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House Panel Advances Impeachment Articles & Full House Vote Next Week; White House Reacts to Articles of Impeachment; McConnell & White House Will Coordinate Senate Trial Plans; House to Vote on USMCA Day After Impeachment Vote. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired December 13, 2019 - 11:00 ET
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WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Washington.
A truly historic moment up on Capitol Hill. The House Judiciary Committee just voted to send articles of impeachment against President Trump to the House floor, where the entire House of Representatives will have their say next week. They'll consider two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Debate over the allegations and whether they warrant impeachment lasted months, but this morning's vote to advance the articles to the full House took just a few minutes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The article is agreed to.
The question now is on Article II of the resolution, impeaching President Donald J. Trump for obstructing Congress.
The article is agreed to.
The revolution is amended as ordered, reported favorably to the House.
Members will have two days to submit views. The resolution will be reported of a single amendment in the nature of a substitute.
Without objection, staff is authorized to make technical and conforming changes.
Without objection, this meeting is adjourned.
UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Mr. Chairman?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As many expected, the votes were strictly cast along party lines. For the first article, abuse of power, 23 yays from Democrats and 17 nays from Republicans. And the same for obstruction of Congress. The vote to advance that impeachment article also straight along party lines. So we now look ahead to the next critical phase.
Let's go over to Capitol Hill right now where senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is watching all of this history unfold right now.
First of all, Manu, what are you hearing from lawmakers?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Democrats are defending the fact this was a party line vote. This is such a rare thing to see an American president on the verge of being impeached.
Initially, at the outset, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wanted any sort of impeachment action to be bipartisan. But Democrats are saying that they had no choice but to act. And that they're accusing the Republicans of siding with the president rather than siding with what they believe is a clear violation of his oath of office, saying that they had to act no matter what, no matter what the Republicans ultimately decided to do.
This was, Wolf, approved along party lines, both counts, 23-17 vote. And in the full House, which we're expecting full action to occur middle of the week, likely Wednesday of next week, at that point.
We're still expecting Republicans to side with the president. Even Republicans -- there are only a handful of moderate Republicans left. Those Republicans I have spoken with have indicated they're going to vote no on those articles of impeachment.
There are Democrats in swing districts, people in districts that President Trump carried, particularly freshman Democrats, who are still weighing what to do when it comes to that full House vote.
We do expect two Democrats who have already said that they were not going to support moving forward on impeachment, we do expect them to vote "no" on those two counts.
But there are a handful of others who are weighing it, plan to talk to their constituents and plan to announce their decisions next week. We could see opposition from the Democratic ranks potentially grow by a handful of more members.
Ultimately, a vote on the House floor could come out with a handful of Democrats voting with Republicans against the articles, and Democrats voting in unison, mostly, to vote to approve those articles.
They do expect to pick up at least one former Republican-turned- Independent, Justin Amash, who has indicated that he would likely support those two articles of impeachment. But that's about it.
Nevertheless, Wolf, we do expect that the full House will approve this by the middle of the week. A majority is all that is needed.
And that will then set up that Senate trial, in which the Republican leadership has already been strategizing in the Senate about how that trial should be conducted. That's going to take place in January. We'll see how they deal with the issue of bringing forward witnesses or if it's dismissed quickly, as the Republicans seem eager to do.
That is the next step here as we look forward to this historic moment, such a rare moment in American history. Now these articles of impeachment now are going to be before the full House next week -- Wolf?
BLITZER: And we think it's going to be next Wednesday, right?
RAJU: That's what we're hearing, next Wednesday. It's expected to be a busy week. They'll vote on Tuesday to keep the government open and advance the spending bill. Wednesday, we're expecting that full House vote to impeach the president.
Thursday, they're going to improve a trade deal with the U.S./Mexico trade agreement that the House Democrats negotiated with the Trump administration. That legislation expected to pass.
And then they're going to recess. They're going to go out of town until the New Year.
So it's going to happen quickly, Wolf. As we've been saying for weeks now, a pre-Christmas vote now on tap in the House.
BLITZER: It certainly is.
Manu, thank you very much.
Let's go over to the White House right now. Our Pamela Brown is getting reaction over there.
So first of all, what is reaction you're getting from officials over at the White House?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House released a statement in the wake of this vote in the House Judiciary Committee with press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, calling it a "desperate charade of an impeachment inquiry," and saying, "The president looks forward to receiving in the Senate the fair treatment and due process which continues to be disgracefully denied to him in the House."
I can tell you, in talking to officials here, they are very much looking ahead. The White House officials believe that their work with the House is largely finished.
The one thing they do want to continue to ensure is that Republicans stay united, because that has been such a big talking point for the president, who has said repeatedly that Republicans have never been so united throughout this impeachment inquiry.
But there's a lot of focus looking ahead with the White House counsel coordinating with Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, on what a potential trial should look like as the two try to reconcile what the president wants, this theatrical defense with live witnesses, and what Republicans want, a very quick trial with no live witnesses.
In the end, the White House is certainly taking note of what Mitch McConnell has said publicly, that he doesn't believe that the president will be removed.
So while the president is looking forward to hoping that he'll be exonerated and be able to use that as a talking point on the campaign trail, at the same time, what's been unfolding here with this vote this morning, the two articles of impeachment going to the House next week, the history that is surrounding this, that is something that has irked him.
He's been griping about it in public. He doesn't understand why Ukraine was the issue that did this. He's really been bothered by all of this, even as he looks forward to the Senate trial.
We expect to hear from the president shortly when he meets with the president of Paraguay in the Oval Office. He's expected to take questions, Wolf.
He has been very focused since the vote in the House Judiciary on this, China -- the first phase of the China trade deal being reached. In fact, he hasn't even tweeted about the vote since it happened. He's been focused on that trade deal.
We'll expect him to want to talk about that and answer some questions on impeachment. We'll have to wait and see. That meeting happening shortly -- Wolf?
BLITZER: We'll watch that very closely.
Pamela, thank you very, very much.
Jeffrey Toobin, step back a little bit and give us some perspective on the enormity of what is going on in Washington right now.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, we have been discussing, there have been four impeachment proceedings, but this is, in my respects, the most extraordinary of all, because it's the only one where the impeached president will face the voters.
Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, none of them faced the voters after being impeached.
BLITZER: They were in their second term.
TOOBIN: They were -- yes.
And the voters are going to -- one of the great questions that historians always have is, was this impeachment appropriate. And people disagree. The voters are going to get a vote here.
And I would like to give a ringing "I don't know what they're going to say," but the fact that we are going of a post-impeachment election and what impact it has is just an amazing thing and it's never been done before. BLITZER: Michael Gerhardt, the second article of impeachment,
obstruction of Congress, gets to the issue of the White House refusing to submit documents, to make witnesses available. And the Democrats, they argued this was an obstruction of Congress, an abuse of power was the first article of impeachment.
The Republicans kept arguing throughout the course of yesterday and the days before that it was not obstruction of Congress. If there's a dispute about getting documents and witnesses from the executive branch, there's a way to deal with that. Go to the third branch of government, the judicial branch, and argue it before the courts, if necessary, go all the way up to the Supreme Court.
They say the Democrats refused to take these issues to the court, because they didn't have this time. And as a result, it's the Democrats' fault. Not the executive branch's fault.
MICHAEL GERHARDT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's completely wrong. And I'll tell you why. The remedy for the president's widespread noncompliance with subpoenas, ordering the entire executive branch not to cooperate, ordering multiple officials not to comply with subpoenas, the remedy for that is not going to court. It's impeachment.
The third article of impeachment that was approved against Richard Nixon in the House Judiciary Committee charged he had failed to comply with four legislative subpoenas. In this situation, it's far more than four. Two times that, if not three times of that.
The other thing to keep in mind is the Constitution says the House has the sole power of impeachment. If the House has to depend on the courts to back it up, the courts turn out to have the real power in impeachment, not the House.
The House is following its constitutional charge and it will set forth the articles and it will be judged not just in the Senate, not just by the American people, but also --
BLITZER: Jeffrey, do you agree with --
TOOBIN: Yes. And Adam Schiff made an interesting point in addressing this question a little while ago. He said, what we are doing here is an impeachment process about trying to manipulate the 2020 election. If we go to court, if we have to go to court and wait five months, six months, he will -- the president will have accomplished what this impeachment is all about.
Now, you can agree or disagree about that, but that's an argument that I think, you know, has certain weight.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So you're making the -- it's going to take too much time -- or posing that question.
But I think it's fascinating what you just said, because that's exactly what Jerry Nadler argues, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is that it's not up to the courts, it's up to us.
But, you know, if you look at the Constitution -- and I want you to tell me, because you're the constitutionalist here, or the expert -- there are three branches of government. And when there's a dispute, traditionally, it is the third branch of government that sort of breaks the tie for lack of a better way to say it. So why not the courts on this?
GERHARDT: It's actually -- I'll have to beg to differ a little bit. I don't think that is the case traditionally.
GERHARDT: Throughout all of the 19th century, you had clashes very similar to this, and none of them went to court.
BASH: Because they worked it out. It behooved them to work it out.
GERHARDT: Sometimes they would work it out, sometimes they wouldn't work it out.
Coming into the 20th century, we've become more reliant on court to intervene.
For most of American history, courts stay away from impeachment. In fact, the court ruled 9-0 in a case involving Walter Nixon, who challenged the trial procedures, that it would not interfere with or judge the Senate --
BASH: So fascinating.
GERHARDT: Left to the Senate. That has to be true for the House as well.
So this is really a question about the House's authority, not the court's authority. And if House can stand up in a sense on its own and say, we've got the sole power -- the word "sole" only appears twice in the Constitution, once with respect to impeachment and once with respect to trying impeachment.
BASH: I'm taking your class.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's remarkable to see --
BLITZER: Abby, go ahead. PHILLIP: Repeatedly, Republicans actually argued that this should be
taken out of their own hands. These are people sitting in Congress, sitting in the House of Representatives and saying, actually, we need to let the courts decide this.
So Republicans have actually between up the argument that they don't even want this power, they don't even want this to be decide decided.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: -- at least when the president is a Republican. When you look at the president, Benghazi, the shoe was on a different foot when there was a different target.
But the other point I would make, to Jeffrey's point, is about the 2020 election. The story of 2016 election was interference in the U.S. election by a foreign power. The story of this election is interference in the election with American help, right?
Aiding and abetting, that's the essential allegation of the impeachment, right, as the president was inviting a foreign country to interfere, et cetera.
But then remarkably, even as the votes are happening in the Judiciary Committee today, that is continuing. Rudy Giuliani just returned from Ukraine on a mission to dig up dirt.
Republicans will say, this may be justified. But it's in a foreign country and he's meeting with foreign nationals whose motivations are, at best, not clear, considering their pro-Russian sentiments, et cetera.
So 2016 was a political Pearl Harbor, some have called it, Russian interference. Now 2020 is one where it seems to be OK that U.S. persons can participate in that. And --
BASH: They're doing it right out in the open.
SCIUTTO: It's happening in the open, on Fifth Avenue.
BLITZER: Giuliani's, the president personal attorney, just back from Ukraine and he was spotted earlier this morning going into the White House.
We have a lot more that we need to cover as a Senate impeachment trial now looks inevitable in January. The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is clearly coordinating plans with the White House. How will that affect how the Senate trial actually plays out?
BLITZER: The House Democrats just passed two articles of impeachment against President Trump, straight along party lines. All 23 Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee voting in favor, all 17 Republicans voting against. The articles now go to the full House floor for a vote next week. We are told probably Wednesday.
After the House floor vote, it heads to the Senate in early January, where majority leader, Mitch McConnell, says he will hold a trial.
McConnell told FOX News that the White House and the Republican-held Senate will be in lockstep agreement on how the Senate trial will be conducted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Everything I do during this I'll be coordinating with White House counsel.
We'll be working through this process, hopefully, in a fairly short period of time in total coordination with the White House counsel's office and the people who are representing the president in the well of the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring back our experts to discuss.
Dana, you've covered Congress for a long time. There are 435 voting seats in the House of Representatives. A couple of absent seats. Instead of 218 majority you need to pass the articles resolution, I think, right now, you need 216 --
BLITZER: -- in order to pass both of these articles of impeachment against the president of the United States.
There's a little doubt that the Democrats have the votes, even if a few Democrats decide to bolt.
BASH: Nancy Pelosi has a enough of a majority that she has some wiggle room. She can, you know, free some of the moderates to vote against the articles of impeachment, if they feel that is best for them in their conscience, and if it's best for them in their districts, because so many of them come from districts that voted for Trump overwhelmingly.
And you really are going to see, over the next weekend, so much discussion weekend, so much discussion between particularly those moderates, with their families, with their constituents, with their advisers about what to do.
And taking each article independently because, as you all know, historically, the articles don't always line up, as we saw in this committee vote. Sometimes they're very different. Abuse of power and obstruction are different types of votes.
This weekend, the conversations that these moderates are going to have are going to be critical to determining how many Democrats really are going to say, sorry, I can't do this, for whatever reason.
BLITZER: There are 31 Democrats who were elected in 2018, Abby, in districts that President Trump carried in 2016.
PHILLIP: And the story of this impeachment has been a certain steadiness in the polls. There's not been a ton of change between when this process started and where we are now.
But also we started in a place very early on where some Republicans showed some uncertainty about where they would land on impeachment. And then they solidified in President Trump's corner.
And so that's the problem for some of these moderate Democrats. That they have succeeded with the help of Independents and maybe some soft Republicans. And many of those Republicans are firmly in Trump's corner, so this has become a much more difficult vote.
But I do think that Pelosi did them a little bit of a favor by making it a little bit easier, taking some of the extraneous things off the table and making it a pretty clear case on Ukraine.
And I think the first article -- the second article definitely follows the first in terms of the way in which they do relate.
BLITZER: And it's clear, Jeffrey Toobin, as you know, and the Constitution points out, you need a simple majority in the House of Representatives to pass these articles of impeachment.
But in the Senate, for conviction and pa removal of the president from office, you need a two-thirds majority, 57 U.S. Senators. There are 53 Republicans right now, 45 Democrats, two Independents who side together, 47, in effect, Democrats.
Getting to 67 is looking pretty much impossible.
TOOBIN: It's looking impossible.
And, again, you know, it's an example of how the framers wanted this to be a difficult process. They wanted this to be something that didn't just happen willy-nilly. And the fact that you need two-thirds of the Senate is a very high hurdle. And that's something that it's quite clear that the pro-impeachment forces are not going to reach.
Just another point about Nancy Pelosi and Democrats. It is no coincidence that the Democrats or that the House will be voting on the USMCA, the big trade deal, the day after impeachment.
Because one of the criticisms, especially the moderate Democrats are facing is, you didn't do anything in Congress, all you did was attack the president, you didn't accomplish anything. And that's a concern that Pelosi has definitely had. Even though
they've passed lots of bill, the Senate hasn't passed them as well.
These moderate Democrats will be able to say, look, we did pass this big trade deal. And the fact that they're doing it almost contiguous to the impeachment vote is something that the --
TOOBIN: -- that Pelosi very much wants her members to be able to say.
BLITZER: And, Jim Sciutto, it's important that, on Tuesday, the full House is supposed to pass the spending bill, which includes a significant increase in defense-related spending. These moderate Democrats will be able to point to something like that.
On Wednesday, the impeachment vote, on Thursday, the U.S./Canada trade agreement.
SCIUTTO: We've talked before about Republican talking points, a consistent Democratic talking point. I've heard this from a dozen Democratic lawmakers when I challenge them on what voters are saying at home, they say, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We've all heard that.
And this is a demonstration. That's why last week you had progress on the USMCA on the same day that you were also moving forward on the impeachment.
It does show, not just Democrats but Republicans, because these are bills with bipartisan support, including the funding bill. Government's still functioning, you're getting some stuff passed in the midst of impeachment.
How do voters view that? We'll see, come November next year. But that's at least the argument Democrats are making.
BASH: I just want to say, the way the government is supposed to work that these spending bills are supposed to be approved --
SCIUTTO: I'm talking about the current standard of functioning --
BASH: I know you know, meaning, it's not shutting down.
BASH: That they're throwing it all together -- it used to be, the fights that we had --
PHILLIP: Because this time last year, we were shutting the government down.
BLITZER: At least there won't be a government shutdown this time.
Everybody, stand by.
Coming up, Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, a law professor who just cast his vote, he's standing by to join us, live.
Stay with us. Our special CNN live coverage on this historic day will continue.
BLITZER: History made this morning up on Capitol Hill. The House Judiciary Committee voting to send two articles of impeachment against President Trump, voting to send those articles to the House floor.