any economic crisis we've ever been in before, because unless it's fixed, you can't really restart the economy. And so you're finding that the argument Biden is making, in effect, look, we're in a wartime situation and you're finding some conservative voices like the US Chamber of Commerce looking with more favor on this rather enormous suggestion. And the second thing, is it possible, although I'm not confident about this, that the impact of that assault and the feeling among some Republicans that they are at fault here could conceivably persuade them to demonstrate their sense of unity. So you see what I'm saying, that the two of the most difficult things Biden has to face, the poisonous political atmosphere and the pandemic could conceivably work to his political favor.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And it starts on Inauguration Day unless there is the sudden disappearance of violent threats of insurrection or a global pandemic. This inauguration is going to be very different, to put it mildly.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    The idea of an inaugural with an empty national mall and 25,000 troops in the streets and no parade. It's very despairing and in a kind of odd way. And it's awful to say this, Hari, the bad guys have won this round. In that sense, they've taken all of the celebration and pride and triumph that a new president always has. And they basically said, no, not this time.

    I'm remembering, by the way, Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter getting out of their car in 1977 to walk the inaugural, which I believe every subsequent president has done. That's not going to happen. And one last thing. Every president since Carter has thanked his predecessor, even if he was an opponent for your service, for the transition. I think I can predict Joe Biden will not be thanking Donald J. Trump on January 20th.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield, thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    OK.

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