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Week In Politics: Trump Is Impeached Again

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Washington, D.C., is on lockdown this weekend as the Capitol braces for protests in the lead-up to Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday. Twenty-one thousand National Guardsmen are authorized to be in D.C. for that event. This, of course, is in hopes of avoiding a repeat of last week's violent assault on the U.S. Capitol by extremist supporters of President Trump. We're joined now by NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: There have been over a hundred people arrested, hundreds more identified. Where do we seem to stand in this case now?

ELVING: The FBI and other federal investigators have opened about 300 cases against people seen in that riot. And we expect more to come. There has rarely been a crime so extensively recorded, and largely because these people, the president's hardcore of die-hards, had little thought of being prosecuted. They thought they were doing what the president told them to do, and it took a week before he issued a real statement to the contrary. That was on the day he was being impeached a second time. That's when he said, no true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence.

But here we have Albert Watkins, the lawyer for one of the more visible protesters. That would be Jacob Chansley, a well-known member of QAnon. Watkins was speaking to CNN's Chris Cuomo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALBERT WATKINS: We all have to understand that the words that were spoken by the president meant something not just to my client. They meant something to a lot of people. They listened to those words. And those words meant something to them. And they had a right to rely on the words of their president that was spewed forth worldwide.

ELVING: Scott, we should add Jacob Chansley has been taken into custody. And his lawyer thinks the president owes him a pardon.

SIMON: Of course, the president himself might need some legal counsel, though apparently, he's stiffing Rudy Giuliani on the legal bills, because he got impeached again this week. How do you project, Ron, this might look to the president's most fervent supporters in a few months, as - particularly as they face federal charges, and he's teeing up at Mar-a-Lago for another round of golf?

ELVING: Here's the question - or another way to pose the question. When will reality replace the fantasy narrative that many of these people were fed, and seemingly swallowed, by the president and his allies? Will they become disillusioned when Trump is out of office, out of Washington, out of sight, off the television and the bigger social media platforms? Or will they remain steadfast, awaiting his return to glory?

SIMON: Is the impeachment merely symbolic given that voting on it won't come until after Donald Trump has served his term?

ELVING: It is more than symbolic. It concludes the reproof issued by the House by impeaching him. But beyond that, if the Senate chooses, it can ban him from federal office for life. And that would end any plans he may have for a comeback in 2024 or beyond.

SIMON: And how do you believe - what is the standing of the party going to be within a few months, having gone through an impeachment, being tested by that?

ELVING: There is going to be a reckoning. We've talked about this a number of times. But there is a conflict between Republicans focusing on the midterm elections in 2022 and wanting to move on quickly and those who are thinking more in terms of the presidential primary voters of 2024, who may very well be looking for a successor to Donald Trump.

SIMON: And, of course, in the meantime, you have a - not the meantime - a narrowly elected Democratic Senate is going to be weighing that second impeachment and, of course, a massive coronavirus stimulus bill.

ELVING: You know, this is a newly Democratic Senate, but only by dint of Vice President Harris' tie-breaking vote. Otherwise, it's in a perpetual 50-50 tie. That's not ideal for enacting big, bold bills. So Joe Biden probably won't get his full 1.9 trillion, but he'll get most of it because the need is so real and so visible. We're about to pass 400,000 deaths from the coronavirus. The rollout of the vaccine has been somewhere between stumbling and disastrous. Jobless claims are up again. And the markets are starting to get nervous. So the Senate Republicans are going to negotiate.

SIMON: And, of course, all of this coming on a long weekend commemorating the late Martin Luther King.

ELVING: Yes. A great and bitter irony is that this is all happening as we get ready to celebrate Martin Luther King Day. We have these iron walls in Washington, this armed camp right on the National Mall, where King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech. A few years later, he gave his life trying to model peaceful protest to champion justice and racial reconciliation. He would surely be saddened by where we are this weekend, all these years later.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

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