YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Yamiche Alcindor.
Let’s continue the conversation where we left off on this historic and turbulent week. Joining me tonight are four reporters that covered this story from the frontline: Nancy Cordes, chief congressional correspondent for CBS News; Astead Herndon, national political reporter for The New York Times; Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for The Washington Post; and Jake Sherman, founder of the new Punchbowl News. Welcome.
I want to go to you, Phil, first. A draft of the articles of impeachment are titled “incitement of an insurrection.” What more do you know about how President Trump is preparing for what will be, it seems, a big fight?
PHILIP RUCKER: Yeah, Yamiche, it’s very different, actually, than the way the White House was preparing for his impeachment proceedings back in the fall of 2019, when an army of lawyers was brought together, a real battle plan was drawn up inside the White House. This time, according to our reporting, there really is no preparation at this hour for the president to fend off impeachment, in part because some of his lawyers and other advisors believe it’s very unlikely to actually happen, to follow through, because there are only 12 days left in the presidency. That said, watching the movement on Capitol Hill, it seems that there’s a real determination among legislators as well as the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to follow through with impeachment proceedings, and so I anticipate if those become real we’re going to see a very quick mobilization of some lawyers on behalf of the president to try to defend him. I would just add, however, that not a single administration official – we’re now two days into this; not a single administration official has publicly defended the president’s conduct, his rhetoric, his actions on Wednesday, not even the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who is paid to issue those sorts of defenses.
MS. ALCINDOR: That’s right, Phil. I’ve been really struck by the fact that the Washington – that the White House has really not wanted to take questions. We’ve heard remarks from President Trump, but he is not at all come before reporters to actually be pressed. But I want to turn to Nancy. Nancy, you have been covering this from the Hill. My question is, we’re talking about a presidency that’s ending in 12 days; how is this going to play out on Capitol Hill? Is this going to go past when President Trump leaves office?
NANCY CORDES: I think if they do go ahead and pull the trigger, Yamiche, and bring the entire House of Representatives back next week – remember, everybody’s on recess right now. They’re not supposed to come back until the inauguration. But if Speaker Pelosi does decide to go ahead with an impeachment vote and bring everyone back, let’s say in the middle of next week, for a vote, it will pass in the House, most likely, because there is near universal Democratic support. Two-thirds of House Democrats have already signed on to this article of impeachment, so it would likely pass in the House. And then the question is, what happens next? Does she immediately send it over to the Senate for a trial? The Constitution says that as soon as the articles of impeachment get to the Senate they have to hold a trial right away. Well, there’s a couple of things that are really problematic about that timing, first and foremost the fact that it would get to the Senate just before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, and guess what he wants the Senate to be working on the minute he’s sworn in? He doesn’t want it consumed by impeachment; he wants the Senate to be confirming his Cabinet so he can get to work and start fulfilling some very ambitious promises that he has made. So then the question becomes, does Speaker Pelosi hold onto these articles of impeachment for a little while, not send them over to the Senate, understanding that, you know, probably there isn’t time to try him before he leaves office anyway? And we’ve seen this in the past. Don’t forget back in 2019 the House passed articles of impeachment in December and then everyone went home for the holidays, and it wasn’t until the House and Senate got back in January that she did end up sending those articles of impeachment over and a Senate trial began. So could she do something similar here, just hold onto them for a while, let Democrats take control of the Senate, get the Biden Cabinet confirmed, and then even in a month or two move on to a trial in the Senate? That’s a big question mark right now, and nobody really knows the answer because we’re kind of in uncharted territory here.
MS. ALCINDOR: Jake, Nancy’s talking about uncharted territory. I can’t imagine – I couldn’t ever have imagined that we would be seeing and talking about possibly a second impeachment, but you were at the events that kicked this off, which is of course the siege on the Capitol. I’m still shaken by those images. You experienced it. What is still on your mind, days after this?
JAKE SHERMAN: You know, the one thing that I don’t think I’ll ever forget was the sound of these thugs trying to break into what is probably double- or triple-paned glass. And frankly, I’ll never – I’ll never forget the whole episode, Yamiche. I’ll never forget, you know, seeing the SWAT teams and, you know, I was watching on CSPAN, which I think had the feed, the mobs – not the protesters – ascending the Capitol steps, the big steps that are usually guarded by police officers with machineguns. And I’ll be honest with you, I mean, there needs to be some answers here. The Capitol Police department is a great police department, but we need to understand what the hell happened here. Why were we so – why were we at such risk? How were these protesters allowed to get so close? I mean, we all know this, but it’s useful for the audience. I mean, the House and Senate floors are sacred places. As reporters, we can’t get on them. They’re for members of Congress and members of Congress only. They are guarded at every entrance by two police officers. They just waltzed right onto the floor. So it’s just – the whole thing I will – I will never forget.
MS. ALCINDOR: When I’m listening – as I’m listening to Jake talk, I’m thinking about the time I spent covering protests in Ferguson. I saw people arrested, children, teenagers, for peacefully protesting. Astead, this is sticking in people’s mind, the contrast of this. Michelle Obama pointed out what she called a double standard. The NAACP offered a simple message on Twitter; they said they have killed us for less. Based on your reporting, how do political leaders think this through? What are they – how are they thinking about this, and how is this going to inform the way forward?
ASTEAD HERNDON: Yeah, that was an instant reaction from the scenes that we saw on Wednesday, the idea that if these mobs looked differently, if they were kind of protesting a different – or had a different cause, that we would have been a different police reaction, you know, and I think that that is clear just by what we’ve experienced throughout this country in the last couple years. You know, you mentioned the Ferguson protests. I remember being – covering the Laquan McDonald protests in Chicago or being at the George Floyd protests throughout the country this summer, and we certainly saw aggressive police responses for folks who were not armed and were not kind of laying siege to the seat of democracy. The question for political leaders will be, you know, as that double standard, as that is laid to bare, you know, kind of on display for the whole country, what comes next? I mean, what are we going to see that is going to, one, hold folks accountable for what happened Wednesday, but also really speak to the widening gulf between what is a rising multicultural movement in the country, one that has embraced themes of Black lives matter in a new majority way last year, and at the same time a conservative – a far-right movement that is growing in number, that is a threat to democracy, and that is armed and violent? And how do we kind of move forward as a democracy with those gulfs being wider than ever? That’s going to take our political leaders, but that’s also going to take just regular Americans who are going to have to decide what this country is – you know, whose democracy it really is.
MS. ALCINDOR: Hmm, whose democracy is it? Well, in Georgia people there, voters there decided that it was going to be two Democratic senators that they were taking to send to the Senate. All of this – these Black Lives Matter protests, the events that we lived through this summer no doubt played a part in that. Nancy, I want to come to you because I’m still in some ways struck by the fact that the Democrats taking the Senate wasn’t the top story this week. How do Democrats respond to this? What are they going to do with their new power?
MS. CORDES: Well, it sounds like one thing they may not do is pass $2,000 checks. That’s now in a little bit of doubt after Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, said absolutely not. You know, even though they’re going to control the Senate, Democrats do still, you know, have the narrowest majority possible – something we’ve almost never seen before, a 50/50 split. They’re going to need to keep their party together all the time. And, you know, to pass any major legislation they’re going to need to bring 10 Republican senators on board.
In this case, it’s an open question. Senator Schumer has said it’s one of the first things he wants to do. Joe Biden is on record saying it’s one of the first things he wants to do, pass these $2,000 checks. You know, in this case there are some Republicans who said that they’re open to it. So we’ll have to wait and see whether they can cobble together the numbers they need for that. You know, the biggest priority for the Democrats is going to be getting this president’s Cabinet confirmed in a very timely fashion.
And obviously there’s going to be a huge focus on the possibility of yet another big COVID relief package because there was a lot that was left out of the last package that was very important to Democrats. Things like money for state and local governments. And so they may try to take another stab at it now that they control the Senate calendar.
MS. ALCINDOR: Nancy’s walking us through what the Democrats and lawmakers could do. Jake, I know we’re going to all be checking our email boxes for Punchbowl News. What can you tell us about what this new power shift, this new dynamic in Washington might look like?
MR. SHERMAN: Well, I’ll tell you, the House Republicans smell blood in the water. Kevin McCarthy is – thinks he’ll be speaker at the beginning of 2023, thinks he’ll win back the majority. And I think – we made this point this week – Joe Biden has a real opportunity here. He has a real opportunity because the Republican Party is deeply divided at the moment. The nation is hurting for all the reasons we’ve spoken about – because of racial injustice, because of economic injustice, because of this horrible pandemic which has set us back so far. He has an opportunity to really govern in a way that he could bring senators along in a closely divided Senate and leave House Republicans in a really tough position, where it’s either opposing him or working with him.
So he has a really unique opportunity in that regard. And listen, there’s a really unique kind of landscape of leaders right now. Nancy Pelosi is likely in her last term, she has said. Chuck Schumer is up for election in 2022. That’s very interesting. Kevin McCarthy is trying to get back the majority. The only person – and Mitch McConnell, frankly, is trying to get back his Senate majority. So an interesting kind of canvas of political incentives right now as we – as we look toward 2021 and 2022.
MS. ALCINDOR: And as we look toward 2021 and 2022, Phil, the thing that I’ve also been thinking about this week in looking at international headlines is that the world was watching the United States be attacked by our own citizens. How do you think this is going to impact the way that the country is seen, especially when you think of all the different things that President Trump did when it came to challenging our allies and picking fights with our allies? What are you hearing? And how do you just perceive what this week is going to do for the perception of America?
MR. RUCKER: Well, it’s an important point, Yamiche. And world leaders around the world were aghast at the images they saw Wednesday. And we saw presidents and prime ministers from, you know, countries as small as Estonia tweeting to the United States messages of hope for our democracy. You know, we used to be the country that showed others around the world how to create a democracy, how to build a democracy, how to nurture it, and indeed how to protect it. And now we’re seeing other countries trying to help us protect our own creation here, because it has been so imperiled and, frankly, so corrupted by the government of the last four years.
And so, you know, Joe Biden, his Secretary of State Tony Blinken, assuming he’s confirmed, and others in this new administration have a monumental task to go around the world to repair these relationship, to rebuild trust and faith in the United States as a fully functioning democracy, if indeed that’s what our voters here want this country to be, and try to repair the damage of these four years.
MS. ALCINDOR: That is all such important reporting. The United States, I was told by immigrants who came here, is a beacon for the rest of the world, and they told me that Americans need to understand that democracy is fragile. I was talking to immigrants, of course, who came to this country seeking political stability, but we’re going to have to leave it there for tonight.
Many thanks to Nancy, Astead, Philip and Jake for their insights. And thank you all for joining us. Make sure you sign up for our Washington Week newsletter on our website. We’ll give you a behind the scenes look into all things Washington.
I’m Yamiche Alcindor. Good night from Washington.