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The Latest On House Vote On Impeachment

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. We're joined now by NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis and White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Hey to both of you.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: Sue, let's start with you. So no Republicans voted last time for the first impeachment of President Trump. But, of course, today there was a bigger break inside the party. Who were the Republicans who voted for impeachment today?

DAVIS: Well, most notable in this group is Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney. She's the No. 3 Republican in House leadership who, in her words, said there has never been a, quote, "greater betrayal by an American president" for Trump's actions that led to the events last week. She was joined by nine other Republicans, mostly centrist Republicans, people like Fred Upton of Michigan, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, people who have been critical of the president in the past.

A lot of other Republicans voted against impeachment but on the floor said they did believe that President Trump did something wrong. As you heard, that includes the top Republican, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He also said he would support a censure measure against the president. A group of moderates had introduced a censure measure this week that essentially accused the president of trying to unlawfully overturn the election and violating his oath of office. So having the top leader say he would vote for that was notable. But on the whole, if you listen to it, there's still a lot of loyalty to Trump here. And you heard that in the debate today, many saying he could not be blamed for the actions of the extremists who stormed the Capitol. And I think it made clear that the vast majority of House Republicans still stand behind Donald Trump.

CHANG: So if there still is a lot of loyalty to Trump, is there likely to be any political blowback for those Republicans who did break with the party today?

DAVIS: Well, I think it makes them all vulnerable to primary challenges in the next election. And for Cheney, she's potentially going to have her leadership post challenge. Arizona Republican Congressman Andy Biggs - he's the head of the far-right Freedom Caucus in the House - has said she should resign her leadership post. Jim Jordan, another conservative from Ohio, said he's looking to see if he can force a vote to get her out of her leadership job.

I would note, though, others have come to her defense. Oklahoma's Tom Cole told reporters that, you know, leadership told members this was a vote of conscience. They did not whip the vote. They did not tell them how to vote. And he said, you can't really tell members it's a vote of conscience and then punish them for how they voted. Cheney, I would say, for her part, told reporters in the Capitol today that she's not going anywhere. I do think this debate exposed a lot of fractures in the party and how hard it's going to be to move past the Trump era in any sort of cohesive way.

CHANG: Yeah. Franco, turning to you, I mean, what was President Trump doing during all of this happening on the House side today?

ORDOÑEZ: So the White House declined to say whether he was actually watching the proceedings. He did issue a statement as lawmakers were debating the issue. And he later posted a five-minute video on the White House's Twitter account, but he didn't address impeachment in those statements. They were more about FBI warnings about violence ahead of Inauguration Day. And in the video, he said he condemned last week's violence and said they have, quote, "no place in the country or in his movement." Republicans, of course, had been urging Trump to condemn the violence earlier, something he was slow to do last week. But Trump did comment on impeachment yesterday, and when he did, he took no responsibility for the violence. And he said impeachment was causing anger and division and was dangerous.

CHANG: Well, now all eyes are going to be focused on the Senate. Sue, what do we know about next steps for a Senate trial?

DAVIS: Well, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already named nine impeachment managers to make the case in the Senate. They're going to be led by Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. He's also a constitutional lawyer. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell denied a request by incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to come back early into session and start the trial. So we know it will not begin until Joe Biden is inaugurated.

There's a lot of intrigue here because there was a New York Times report that McConnell believes that Trump did commit impeachable offenses. His office did not deny that report. He did send a letter to his Republican colleagues today saying he would make a final decision on how he would vote in the trial after arguments were made, which is, of course, fueling speculation that McConnell has not ruled out he could be a vote to convict.

Practically, in the short term, this is going to jam up the Senate. Joe Biden has a Cabinet he needs to get confirmed, and Democrats are trying to figure out if there's a way they can split their time between doing confirmations and doing a trial. That's really hard to do.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DAVIS: You're going to need some bipartisan buy-in to do that.

CHANG: Yeah.

DAVIS: But the last trial took three weeks, and some aides are hopeful this could be wrapped up a lot faster.

CHANG: Well, Franco, do we know what kind of defense President Trump would mount when there is a trial?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the White House has not said yet. But today I spoke with Steven Groves, who worked at the White House during the first impeachment trial. And he told me that Democrats have a weaker legal case this time around. And he said Trump's words during the rally do not represent incitement, if you look at it strictly from a legal standpoint, and that there would need to be much more. But as we know, impeachment is much more than just a legal process. It is also as much a political process.

CHANG: That is NPR's Franco Ordoñez, who covers the White House, and NPR's Susan Davis, who covers Congress. Thanks to both of you.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.