“We Have to Hold This President Accountable”: In Historic Vote, House Impeaches President Trump

20.12.2019 - US, United States - Democracy Now!

“We Have to Hold This President Accountable”: In Historic Vote, House Impeaches President Trump
This is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opening the impeachment debate on the House floor Wednesday. (Image by Democracy Now)

President Donald Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives in a historic vote Wednesday, making him only the third president to be formally charged with high crimes and misdemeanors under the Constitution. By a vote of 230 to 197, the House passed the first article of impeachment, which accuses President Trump of abuse of power. The House also approved the second article, which charges him with obstructing Congress by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment investigation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now says she will hold the articles back from being sent to the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial until Democrats are convinced it will be fair. “If we do not hold this president accountable for his abuses of power, we essentially watch democracy die,” says our guest Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Democratic congressmember from Washington. “That’s not going to happen on our watch.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In an historic vote Wednesday, the House of Representatives impeached President Trump, marking only the third time in U.S. history that a president has been impeached. This is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: On this vote, the yeas are 230, the nays are 197, present is one. Article I is adopted.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In a vote of 230 to 197, the House passed the first article of impeachment, that accuses Trump of abuse of power. The House also approved the second article, that charges him with obstructing Congress by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment investigation. The vote split along party lines after a debate that lasted the entire day as congressmembers from both parties argued their case. This is Democratic Congressmember John Lewis of Georgia.

REPJOHN LEWIS: Today, this day, we didn’t ask for this. This is a sad day. It is not a day of joy. Our nation is founded on the principle that we do not have kings, we have presidents. And the Constitution is our compasses. When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something. Our children and their children will ask us, “What did you do? What did you say?” For some, this vote may be hard, but we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Meanwhile, Republicans were dismissive of the charges against Trump. This is Georgia Republican Barry Loudermilk, who essentially compared Donald Trump to Jesus.

REPBARRY LOUDERMILK: The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of the defendant to face their accuser, but not only have the Democrats prohibited Republicans and the president from questioning the so-called whistleblower, his identity has been kept secret. Before you take this historic vote today, one week before Christmas, I want you to keep this in mind: When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president and this process.

AMY GOODMAN: Following the votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would hold the articles back from being sent to the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial until Democrats were convinced that trial would be fair. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he is not an “impartial juror” and that he would closely coordinate the Senate impeachment trial with the White House Counsel’s Office, leading Democrats to accuse McConnell of trying to preside over a sham trial.

Meanwhile, President Trump continues to deny any wrongdoing. On the same day as the impeachment vote, Trump gave his longest rally speech to date in Battle Creek, Michigan. He lashed out at Democrats, the impeachment proceedings, the FBI and the late Michigan Congressman John Dingell, whose wife, Congressmember Debbie Dingell, voted for Trump’s impeachment. This is Trump speaking about how Congresswoman Dingell called him to thank him for honoring her husband after his death.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: She calls me up: “It’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened. Thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He’s looking down. He’d be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir.” I said, “That’s OK, don’t worry about it.” Maybe he’s looking up. I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: The late Michigan Congressmember John Dingell was the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history. His wife, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, responded on Twitter to Trump, writing, “Mr. President, let’s set politics aside. My husband earned all his accolades after a lifetime of service. I’m preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love. You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder,” she wrote.

At least two people in the packed arena at Trump’s rally were removed, after they held up a banner that said, “Don the Con, you’re fired!” Trump also called a heckler a “slob” and a “disgusting person” and [accused] security officers of being politically correct and called on them to be “stronger than that” as they escorted her out.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Get her out of here! … You’re about to hear the greatest speech you’ve ever heard, and that’s going to be the publicity because all the fake news back there will say, “Massive riot. Massive riots.” Fake news.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, Democrat from Washington state. First, this is Congressmember Jayapal speaking on the House floor Wednesday.

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: Our Founders entrusted us with the awesome responsibility of protecting our democracy, which gets its power not from the bloodlines of monarchs, but from the votes of we, the people. … And so, today, to uphold my oath to Constitution and country, I will vote to impeach Donald J. Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, Democrat from Washington state, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s the morning after.

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts on this historic day and what this means for the country?

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: This was an important moment for the Constitution, for our country, for accountability and for defending democracy. And I’m really proud of all of our Democrats, including many of them in tough districts that Trump won, who put country over party and said, “If we do not hold this president accountable for his abuses of power, we essentially let democracy die. That’s not going to happen on our watch.”

Amy, it was surreal, though, you know, just sitting in the chamber yesterday, the 18 hours in Judiciary Committee when we marked up the articles of impeachment, the months of testimonies before that, listening to Republicans literally refuse to look at the facts, refuse to acknowledge that this president invited a foreign government to interfere in our elections — not once, not twice, but three times, that we know of — Ukraine unfolding right in front of us, and that he himself is the smoking gun. He came onto the White House lawn. He told us exactly what he wanted from President Zelensky of Ukraine. He said, “I wanted him to open an investigation into the Bidens.” And the idea that he would withhold this critically needed, congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine, very fragile country fighting Russian aggression, desperately needing that aid, is really an affront. And then the final piece, of course, is his unprecedented obstruction of Congress, where, unlike even Nixon — I can’t believe we’re comparing in a good way to — in a bad way to Nixon, but unlike even Nixon or Clinton, this president refused to allow a single witness, a single document to come to us or to be released to us as we conducted this investigation.

So, two charges that he was impeached on yesterday by the House of Representatives, for the third time only in the history of this country, that will be his shame, his stain, his legacy. That will be the first line of every article that’s written about him. And I know it bothers him, regardless of what the Senate may do, regardless of whether Senate Republicans actually choose to put country over party and to think about the effect, not just on them, their political districts, their re-elections or even on this president, but on the future of our democracy.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Representative Jayapal, there was only one Democratic congressmember, who happens to be the only Democratic presidential candidate, who abstained from the vote for impeachment, Tulsi Gabbard. Could you talk about your response to that?

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: I really think it was not a smart choice for her politically, and I don’t know how she could do that at the same time that she’s running for president. If she can’t make a decision about whether to vote yes or no on these articles of impeachment, I’m not sure how she intends to make those decisions in the White House. I thought that was disappointing. I like Tulsi Gabbard, but I thought that was very disappointing and, frankly, a cop-out. You know, these votes are votes of courage, they’re votes of conscience. And I think that every single one of us, regardless of our districts, regardless of the politics, has to think about the oath that we swore to the Constitution and to the country when we took office. And I don’t think people are looking for a “present” vote at this moment.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, the explanation she gave, just to be clear, for why she could not vote, she says, for impeachment, she said while she believes that Trump is guilty of wrongdoing, she couldn’t vote yes, because the process was too partisan and, quote, “fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country.”

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: I know what she said, and I don’t want to — you know, I don’t want to continue to talk about her decision. I think she has to do that.

I can just tell you that I think that this moment calls for us to make a judgment call, a moral call, a call of conscience to what we think is necessary, going forward. The idea that it’s too partisan — and this is something that Republicans have said, as well — I would just say we have to put that on Republicans. You know, to sit there and listen to these Republicans make excuses for this president and his abuse of power, to me, is unconscionable. The bipartisanship in previous impeachments, the breaks of party, have come from the minority party.

And so, I think that this is very, very important for us to look at, that there are Republicans who, I believe, know that asking a foreign government to interfere in our elections — remember, what I said on the floor, that clip you played, you know, we don’t derive our power and our democracy through the bloodlines of monarchs; it’s through the votes of people. It’s through the votes of we, the people — you, me, everybody who’s watching right now. And if we are inviting — if the president of the United States is using his office to invite a foreign ally to — or coerce, I should say, in this case with Ukraine — to coerce a foreign ally to interfere in our elections, that’s undermining our elections. And we have a lot of work to do to make sure our elections are free and fair in this country, but inviting a foreign ally, coercing a foreign ally, depending on which country we’re talking about, to interfere in our elections is absolutely taking away the votes of the people. And then obstructing Congress on top of that is saying, “I am above the checks and balances that the Framers put into the Constitution.”

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Texas Democrat Al Green, the first congressmember to call for Trump’s impeachment from the House floor in 2017. This is Congressmember Green yesterday.

REP. AL GREEN: Shall any man be beyond justice? This is the question posed in 1787 by George Mason at the Constitutional Convention. Shall any man be beyond justice? Madam Speaker, if this president is allowed to thwart the efforts of Congress with a legitimate impeachment inquiry, the president will not only be above the law, he will be beyond justice. We cannot allow any person to be beyond justice in this country. In the name of democracy, on behalf of the republic and for the sake of the many who are suffering, I will vote to impeach, and I encourage my colleagues to do so, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Texas Democrat Al Green speaking on the House floor, standing next to a large picture of a migrant child weeping next to her mother. On Wednesday, Congressmember Green said he believes Trump can be impeached again, if necessary.

REP. AL GREEN: The president can’t contend that I can only be impeached once, and therefore I can do whatever I want now, and you won’t be able to impeach me. That’s ridiculous. It’s as ridiculous as a lot of the other things that border on inanity that the president continues to wallow in. So, yes, this may not be the end of it. I don’t say that it is or is not. I do say that the Constitution allows us to impeach a president multiple times if the president commits multiple impeachable acts.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, what do you say to this? I mean, he has been calling — Congressman Green has been calling this, for the impeachment of Trump, for two years, giving many different reasons. Chief among them — and he wrote this letter on December 4th to his fellow congressmembers, like you and everyone else, saying that he should be impeached for racism, for inciting violence. What about this possibility that Trump could be — I mean, now it’s very narrow, these two articles of impeachment that the House has just voted on — but that he could be impeached again?

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, it’s certainly procedurally possible. I think that what we will see is more and more evidence coming out not only on this charge, but on other things. We’ll see some of the court cases starting to go through around his tax returns, around the Emoluments Clause, and we intend to continue to have hearings on those things in the Judiciary Committee. I know that the Intel Committee also will likely continue to have some hearings.

I think that what you have to look at is: The case that we have presented now to the Senate, how do we strengthen that as much as we possibly can? You know, at the end of the day, this president should be removed for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, at a minimum. But if he’s removed, he’s removed, so we don’t need five articles to remove him on necessarily. And I think that what we need to focus on is: How do we strengthen the case that we have? How do we make that the strongest possible case, the most unity, get some of the Republican senators? I remember hearing Jeff Flake say that if this was a secret ballot in the Senate, there would be 35 Republican senators who would vote against the president. And I would just say that that is — you know, that’s a stunning statement, that people actually believe that the president has done wrong and should — and is corrupt and should be impeached, and yet they’re not willing to have the courage to do that because of their own political futures.

So, you know, what occurred to me over the last, I don’t know, eight months, I guess, as I’ve been involved in all of this and I’ve gone back and I’ve read all the documents around the Framers and how they were thinking about the Constitution and, as imperfect as it was, all the fixes to the Constitution that have been fought for and won by a lot of folks of color, a lot of people who were the most vulnerable, the most left out, we’ve gone soft on what we think it takes to sustain a democracy. We’ve forgotten that this is not something that is sustained on its own. The Constitution is a connective and protective tissue that has allowed democracy to sustain. But if we refuse to uphold the Constitution, the switch from a democracy to a dictatorship or a monarchy happens very, very fast. And I think Americans and the U.S. senators who are representing them have to really think about what this means for our children, our children’s children and the future of this country. This is far more than about Donald Trump.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, following the votes for impeachment on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would hold the articles back from being sent to the Senate until Democrats were convinced the trial would be fair. Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell has said he is not an “impartial juror” and that he would closely coordinate a Senate impeachment trial with the White House Counsel’s Office, leading Democrats to accuse McConnell of trying to preside over a sham trial. So, could you respond to that and what the key differences are between McConnell and Schumer on how this impeachment trial should proceed in the Senate?

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: Yes. You know, it is absolutely outrageous and an affront to democracy, to the Constitution, to the people of the United States, for Mitch McConnell, who is essentially the foreman of the jury, the guy who actually makes all of the rules for how the trial is going to proceed in the Senate, to be coordinating with the defendant. I don’t think there’s an American out there who would think that that is fair.

I just saw a poll late last night that said 71% of Americans across this country, across party, believe that we should have witnesses in the Senate. They want a fair trial. They want to hear from some of these people who Trump has refused to allow to come and testify. And they have not done what other career Foreign Service people did in coming to testify.

So, Mitch McConnell is essentially allowing for a sham trial to occur. And yet, all of them are going to have to swear an oath that says that they’re impartial, which means that they will be lying, because so many of them have said already that they believe that we don’t need to hear from witnesses, that they’re coordinating with the defendant.

And so, what Nancy Pelosi is saying is we have — she is under no obligation to immediately send over the articles of impeachment and name the impeachment managers. What she’s saying is she wants to make sure that this is actually going to be a real trial, with witnesses, with the facts presented, with adequate time. And those were some of the things that Senator Schumer laid out in his letter.

At the end of the day, it’s going to be the folks who are out there who have to demand from their senators — and there are some vulnerable senators. I don’t think Mitch McConnell, if he wants to preserve any kind of a Senate majority, I don’t think he can afford to have a sham trial, though he certainly seems to be trying to do that. So, that’s why Nancy Pelosi is saying, “We’re going to hold onto the articles of impeachment for little bit. We’re going to see what the Senate comes back with in terms of agreed-upon rules of how this trial is going to be conducted, before I name impeachment managers and send them in.” If she doesn’t know what she’s really going to be arguing and in what context, it’s absolutely, I believe, the right thing for her to do to hold this for a little bit.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is clearly uncharted territory.

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: It is.

AMY GOODMAN: And this, obviously, this historic moment, the impeachment of Donald Trump. In an odd way, Democrats are pushing for what Trump wants. He didn’t want to be impeached, but he wants a long trial that not only acquits him, but somehow, in his mind, exonerates him. Now, Mitch McConnell has said, “No, we want a very short trial; we just want to just acquit him at the beginning.” This issue of witnesses, both Lindsey Graham, McConnell, all called for witnesses when it came to the impeachment of President Clinton, but now are saying they’re shutting it down and they won’t have witnesses. Now, how does House Speaker Nancy Pelosi get any kind of guarantee? I mean, you’re talking about these two sort of sovereign bodies. This has never happened before.

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: Yeah, really excellent points, you know, the hypocrisy here. And I will say, on the Democratic side, too, you know, you see some Democrats from previous impeachments making arguments and arguing the other way. But never in the history of this country has a president faced impeachment and been so obstructionist to Congress. That is a fact. I think that, you know, Mitch McConnell is going to have to be pushed by his senators to do something that is considered more fair. Is it going to be perfectly fair? I don’t think so. It is ironic that President Trump probably is the person who wouldn’t want these articles to be held for too long, because what he wants, as you said, is to be acquitted. We are not going to allow for witnesses to be called who have nothing to do with the matter at hand, and that is, of course, what President Trump wants.

So, I don’t know how this will all play out. It is really uncharted territory, because we have the most extreme bully, the most extreme shredder of our Constitution and our democracy, and one of the most cruel people that I have seen, a person who only thinks of himself, in the White House. And obviously these articles are narrow, but there is a pattern of conduct. There is a moral lack that crosses over so many of these things, from his policies, which is not what we are impeaching him on, to his abuse of power and his obstruction of Congress, which is what we are impeaching him on.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Representative Jayapal, before we end, I just wanted to ask about what appears to be a somehow paradoxical response to this impeachment inquiry, which is that a Gallup poll, a new Gallup poll that was revealed just yesterday morning, Wednesday morning, before the impeachment vote happened, found that Trump’s approval rating has been increasing. It’s gone up from 39% to 45%. It also showed support for Trump’s impeachment and removal decreasing, from 52% to 46%. Your response to that and the fact that some are saying that this long-drawn-out impeachment inquiry is actually strengthening President Trump?

REPPRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, two things. One, I think polling is not static. I look at it because it’s out there and it’s interesting to look at. But it is often changed by how leaders lead. And if there were enough, you know, even just a handful of, Republicans who were willing to do what is right for the country and lead, I think you would see that polling shift pretty quickly. Remember, when Richard Nixon was impeached, it wasn’t until the final days that polling dramatically shifted. Here, we have a very odd situation where the first and best witness to our case came on very early in the process, went on national television and told the American people exactly what Donald J. Trump did and wanted. And that was Donald J. Trump. He is the smoking gun in the situation. So, people who are looking for more evidence somewhere else should just look at his words, consistently, as well as his actions and the corroborating testimony. So, I think polling does change.

But the other thing that I would just say is it is a remarkable statement that half of the country wants to see — you know, just under half of the country wants to see President Trump removed from office. That is — those are stunning numbers. And I think sometimes we look at the opposite, and we say, “How come the numbers aren’t greater? How could these people stick with the president?” But that is a remarkable number of people who want this president impeached.

And remember, in 2018, the American people voted in a House majority of Democrats because they wanted checks and balances. And I think that they are smarter than what Donald Trump gives them credit for. I’m not saying this is going to be easy, whether he’s removed or not, if we have to go through a 2020 election because the Senate refuses to be courageous. The reality is that we have to continue to emphasize to the American people that if you don’t have checks and balances, you don’t have a democracy. If you don’t have free and fair elections, you don’t have a democracy. So, if we want a democracy, we have to be willing to stand up for it. There may need to be people in the streets consistently. You know, I’m an organizer and an activist, and I believe that that matters. We have to hold this president accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Democratic Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, speaking to us from Washington, D.C., though she represents Seattle in Washington state.

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