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What Trump’s impeachment and acquittal say about American politics

After a contentious and highly partisan Senate impeachment trial, President Trump has been acquitted on both impeachment charges brought against him by the House. John Hart of Mars Hill Strategies and Georgetown Law School’s Victoria Nourse join Judy Woodruff to discuss Trump’s reaction to the vote, political consequences for each party and the need for bipartisan support of impeachment.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We continue our look at impeachment on this closing day with two political and legal experts.

    They are Victoria Nourse, former special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the early 1990s. She now runs Georgetown's Law School Center for Congressional Studies. And John Hart, who worked for Congressman Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, during the impeachment of President Clinton, he now runs the public affairs and communications consulting firm Mars Hill Strategies.

    Hello again to both of you.

  • John Hart:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Victoria Nourse:

    Thanks, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have been with us virtually through this entire impeachment trial process.

    Let me come to you first, John Hart.

    You just heard Kellyanne Conway saying, the president views this as exoneration, in so many words. And you heard Adam Schiff saying, given what they were up against, a Senate with a party majority in the other direction, they feel this was, in so many words, the best they could do. How do you see this outcome?

  • John Hart:

    Judy, I don't see this as a win for either Republicans or Democrats. It's a loss for democracy and the republic.

    And this — remember the Clinton impeachment. Republicans paid a very dear price for that in terms of the opportunity cost that — and the Senate — or, rather, the president's legal team warned against that.

    Republicans lost seats in the House election following that. And President Clinton was more popular after the impeachment went through.

    And we have already seen the — President Trump's poll numbers go up after the impeachment. So I think — the challenge, I think for Democrats especially, is to do the soul-searching that they should have done after President Trump won in 2016.

    Republicans who supported other candidates certainly did that. And Democrats have chosen resistance over reflection.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Loss for the country?

    Excuse me for interrupting.

    Loss for the country, Victoria Nourse?

  • Victoria Nourse:

    Well, you have to look at the alternatives here.

    If the alternative is violence, then this is better than that. It is the separation of powers working, in some sense. But I was sad. And my son texted me. And he said: The Senate is broken.

    There are going to be too many young people out there who are going to say that this trial wasn't fair. The big vote here wasn't today. The vote was on witnesses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On witnesses.

  • Victoria Nourse:

    And that vote will have enormous resonance, I think, in the events that are going to follow here and how it will be understood by the American public as the days to come and how history will judge it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what have we learned from this process, then, John Hart?

    I mean, we had a very — a House came out — you saw the House come out with a very strong recommendation of impeachment by the majority. Yes, there were two — a couple of Democrats who voted against the majority, but a strong — and then the Senate, completely the opposite.

  • John Hart:

    Well, Judy, I think we have learned a lot consequences of going against the golden rule of impeachment, which is that you don't — you don't move forward on impeachment without the support of the country behind you.

    If there is not supermajority support in the country, it's unreasonable to expect there to be supermajority support in the Senate. And at the very beginning, we all discussed which votes would be up in the air.

    There were one to four. And in the end, there was one vote that went against party.

    So I hope the warning is, is that we don't go down this road again, without the support of the electorate behind it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But the one person who did cross party lines was — as we just heard from Adam Schiff, Victoria, was Republican Mitt Romney.

    So the vote — the vote that moved over was one of the president's — a member of the president's party.

  • Victoria Nourse:

    Well, now the former three Republican candidates for President, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, et cetera, have all — and now Mitt Romney — have all come out against this president's style, if not policies.

    I do think that's important to note in terms of the idea that we should have a bipartisan basis for impeachment.

    But I will note that this incident is different than Clinton and closer to Nixon, because the claim here is that the president was trying to interfere in an election, which is the bedrock of our system. We just saw chaos in the Iowa caucuses.

    The country is on edge, because it is true that the Russians interfered. It probably had nothing to do with Trump's election. But we know that there was interference in our elections. So that makes this impeachment what — I do agree with the bipartisan role.

    Joe Biden agreed with the bipartisan role many years ago. But this problem with elections is not going to go away. And it would be better if the president didn't tweet out things like, oh, I'm going to stay here until 2040, and come out with some election security bill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, John Hart, we did — and I asked Kellyanne Conway this question, because Yamiche Alcindor, our White House correspondent, reported that White House people are telling her the president may very well reach out to other countries for help investigating a political rival, that they don't see anything wrong with it.

  • John Hart:

    Well, Judy, I don't — I don't, frankly, take that seriously.

    I think with this president does is, he is very, very effective at emotionally manipulating Democrats. So, his State of the Union address was point after point after point designed to elicit a reaction.

    So when he says that, I don't take it seriously. His tweet after — moments after — we all sat here — moments after the vote happened that Trump would be in office forever.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • John Hart:

    That is — that shows him being our satirist in chief. And he's critiquing a political culture that doesn't accept humor.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • John Hart:

    And he's criticizing the illiberalism of liberalism.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But he still was impeached…

  • John Hart:

    He was.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … by the House of Representatives, the third president in our history to have been so.

  • Victoria Nourse:

    Yes.

    And I was proud of Mitt Romney to — for standing up. It was, as he said, the most consequential event of his entire lifetime. This is a man who's run for president. And he knows that that vote is going to subject him to abuse by those partisans of the president.

    So, Mitch McConnell, who said that the fever has broken, strikes me as being a little bit too optimistic. I don't think the fever has broken at all. I think you're going to see the fever mount as we get up to the next election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you see that?

  • John Hart:

    Well, yes, I do think there's going to be more and more animosity.

    And I think, Judy, the challenge is, it wasn't long ago that Republicans and Democrats were passing great legislation. And to his credit, the president last night did a good job of describing some of his accomplishments that involved Democrats.

    Chris Coons was in the Oval Office praising the president. That's what the American people want. They want more of that.

    My former boss Tom Coburn physically embraced President Obama at his first State of the Union.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you're saying you're not sure that's where we're headed right now, is more togetherness.

  • John Hart:

    Well, I do think — I think the country wants that. I think — I think the electorate really does want that.

    And I — hopefully, there's going to be a reaction against — there's — hopefully, there will be outrage fatigue in this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John Hart, Victoria Nourse, we thank you for being with us throughout this process.

  • John Hart:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • Victoria Nourse:

    Thank you, Judy.

  • John Hart:

    It was a pleasure being with you.

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