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Schumer Speaks as McConnell Objects to Witnesses at Senate Trial; House Rules Committee Holds Hearing Before Impeachment Vote. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired December 17, 2019 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): I believe these documents are also of great importance to making sure Senators have the information necessary to make a fully informed decision, this terribly weighty decision.
The House has built a very strong case against the president. Maybe that's why Leader McConnell doesn't seem to want, at least not agree to them now. Maybe that's why the president is afraid, because the House case is so strong that they don't want witnesses that might corroborate it.
The evidence the House put together includes public testimony, given under oath, by numerous senior officials appointed by President Trump. These are Trump appointees we're calling, not some partisan Democrat. But some Republican Senators have said that while the charges are serious, they haven't seen enough evidence to make a decision.
That's one of the reasons I've proposed subpoenas for these witnesses and documents, all directly relevant from officials who have yet to testify under oath during any stage of the House process.
Senators who oppose this plan will have to explain why less evidence is better than more evidence.
Again, let me say that. To every Senator in this room, Democrat and Republican, Senators who oppose this plan will have to explain why less evidence is better than more evidence.
And they're going to have to explain that position to a public that is understandably skeptical when they see an administration suppressing evidence and blocking senior officials from telling the truth about what they know.
Let me repeat this Washington/ABC poll. Just this morning, I read about it in the paper this morning, 71 percent of Americans believe the president should allow his top aides to testify in a potential Senate trial. And 72 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of Republicans think that President Trump should allow his top aides to testify in a potential Senate trial. Seven out of 10 Americans. The American people have a wisdom that seems to be lacking with some
of my colleagues, that a trial without witnesses is not a trial. It's a rush to judgment. It's a sham trial.
The American people understand that a trial without relevant documents is not a fair trial. Again, a desire not to -- not for sunlight but for darkness, to conceal facts that may well be very relevant.
The American people understand if you're trying to conceal evidence and block testimony, it's probably not because the evidence is going to help your case. It's because you're trying to cover something up.
Mr. President, Trump, President Trump, are you worried about what these witnesses would say? If you're not worried, let them come forward. And if you are worried, we ought to hear from them.
I haven't heard -- again, the leader went on for 15, 20 minutes, the Republican leader, without giving a single argument for why these witnesses shouldn't testify or these documents shouldn't be produced unless the president has something to hide.
In the coming weeks, every Senator will have a choice. Do they want a fair, honest trial that examines all the facts or do they want a trial that doesn't let all the facts come out?
We will have votes. During this proceeding, should the House send it to us after voting for it, when they send it to us, we will have votes on whether these people should testify and whether these documents should be made public and part of the trial.
And the American people will be watching. They will be watching who is for an open and fair trial, who is for hiding facts, relevant facts, immediate facts, who is for covering up.
I expect to discuss this proposal for a fair trial with Leader McConnell. But each individual Senator will have both the power and the responsibility to help shape what an impeachment trial looks like.
In Federalist 65, Alexander Hamilton wondered, quote, "Where else than in the Senate could have been found a tribunal sufficiently dignified or sufficiently independent to serve as a court of impeachment? What other body would be likely to feel confidence enough to preserve unawed and uninfluenced the necessary impartiality?"
My colleagues, Leader McConnell, are you, in Alexander Hamilton's words, unawed and uninfluenced to produce the necessary impartiality, or will you participate in a cover-up?
Can we live up to Hamilton's fine words with dignity, independence, confidence to preserve the necessary impartiality to conduct a fair trial?
That question should weigh heavily upon every single Senator.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me AT THIS HOUR.
What you've been watching is the top Democrat in the Senate, Senator Chuck Schumer, speaking about impeachment, of course, making his case defending his proposal that he laid out just this week to request witnesses when the Senate trial begins into the impeachment of President Trump.
And this comes just moments after the top Republican in the Senate, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, took to the floor and essentially flatly rejected that proposal, at least at this stage, when he made remarks on the floor as well.
That is in the Senate. The procedure, the machinations of how that's going to play out, that's what we're looking at right there, though both men say they are going to sit down at some point and still have that discussion while they let these fights play out in public as well. That's in the Senate. We'll keep our eyes there.
But we're also keeping our eyes very specifically in the House today as well because today is the final step before the House of Representatives vote to impeach President Trump, something that has only happened twice before in American history.
Right now, the final hearing -- you see that on your screen -- the final hearing to essentially set up the rules of engagement for the historic floor vote is about to get underway. It's called the House Rules Committee.
With few exceptions, all bills that are voted on in the House goes through this committee before heading to the floor for a vote. It's one part wonky, another part in the weeds. But make no mistake, it's a hugely important, often overlooked, part of the process on Capitol Hill.
The committee today decides the terms and conditions under which the impeachment charges will be considered on the floor. How long the debate will be, allowing or much more likely for forbidding members to offer changes to the articles of impeachment before they vote when they get to the floor. This moment in history is about to start.
The big wild card at this moment, I will say, though, is there are no timing restrictions for how long lawmakers in this hearing are going to be able to talk. So you're not going to hear the thing that you've gotten so used to hearing of the past few weeks, which is, "The gentleman's time has expired," "The gentlewoman's time has expired." Not this time.
I'm going to leave that to you to guess if that means lawmakers are going to go longer or shorter without that time restriction.
Let's start there. CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, on the Hill, one of the few people who loves watching Rules Committee hearings and does so in his spare time. (CROSSTALK)
BOLDUAN: Manu, what are folks going to be seeing here?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you explained it very well, Kate. What it is going to be is the members of this committee are going to ask questions of the representatives of the House Judiciary Committee.
On the Democratic side Jamie Raskin, who's taking place of the Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee because Nader had a family emergency to attend to. So Raskin will be making the case for why these articles of impeachment need to move forward.
Also, Doug Collins, top Republican on the committee, will be pushing back giving the Republican side of the argument.
Each of the members of the committee can ask questions to these witnesses.
But we know what the outcome is going to be. They're going to set the rules, the parameters for the floor debate. And that floor debate will occur tomorrow on that historic vote in which the president will get impeached on two counts, one on obstruction of Congress, the other on abuse of power.
Already, as we saw Chuck Schumer say, we're seeing the debate play out on the next step, the Senate trial, how exactly that would play out. And Democrats that I have talked to are making it clear they plan to force the vote notion on the floor of the Senate to try to get these Senators to vote, to compel these witnesses to come forward, something they were allowed to do.
One top Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin, told me there's no Senate trial that will show that the White House, in his view, has no one who will defend him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): It would say to me that the president and his team can find no witness who will exonerate him from his statements and conduct that led to this impeachment. If he has a witness, if he has a document, for goodness sakes, why wouldn't he produce it? What we're saying is the trial gives him that opportunity to bring his witnesses forward.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, I would hope that the Senators of both parties will insist before any trial begins to have the documentary evidence. And I think every Senator's going to have to answer the question, do they want to see the documents, do you want to see the facts, or are they just going to try to sweep this under the rug.
(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: The last point by Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, is that demand for those documents that have been blocked by the White House. It's part of Chuck Schumer's demands for moving forward on this impeachment trial. He wants not just four witnesses who were blocked by the White House but all those documents to be produced as well.
But Republicans, as you heard Mitch McConnell say just this morning, they are not going for Schumer's proposal.
But ultimately, Kate, the big question will be whether there will be any defectors in the Senate Republicans ranks --
RAJU: -- that could force change at all on the calculus on the floor of the Senate. That's something we'll have to watch play out in the days ahead -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: And, Manu, a lot of -- you've been asking the question as well as the CNN team on the Hill of these potentially kind of Republicans that might break ranks, if you want to say that, and would vote with Democrat on some of these procedures.
You've been asking them over and over again, a lot of them not tipping their hand at all at what they would like to see.
You caught up with Mitt Romney, so you tell me on Twitter. What did Mitt Romney tell you?
RAJU: He didn't want to talk about it all. I talked to him, I asked him specifically, do you want to hear from Mick Mulvaney, do you want to hear from John Bolton. He said, I have a point of view on this but I'm not going to express my point of view until I have more conversations with my colleagues.
So he clearly wants to -- he doesn't want to tip his hand one way or the other.
We're hearing from other Senators as well, like Susan Collins, of Maine, another potentially swing vote here. She says that she wants to have the leadership negotiate how to move forward on this. She said she's a juror, she does not want to talk about it.
Lamar Alexander, another Republican who is retiring, someone who could be a swing vote on this witness testimony as well, saying that he wants the leadership to cut a deal.
So these Senators are keeping their cards very close. We'll see if any of them ultimately break ranks or if they side with their leadership -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: Yes, a lot of pressure externally and internally for sure going on in the Senate right now.
Manu -- Manu's going to stick close. We're keeping our eye on that hearing room that you can see right
there. That's the Rules Committee hearing. A touch more cozy than the vast Ways and Means Committee room that we've been watching those public hearings play out in weeks prior.
Doug Collins taking his position, the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. He will be making his case, as Manu laid out. This is about to get underway.
We'll be right back with CNN's special coverage of another moment in history.
REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-MA): It's unfortunate that we have to be here today. But the actions of the president of the United States make that necessary. President Trump withheld congressionally approved aid to Ukraine, a partner under siege, not to fight corruption but to extract a personal political favor.
He did not do this as a matter of U.S. policy, he did this for his own benefit. That is wrong. And if that is not impeachable conduct, I don't know what is.
I've heard some on the other side suggest that this process is about overturning an election. That is absurd. This is about President Trump using his office to try and rig the next election.
Now think about that. We like to say that every vote matters, that every vote counts. We learned in grade school about all the people who fought and died for that right. It is a sacred thing.
You know, I remember as a middle schooler, in 1972, leaving leaflets at the homes of potential voters urging them to support George McGovern for president. No relation by the way. I thought he had a great last name, and he was dedicated to ending the war in Vietnam and feeding the hungry and helping the poor.
I remember even to this day what an honor it was to ask people to support him even though I was too young to vote myself, and what a privilege it was later in life to ask voters for their support in my own campaigns.
Now, I've been proud of winning campaigns and I've been proud of losing ones too. People I thought would be great presidents, like Senator McGovern, were never given that chance.
Make -- make no mistake, I was disappointed, but I accepted it. I would take losing an election any day of the week when the American people render that verdict. But I will never -- and I mean I will never be OK if other nations decide our leaders for us. And the president of the United States is rolling out the welcome mat for that kind of foreign interference. To not act would set a dangerous precedent, not just for this president, but for every future president.
The evidence is as clear as it is overwhelming, and this administration hasn't handed over a single subpoenaed document to refute it. Not one.
Now it's up to us to decide whether the United States is still a nation where no one is above the law or whether America is allowed to become a land run by those who act more like kings or queens, as if the law doesn't apply to them.
You know, it's no secret that President Trump has a penchant for cozying up to notorious dictators. He's complimented Vladimir Putin, congratulated Rodrigo Duterte, lauded President Erdogan, fell in love with Kim Jong-un. I can go on and on and on.
And maybe the president is jealous that they can do whatever they want. These dictators are the antithesis of what America stands for, and every day we let President Trump act like the law doesn't apply to him, we meet -- we move a little closer to them.
You know, Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention and said, "The founders have created a republic, if you can keep it." There are no guarantees. Our system of government will persist only if we fight for it. And the simple question for us is this: Are we willing to fight for this democracy?
I expect we'll have a lot of debate here today. I hope everyone searches their conscience.
To my Republican friends, imagine any Democratic president sitting in the Oval Office, President Obama, President Clinton, any of them. Would your answer here still be the same?
No one should be allowed to use the powers of the presidency to undermine our elections or cheat in a campaign, no matter who it is and no matter what their party.
We all took an oath, not to defend a political party, but to uphold the Constitution of the United States. History is testing us. We can't control what the Senate will do, but each of us can decide whether we pass that test, whether we defend our democracy and whether we uphold our oath.
Today we'll put a process in place to consider these articles on the House floor. And when I cast my vote in favor, my conscience will be clear.
Before I turn to our ranking member, I want to first recognize his leadership on this committee. We take up a lot of contentious matters up here in the Rules Committee, and often we are on different sides of many issues, but he leads with integrity and he cares deeply about this House. There will be passionate disagreement here today, but I have no doubt we will continue working together in the future and side-by-side on this committee to better this institution.
And let me also state for the record that Chairman Nadler is unable to be here today because of a family medical emergency, and we are all keeping him and his family in our thoughts and prayers.
Testifying instead today is Congressman Raskin. He is not only a valued member of this committee, but also the Judiciary and Oversight Committees. In addition, Congressman Raskin is a constitutional law professor, so he has a very comprehensive and unique understanding of what we're talking about here today. And I appreciate him stepping in and testifying this morning.
I also want to welcome back Ranking Member Collins, a former member of the Rules Committee, someone who I don't often agree with, but someone who I respect nonetheless and appreciate all of his contributions to this institution.
And having said that, I'm --now will turn over -- turn this over to our ranking member, Mr. Cole, for any remarks he wishes to make.
COLE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Let me begin by reciprocating a -- a personal and professional respect for you and the other members of this committee as well, because I do think very highly of each and every person on this committee, and particularly of you, Mr. Chairman.
But this is a day where we're going to disagree, and disagree very strongly.
It is, as you referenced, Mr. Chairman, a sad day; a sad day for me personally, for the Rules Committee, for the institution of the House and for the American people.
We're meeting today on a rule for considering articles of impeachment against a sitting president of the United States on the floor of the House of Representatives.
This is not the result of a fair process and certainly not a bipartisan one (ph). Sadly, the Democrats' impeachment inquiry has been flawed and partisan from day one. So I guess it should come as no surprise the Democrats' preordained outcome is also flawed and partisan.
Seven weeks ago, when this committee met to consider a resolution to guide the process for the Democrats' unprecedented impeachment inquiry, I warned that they were treading on shaky ground with their unfair and closed process. Reflecting on how things have played out since then reaffirms my earlier judgment that this flawed process was crafted to ensure a partisan, preordained result.
Unfortunately, this entire process was tarnished further by the speed with which my Democratic colleagues on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees have rushed to deliver their predetermined judgment, to impeach the president for something, anything, whether there are stones left unturned or whether there is any proof at all.
COLE: There's no way this can or should be viewed as legitimate, certainly not by Republicans whose minority rights have been trampled on every step on the way and certainly not by the American people observing this disastrous political show scene by scene.
As I've said before, unlike any impeachment proceedings in modern history, the partisan process prescribed and pursued by Democrats is truly unprecedented, and it contradicts Speaker Pelosi's own words. Back in March of this year, she said, quote, "Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path because it divides the country," unquote. The key word in that quote is bipartisan.
Indeed, during the Nixon and Clinton impeachments, the process for even opening the inquiry was considered on a bipartisan basis. Back then both sides treated the process with the seriousness it deserved, negotiating and finding agreement across the aisle to ensure fairness and due process for all involved in the inquiries. But that's not the case today. Instead, Democrats have pushed forward using a partisan process that limited the president's right to due process, prevented the minority from exercising their rights, and charged ahead toward a vote to impeach the president whether the evidence is there or not.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by any of this. Democrats in the House have been pushing to impeach President Trump since before he was even sworn in. In December of 2017, when a current Democratic member of the House forced a vote on impeachment -- an impeachment resolution, 58 Democrats voted then to impeach President Trump, even without an investigation, without any evidence to point to, and those numbers have only grown since then, to the point where the majority is now pushing forward with a final vote on impeachment heedless of where it takes the country and regardless of whether they have proven their case.
REP. TOM COLE (R-OK): Mr. Chairman, it didn't have to be this way. When she became entrusted with the gavel over this House in Congress, Speaker Pelosi assured us all she would not move forward with impeachment unless it was bipartisan, and unless there was a clear consensus in the country. Neither of those two commissions are present here.
Indeed, the latest "Real Clear Politics" average of polls on impeachment shows the country evenly split, with 46.5 percent of Americans in favor of impeachment and 46.5 percent against.