Pelosi, McConnell And Impeachment

Dec 21, 2019
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The impeachment process is, well, somewhere in process today. The House approved two articles of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday. And the case now heads to the Senate for trial. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won't name impeachment managers - essentially the prosecution team - until she has more information about how that trial will work. The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized the Speaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: Speaker Pelosi's House just gave in to a temptation that every other House in our history has managed to resist. They impeach a president whom they do not even allege has committed an actual crime known to our laws.

SIMON: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us. Susan, thanks very much for being with us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Let's take advantage of this pause in the action - briefly - to take a look at these two considerable figures in the Congress, of course - the speaker and the majority leader. How did the speaker go from at one point discouraging impeachment to now maneuvering it through the House with almost no defections?

DAVIS: Nancy Pelosi has a strength in politics. And I think Mitch McConnell shares that strength in an ability to sort of see around corners, politically speaking. And when Nancy Pelosi back in September announced support for the impeachment investigation, she knew that day that she would be likely to have the votes in the end. One, I think she thought the substance of the case was there. And she also knew for the Democrats in tough districts - in districts Donald Trump won - that this was a clear enough case for them to be able to vote for these articles of impeachment. And in the end, she was right. She made a safe bet. There were, as you noted, just three defections in the party on the two articles of impeachment.

SIMON: She also seems to be making more of a personal identification with...

DAVIS: Yeah. Yeah.

SIMON: ...The case, and even in the way she speaks about it publicly.

DAVIS: It's certainly getting more personal between the two chambers. But it's a reflection of the year that we've had. If you think about this Congress, it started out with the longest government shutdown in history - a point that put Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell at loggerheads for a long time. And it ends with an impeachment process and the Senate preparing for trial. And Pelosi also had very pointed criticism of Mitch McConnell and his handling of the impeachment process.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: Our founders, when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected that there could be a rogue president. I don't think they suspected that we could have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.

DAVIS: And McConnell, you know, he volleys back. He has been very clear in his comments that he thinks this is a weak case for impeachment. He thinks they will have a short trial and a fast acquittal.

SIMON: And how did Senator McConnell go from trying to keep the president almost at arm's length to now saying there's - and this is a quote - total coordination with the White House.

DAVIS: Well, if you go back to that September moment, there was this question of how is this all going to shake out? And as we're at the end of the House impeachment process, McConnell's looking at the same polls everyone else is and sees that impeachment has kind of been a bit of a wash.

But the number he's also looking at is the president's approval among Republicans. And the president continues to be wildly popular among Republican - self-identified Republicans in this country. And I think McConnell's operating with that same level of confidence that Nancy Pelosi has, that the votes will be there with him in the end.

SIMON: Does Speaker Pelosi have any real leverage, though, in the Senate?

DAVIS: The short answer is no. The House and Senate don't get to tell each other what to do. They never have and they - that's not their design. But her delay does give a little bit of leverage to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. It just buys them a little bit of time because he's the one that will ultimately try and cut a deal with McConnell to come to some terms about the trial.

SIMON: And Senator McConnell said that he and Chuck Schumer were at an impasse over a resolution that would set out - how long a trial, whether there'll be any witnesses. We come back to where that leaves us this weekend.

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, people left pretty heated. There was no resolution to this as lawmakers headed home for the holidays. And the Senate's not scheduled to come back to take up any business until January 6. So that's the earliest we could see any action on whether they will be able to come to terms for a trial and what it will look like.

SIMON: NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.