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Week In Politics

Dec 7, 2019
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Members of the House are drafting articles of impeachment this weekend. Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she had no choice.

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NANCY PELOSI: This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president's violation of his oath of office.

SIMON: And the White House doesn't look cooperative. NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Glad to be cooperative, Scott.

SIMON: (Laughter) Without a subpoena - oh, my gosh. I'm impressed. Your integrity shines through. The House Democrats now use the term shook down to describe what they believe President Trump did to Ukraine by withholding support in hopes of getting Ukrainian officials to announce an investigation that presumably would harm Joe Biden politically. What do you think the actual articles of impeachment will say by the time they're drafted?

ELVING: So just to be clear, the Constitution's Article II Section 4 does not mention shakedowns. But it does speak of bribery. And the Democrats say this is a case of the president soliciting a bribe, asking for, quote, "a favor." So there will be an article to that effect, using the term bribery or the phrase abuse of power or both. And there will be an article for obstructing justice, as there was for Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. That could stem largely from the president's efforts to thwart the investigation of Robert Mueller. And there may be a third article about the obstruction of Congress because the White House has been withholding documents and also barring the participation of top officials in this probe and in other congressional probes.

SIMON: Of course, we just heard the words of Speaker Pelosi at the microphones on Thursday. For several months, we know that she was concerned about the possible political effects of an impeachment process. What do you notice in that regard as you look at the polls and consider the electoral calendar.

ELVING: There is an argument to be made for hitting the brakes, slowing this process down, going to court to compel the testimony from those administration holdouts. But that would mean having Congress wait three or five or seven months for all three levels of the federal courts to rule on each individual subpoena. Now, the presumption is that more time would mean a stronger case and perhaps more public support. But it also risks freezing Congress in place with nothing else going on for the remainder of this term. And as for the polls, this impeachment is already more popular than the impeachment of Bill Clinton ever was and more popular than the impeachment of Richard Nixon was at a comparable point in that process.

SIMON: What do you believe, Ron, the impeachment process does to other questions that are hanging about President Trump? Just this week, an appeals court ordered banks to turn over financial records that had been subpoenaed. Yesterday, Trump asked the Supreme Court to block that.

ELVING: We saw the Supreme Court move at what you might call warp speed back in 2000 when it was ending the Florida recount controversy and anointing George W. Bush the new president of the United States. In theory, the court might move that fast again on Trump's taxes, as you mentioned, or on a host of other claims that he's made about his privileges and immunities. But right now there is no sign the court is in the mood to do that.

SIMON: A common theme you hear from Republicans during the recent hearings is that impeachment is a waste of time that could otherwise be spent getting legislation done. The White House suggested as much, sort of echoed some of that rhetoric when they sent a letter last night saying that President Trump won't participate with the Judiciary Committee. What do you foresee Congress and the executive branch actually getting done between now and the November election?

ELVING: Well, the safest thing is to say that, historically, little gets done in a presidential election year. That's the pattern. But it's also true that after his impeachment, Bill Clinton worked with the Republicans in Congress who had impeached him. And together, they lowered the federal budget deficit rather dramatically. Now, that achievement didn't really survive after Clinton left office, of course. But it did happen. And it happened after his impeachment. So that is also worth remembering at this point in time.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thank you so much for being with us.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.