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House Is Set To Vote To Impeach President Trump Today . Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired December 18, 2019 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Today the House is set to vote to impeach President Trump.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, do you take any responsibility for the fact that you're about to be impeached?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I don't take any, zero.
ACOSTA: The president fired off an angry letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of trying to orchestrate a coup.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No reaction. It's ridiculous. I've seen the essence of it, though, and it's really sick.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're literally telling you that they're going to defy the oath. They're going to be the rubber stamp for Donald Trump.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There's not anything judicial about it.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): He's not rising to the level that a senator should rise to. He's being a pure partisan.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, December 18, 2019, the date that will go down in history as the day that Donald J. Trump was impeached. It will happen by tonight.
For just the third time ever, a president will be impeached. The votes are there. More votes, in fact, than most people anticipated just a few days ago.
The president will be impeached for pressuring a foreign leader to investigate a political rival. Impeached, basically, for asking another country to influence the U.S. election. Impeached for blocking the investigation into the alleged conduct. Impeached. It's a word and a stain that President Trump will never be able to erase from his legacy. And as he watches the dramatic events unfold today, as we all will, starting at 9 a.m., the evidence shows he is unnerved.
He no doubt saw thousands of Americans on the streets overnight at pro-impeachment rallies. New York, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, Oregon and more. Crowds chanting, "Nobody is above the law."
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says he will not be watching the vote today. Instead, he will attend the 85th rally of his presidency. That's tonight in Michigan.
He's expected to air the same grievances that he laid out in a six- page irate letter to Nancy Pelosi. It was filled with false and misleading claims, along with personal attacks on Democratic lawyers. I'm sorry, lawmakers. Speaker Pelosi called that letter, quote, "sick."
So history is about to unfold on Capitol Hill. Let's go to there live, and let's bring in CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. What a day, Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Alisyn. We are here in the historic Statuary Hall to mark this momentous occasion.
I covered President Bill Clinton on December 19, 1998, his impeachment. That was nearly 21 years ago to the day. But amazingly, it is eerily familiar. The mood here, it is quiet before the storm as President Donald J. Trump becomes the third president ever to be impeached.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): A momentous day in American history as the House holds its vote to impeach President Trump. In just hours, lawmakers will hold a final debate of the articles of impeachment alleging the president abused his power and obstructed Congress.
Last night in a 9-4 vote along party lines, the Rules Committee voted to allow six hours of debate before the floor vote, giving equal time to both parties, led by Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and Ranking Member Doug Collins.
Still, the Democrats already have the votes to pass both articles of impeachment with no Republican support.
REP. DEBBIE LESKO (R-AZ): No, I don't think one Republican will vote for the articles of impeachment, just like no Republican voted for going forward with the impeachment inquiry.
MALVEAUX: Tuesday afternoon, President Trump sending a scathing six- page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, documenting his outrage with the impending impeachment vote.
TRUMP: Look, it's a hoax, the whole impeachment thing. MALVEAUX: The president repeating debunked narratives throughout the
letter, casting himself as a victim of an attempted coup, calling the process "spiteful" and "egregious," and accusing Democrats of "bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish, personal, political, and partisan gain."
Sources tell CNN the president and his aides began drafting the letter last week, Trump himself often dictating parts of the letter. One official said many officials who would normally have been consulted were left out of the loop. Other officials said they were surprised the letter mirrored many of the president's tweets and public statements, Trump going directly after Pelosi, concluding, "No intelligent person believes what you are saying."
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Reaction to the president's letter?
PELOSI: No reaction. It's ridiculous.
RAJU: You have no reaction? Why not?
PELOSI: I mean, I haven't really fully read it. We've been working. I've seen the essence of it, though, and it's really sick.
MALVEAUX: As the Senate prepares for the impending trial, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer remain locked in a contentious debate over the proceedings, McConnell rejecting Schumer's request for key witnesses to testify. The Republican leader doubling down, assuring the process will be partisan.
MCCONNELL: I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There's not anything judicial about it.
MALVEAUX: Schumer accusing McConnell of putting together a sham trial.
SCHUMER: McConnell is defying what the Constitution is urging and calling upon us to do as senators.
MALVEAUX: Trump says he's not going to be watching the impeachment vote. Rather, he's going to be traveling to Michigan for what he calls a "merry Christmas rally." However, we fully expect that he will be ranting against the impeachment vote, the process itself, and of course, looking for support from his followers -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Suzanne. Thank you very much for setting the table on this very important day for us.
So what can we expect when the debate on impeachment begins in just a couple of hours? What we have learned as our special coverage of the historic impeachment vote continues.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: The House will come to order at 9 a.m. this morning. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has asked all members to be on the floor for this moment. And by the time they leave today, Donald Trump will be impeached.
Joining us now, CNN justice correspondent Laura Jarrett; and CNN senior political analyst John Avlon.
Let me give a little outline of how today will go. There's going to be an hour of debate to approve the rule on governing the debate. You're going to see all the House members on the floor, voting on something, starting in just a couple hours.
Then six hours of debate, divided by each party over time. That is when you will get the big, lofty speeches. And then they're going to vote. And then Donald Trump will be impeached.
What are you looking for?
JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the speeches. Is there any movement towards the middle by Republicans, in particular, acknowledging that the president has made severe mistakes, that it's a precedent that they wouldn't want other presidents to follow, but it doesn't rise to the level of impeachment in their eyes?
BERMAN: What's the over/under on how many Republicans will say the president's behavior was not OK? If I say five, do you take the under or the over?
AVLON: You know, that's a great -- that's a great question. Right now, I'd take the under. And that's sad. Because it obviously acknowledges the facts of the case, and it looked like Republicans were going to end up at that common-sense place.
But then the president and the White House basically said, you've got to say it's a perfect call. You've got to say he did nothing wrong. And shockingly, they chose fealty to the president over the facts, entirely.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: What's amazing is the Republicans, during all the debates we've seen over the last couple weeks, they're making points that the president and his attorneys are not even making.
I mean, the facts are not in dispute here on the basic issue. And that certain members of the GOP are still saying this was all about corruption. And any time our correspondent, Manu Raju, presses them on, like, what exactly did this have anything to do with general corruption? They can't answer.
AVLON: No. I mean, because it's not. Because he didn't mention corruption on the call. Because if the only people you're interesting in investigating are the Bidens, it's about politics. But you're right. And they haven't been able to give up some of these
talking points that were discarded long ago by the White House, because they're simply unworkable.
CAMEROTA: I mean, obviously, it's an historic day. It's going to be a long day, as John said.
I mean, I think that Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy expects it to wrap up at about 7 p.m. tonight.
AVLON: The votes.
CAMEROTA: I mean, so they're going to be debating this whole time. And of course, President Trump is counter-programming tonight, as is smart, and as he's going to do so, he's having this rally in Michigan.
Last night there were rallies across the country in terms of mostly pro-impeachment. I think we have some video of people turning out to the street and how strongly people felt to go out on a cold and rainy and awful night in many cities like New York City.
There were also a few counter-rallies, but they were nowhere near the size and scale of these rallies. And so, you know, look, obviously, the country recognizes that this is a moment in time that we're all alive for. It's an unpleasant moment.
I mean, you know, the president cast -- and his supporters cast it as Democrats always wanted this. I don't sense that from the Democrats as a whole, that they were relishing this day. It feels, basically, unpleasant to everyone.
AVLON: We know the Democratic leadership had been resisting impeachment after the Mueller report. It was only when the pattern of behavior became established by Ukraine that they said, actually, it's a matter of upholding the underlying ideas and the ideals of the Constitution, you've got to do this.
I think the far left is definitely fired up about this. But this is a solemn moment. This is history in the present tense. Third time in our history that this has occurred. And both sides are going to go to their camps. You're going to see a slight uptick, I'd guess, in President Trump's support, because his base rallies around him, as folks pardon
On the left, you'll see the same thing in the opposite way. The question is how can we fulfill our obligations, as the democratic republic, to hold the executive to account; and then can we come together in some way? There was an effort to do that in the Clinton impeachment.
BERMAN: I think you're right to listen today for if any Republicans voice their discomfort with the president's actions. And I think the number will be much fewer than five. I just do.
At this point, there's no reason to expect the Republicans to come out and say they didn't like what the president did. They just hadn't been doing that, and particularly in the House.
On the Democratic side, Laura, what I'm waiting to see is who they put out to make the closing argument here.
JARRETT: Yes. The impeachment managers.
BERMAN: Well, not necessarily yet even the impeachment managers. We'll get there. I mean today on the House floor. Any time you have these big historic votes. Nancy Pelosi. Will the speaker come down from the dais. Will she make a speech in the well, which is very rare? I suspect she will.
John Lewis from Georgia. They often bring him in to be the cleanup hitter for historical reasons. What about these Democrats from Trump districts? Will they volunteer to speak, to indicate why they are making this decision?
And it -- it seemed like it was either a decision a lot of people expected. There are far fewer of them voting against impeachment than people speculated with a week ago.
JARRETT: Perhaps that's because they know where the nation is. I mean, obviously, the polls, we can say, are -- you know, have issues, but the vast majority show that roughly half of the country believes that the president should be removed from office.
AVLON: This is so important to focus on, because this is bigger than polls, obviously. But just whatever the direction you see in CNN's poll, low to a slight downtick. FOX's polls, slight uptick. But this is a much higher percentage of Americans supporting impeachment move than we saw under Clinton. Even in the month before Nixon resigns. That's important.
I do think also keep an eye on Justin Amash. You know, there had been talk about trying to make him an impeachment manager. He's a libertarian conservative; was a Republican until he got in a fight with Trump over principles and left the party. That would be a fascinating move, because I think it speaks to the underlying issue. This is bigger than partisanship, people.
JARRETT: But Pelosi's being lobbied by so many different Democrats who want that job.
JARRETT: I mean, you get, essentially, to be the chief prosecutor. You get to present the case on behalf of the Democrats. We saw Lindsey Graham, obviously.
BERMAN: Look what he's --
JARRETT: And we've seen all the video of him --
AVLON: Yes. JARRETT: -- as the impeachment manager making, obviously, the exact same opposite -- opposite voice that he has now made in this impeachment process.
CAMEROTA: All right. John, Laura, thank you both very much.
BERMAN: So as the president watches this historic and constitutional indictment of his actions, how will he respond? The evidence overnight is that he is shaken, that he is rattled. New developments about his next move, coming up.
CAMEROTA: President Trump making his frustrations about being impeached crystal-clear in an angry letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Much of it was as fact-free as his Twitter feed, filled with false and misleading claims. This was just hours before the House does vote to impeach him.
John Avlon and Laura Jarrett are back with us. Actually, there were dueling letters yesterday. Both of them historic. Both of them were important to talk about. So we'll get to President Trump's single- spaced, irate letter in a moment.
First, Nancy Pelosi released a letter to her caucus, a dear colleague letter about what she's hoping for today. I'll read a portion of this.
"When the House convenes to take the impeachment vote tomorrow morning, I urge each of you to join me on the floor. Our constituents look to us to be respectful of the Constitution and defenders of our democracy, and to proceed in a manner worthy of our oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The split screen between these letters couldn't be more stark. And optically, she wants this morning, apparently, at 9 a.m. this show of solidarity.
JARRETT: Yes, and she has, I think, throughout this process tried to convey this is a solemn day. She's trying not to revel in it. You don't see her smiling about it.
Obviously, the president continues to berate her and to make this into a partisan issue. But I think that she feels the sense as the House speaker to convey the gravity and the momentous occasion. This has only happened three times. This is a big deal for her. And especially because she has come around, that she wasn't always for impeachment. I think she wants that show of force today on the floor.
BERMAN: All right, John Avlon. Make the case that this letter that the president wrote is important, because this is how I see it. The president's going to be impeached today.
I think the subject of the day are the actions for which she will be impeached. And it seems to me that this six-page letter the White House put out yesterday was designed to have the focus turn to something else, to six pages of nonsense, rather than two articles of impeachment.
AVLON: See, I think the fact that this letter was written, dictated, ranted by the president to his staff to be released the day before he's impeached, actually, is what makes it historic and why we shouldn't normalize it by saying that's just what -- the way the president communicates.
This letter was unhinged, is unhinged. It's on White House letterhead. It's a president venting his spleen. It shows a mind that is not well-ordered at a moment of historic pressure. He is shaked, he is rattled. He is rolled, perhaps.
BERMAN: He will be rolled today.
AVLON: He will be rolled today. But this is a very big deal. Maybe you can tell it's a big deal. Lest we forget, President Trump occupies the office by Washington and Lincoln and others. Compare this letter to any other letter written by a president.
The only one in the ballpark besides, you know, message written by this president occasionally is Harry Truman to "The Washington Post" theater critic, where he threatened him to beat him up, because he wrote a critical review of his daughter's performance.
This is beneath the presidency definitively. And if this is the president's authentic, genuine, infuriated, unhinged response to the prospect of impeachment, it says a lot about his state of mind.
Second, take it out of historical context into the personal. If anyone in America reads this letter and then imagines that they got this letter from a coworker, from a family member, they would be concerned. They would say that this person is not well. And perhaps shouldn't be trusted with heavy machinery at that particular moment.
And this is a president on the verge of impeachment with all the powers of the presidency. So I think it's important we don't normalize it. It's not bigger than impeachment. It speaks to a state of mind. And if we simply accept that kind of a diatribe as normal from the president of the United States, we do a disservice to the standard set by past presidents. That would be my answer.
CAMEROTA: Really interesting.
BERMAN: I think it's a false choice. Because I don't think normalization is the other side of it. I think it's the opposite of normalization. I think that the -- the two minutes -- and it is a great argument you just made there.
Those two minutes, though, not talking about the phone call he made talking to the president of Ukraine to pressure him to get involved in the U.S. election.
AVLON: We can do both. But I think the intention was to pull the focus, again. Not normalizing it by not taking the bait, but I do think we have to be careful about the bait.
CAMEROTA: I suppose. I mean, I think that it's always hard to get into the head of the president. But it sounds like, from the reporting, that this -- he had thought about this. He had wanted to do this. He wanted to state his piece. He dictated much of it. He didn't do it alone.
stI think you can see Stephen Miller's hands on this. The second that I heard some of the phrases, I thought, oh, that's not the president's wording.
BERMAN: Well, there were multisyllabic words.
CAMEROTA: There were multisyllabic words. It's not words that he --
JARRETT: It's most interesting his lawyers are not involved in this at all. I mean, this is impeachment. This is the thing you would think the White House Counsel's Office might have a say in. And they didn't have a view, according to our reporting. But they didn't have a hand in this.
And this is something that he dictated. I mean, think back to Bill Clinton's impeachment. We knew the characters. We knew the lawyers. We knew David Kendall. We knew Bob Bennett. They were out; they were outward facing.
We don't see any defense from any lawyers from President Trump, other than Rudy Giuliani, who's on another mission on -- in Eastern Europe.
BERMAN: I'm so glad you brought up that name. Because this is what I think is worthy of discussion in the letter. And I do think what makes it interesting, which is if you combine this letter and what Rudy Giuliani did, what you hear and should take away from it is, I'd do this again. I am doing it again.
CAMEROTA: He is doing it again.
BERMAN: I don't feel bad about it. And -- and let's do it again. So it matters as they vote today, and it matters to senators.
AVLON: That's exactly right. And look, for Republican senators, as they take this under consideration, consider what and who you're defending. That precedent you're setting but also the person you're empowering and basically giving a blank check to.
And I think there'll be a couple of senators in the Senate who really got to wrestle with their conscience over this Christmas and holiday break, because this is serious stuff. And he is not helping his case. He is not presenting himself as a president who can govern rationally. And this is simply a partisan sideshow that got out of control. This is damning in upon itself. Because Rudy's statements and this
letter speak to a president who, Well, yes. You're damn right I ordered the code red. I'll do it again.
CAMEROTA: John Avlon, Laura Jarrett, thank you both very much.
It has been a busy week on Capitol Hill. And it is not just about impeachment. Details on the trillion-dollar deal to avoid a government shutdown, next.