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Week In Politics: The Democratic Case For Impeachment And Trump Comments Elsewhere

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And the impeachment trial is where we begin our discussion on our regular Week in Politics segment. Today I'm joined by David Brooks of The New York Times and Matthew Yglesias of Vox.

Welcome to both of you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Thank you.

CHANG: All right, so as we just said, today is the final day for the House impeachment managers to present their opening arguments to the Senate. And I just want to start by getting a top-line reaction from each of you on how you think things have gone this first week in the trial. Let's begin with you, Matt.

YGLESIAS: Well, you know, I think Adam Schiff's presentations in particular have been very compelling. I think we've heard from a number of Republican senators even that this is the first time they bothered to sort of hear all the evidence laid out in this kind of way, which is interesting. I hope people have seen it, or at least some excerpts.

At the same time, you know, the weird thing about this trial is that there's never been any real question about the outcome. Senate Republicans have clearly decided they're OK with all this. They're not, like, really listening with open minds. And as we can see, most of them don't even want to hear additional evidence. So there's an air of anticlimax about the whole thing.

CHANG: David?

BROOKS: I thought they've done a good job of proving he really did it. I think they've done a relatively poor job of proving that he should be removed, or at least making that case. And even Schiff last night gave a speech, which a lot of - all my friends loved - and where he directly addressed that question, why this is worth removal.

And I thought the case was not that strong. I mean, he said Trump believed Giuliani, rather his own intelligence agencies, over the Ukraine-Biden alleged theory. And that's maybe a wrong - a maybe error. It's not an impeachable legal crime. He then said Trump can't be trusted with the next election because he might collude with China. And you can't impeach somebody for something they're haven't yet done. And so I think they showed that Trump really did it. But the only way to get any moderate Republicans was to say, yeah, he did it, but he also really deserves to be removed.

CHANG: Well, putting aside the question of what kind of job the Democrats have done in proving that President Trump should be removed from office, I want to talk about what kind of job they're doing in trying to win over at least four Senate Republicans, who will be needed if Democrats are to bring witnesses into this trial. I want to play a bit from one of the impeachment managers. This is Democrat Jerry Nadler of New York arguing for John Bolton, the former national security adviser, to testify.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JERRY NADLER: If you vote to block this witness or any of the evidence that should be presented here, it can only be because you do not want the American people to hear the evidence, that you do not want a fair trial and that you are complicit in President Trump's efforts to hide his misconduct and hide the truth from the American people.

CHANG: I want to focus on the tone there. I mean, do you think that the tone that Democrats are striking throughout this trial is going to win over the moderate Republicans they will need if they want to vote to bring witnesses in, David?

BROOKS: I don't think it will. I mean, mostly, I think it's up to public opinion. And is there a groundswell really pressuring people in Maine or Alaska or these other swing states? And so far, I haven't sensed that. I can only go by my lived experience. I travel to two or three states every week. I was in Louisville yesterday, right where Mitch McConnell lives - or grew up, and no one ever mentions impeachment. It's just my lived experience going to 33 states over the last few months that impeachment does not come up. And therefore, I do not expect much pressure, even on the moderates.

CHANG: What do you think, Matt? Is the tone productive here that Democrats are striking?

YGLESIAS: It's not a question of tone. I mean, it's a question of the Republicans, they don't want to see more evidence because the president is guilty. And it's embarrassing for them to sort of wallow in that. As David was saying before, a good argument for Republicans would be that this is not an impeachable offense. And what would help them stick with that would be if President Trump would apologize, if he would say we went too far with this. I let Giuliani's stuff get mixed in with official government business. I'm going to cut ties with him. We're going to bring in somebody new to some kind of role. Like, it's OK, right?

That's the precedent from Bill Clinton's impeachment. It's the precedent from the Iran-Contra scandal, is you get caught having done something wrong, you fess up to it, you make some kind of amends, and then you convince people that they should move on. It's the fact that Trump hasn't been willing to do that puts Republicans in a difficult position. And I think most of them have decided the best way out of that position is to not have more evidence so they can just move on with their lives.

CHANG: Right. So - well, no indication from the White House that any apology is coming. We should note that tomorrow is going to be the first day that President Trump's defense team will begin presenting their case. But I want to look even further ahead than that. You know, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she had avoided impeachment for months because of this fear that if the president were to be acquitted, that would be a sign of vindication. So right now, you know, there is no indication that President Trump will be convicted by the Senate. So where does that leave the Democrats going into the 2020 election? Matt, let's start with you.

YGLESIAS: I mean, that's the fear Pelosi expressed. I think her real fear was that impeachment was unpopular. These new revelations, the push around the trial, they've improved the impeachment numbers somewhat. I think David's right - not to the level where there's a groundswell, not to a level where Martha McSally feels she has to do something, but also good enough that I think Democrats can feel secure that this is not going to be the focus of the 2020 elections. We will have to see, you know, what President Trump does in the months to come. He's a kind of reckless guy. He does a lot of weird things.

BROOKS: He'll drown this all out with another impeachable offense. No, I think the effect on Sanders, Warren and Klobuchar is the serious thing here. Iowa's caucus is small electorate, campaigning in the last few weeks really matters. I think those three are significantly disadvantaged by being stuck here in Washington.

CHANG: I want to end this conversation by taking a moment to remember Jim Lehrer from PBS NewsHour. He passed away this week. And, David, I know that you were longtime friends with him. I want to ask you, what will you miss most about him?

BROOKS: So I sat across from him for 10 years every week. And whenever I was a pundit and I said something crass, which I'm prone to do, I could see him grimace a little. And every time I said something he liked, he smiled a little. And so I tried to get the smiles and avoid the grimaces. And in that way, he was my mentor. He never said anything. He just expressed a standard of what you should do if you're a journalist. And he made everyone around him live up to that standard.

And so he left behind a moral ecology, really, what it's like. And if you go online, I recommend Googling Jim Lehrer's rules for journalism, which have been spreading around Twitter this week. It's what we should all be doing and the standards we should all be living up to. And to leave behind a legacy like that, a moral ecology, a set of standards of right and wrong and how to be in the world, it's just a very powerful thing to leave behind. He was just a wonderful guy.

CHANG: Well, I will certainly keep an eye out for my own smiles and grimaces as I talk to you. That is David Brooks of The New York Times and Matthew Yglesias of Vox.

Thank you to both of you.

YGLESIAS: Thank you.

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