Digital Media Center
Bryant-Denny Stadium, Gate 61
920 Paul Bryant Drive
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0370
(800) 654-4262

© 2024 Alabama Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Register for Glenn Miller Tickets in Mobile on May 30.

House Democrats Move Forward On Impeachment While Advancing Trade Deal


It's hard to imagine Washington more sharply divided than it is today.


At 9 a.m. House Democrats announced they'd vote on impeaching President Trump based on two articles. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler described the first charge, abuse of power.


JERRY NADLER: That is exactly what President Trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election, thus damaging our national security, undermining the integrity of the next election and violating his oath to the American people.

CORNISH: He then described the second charge, obstruction of Congress.


NADLER: And when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry.

CORNISH: The president tweeted his response in all caps - witch hunt.

SHAPIRO: Minutes later, a different picture of Washington emerged. House Democrats handed Trump a big legislative win. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her party would support a trade deal the Trump administration negotiated with Mexico and Canada.


NANCY PELOSI: We are so proud of the distance that we have come from where we started with the administration on this legislation. It's a victory for America's workers. It's one that we take great pride in advancing.

CORNISH: So two very different images of Congress in just about an hour - to make sense of it, we're joined by NPR's Sue Davis on Capitol Hill. Hi there, Sue.


CORNISH: And Mara Liasson here in the studio, welcome back.


CORNISH: I want to start with you, Sue. Democrats first announced they're going to impeach the president and then pretty shortly after announced this policy, as it's being described, victory. What is the thinking behind this?

DAVIS: You know, anyone who knows Nancy Pelosi - today does not come as a surprise. She has a long record of working with Republican presidents she doesn't agree with and with Republicans across the aisle she doesn't agree with. She's not a zero-sum politician. The idea that if Trump is winning, Democrats are losing doesn't sell with her. And I think, of course, there are some Democrats who think it's politically insane to give Trump a policy victory that could help him win reelection. But Pelosi and a lot of Democrats that talked today say that if it's good for the country and voters like it, it'll be good for Democrats, too, especially in the place where the House majority will be won or lost.

CORNISH: Mara, we know the White House has long wanted this update or replacement of NAFTA. How did they react to it as, essentially, a political win?

LIASSON: The White House is pretty happy about this. They kind of did a dance in the end zone. The big statement came from Vice President Mike Pence, who's been traveling to battleground states, talking up this trade deal. He didn't celebrate it as a win-win or a bipartisan victory. Instead, he said that the Democrats have finally acquiesced to accept this trade deal. And even Nancy Pelosi went on to say, quote, "we ate his lunch," meaning, you know, she got the better of the president in these negotiations.

So voters a year ago sent divided government to Washington. They wanted checks and balances, but they also wanted the two parties to work together. And finally, a year later, they got it.

CORNISH: Sue, we've also heard from voters that they worry Congress isn't getting anything done. So are Democrats - with the timing of this trade deal, essentially, it looks like they're sensitive to that criticism.

DAVIS: Oh, for sure. I mean, if you think about the timing of this not just along with the impeachment and the politics of that - but it's coming to the end of the first year of the Democratic majority. And there was a lot of anxiety among Democrats, especially the freshmen in swing seats, about what their majority has accomplished. What are they going to go home and tell their constituents? So USMCA is a huge victory for them. Most of them support it overwhelmingly. Here's one of them, Iowa freshman Cindy Axne. This is what she had to say.

CINDY AXNE: I couldn't go anywhere without it being said to me, we've got to pass USMCA. So I'm very glad that today came because this is the most important thing for our state at this moment. And lowering the cost of prescription drugs - so this is a great couple of weeks we've got going here. They hit the two big issues that Iowans are facing.

CORNISH: But what does this say about, maybe, where the power is within the Democratic Party at this point?

DAVIS: Well, it's certainly not with the liberal wing, despite what Trump and other Republicans so often say. You know, USMCA and the fact that the articles of impeachment are really rather narrow - they don't include things like the Mueller report in it, which more liberal lawmakers would like - are wins for the moderate wing of the party, and the liberal wing gets that. I talked to New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez today, and here's what she said about the dynamic.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Personally, I am not thrilled with how this has developed, but I understand that there are more conservative members of the party that - they want to communicate to their constituents that we are, quote, unquote, "doing something" while impeachment is happening.

LIASSON: So even in a grudging way, AOC seems to acknowledge that maybe flipping a red district blue is as important, or maybe even more important, than having a million Twitter followers. You know, the same thing kind of - the resurgence of the moderates is also happening on the Democratic primary campaign trail.

CORNISH: Mara, I also want to ask you about the White House reaction to the articles of impeachment. I mean, obviously, I mentioned the tweet, but what else are you hearing?

LIASSON: Well, we've heard - we heard from the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham. She talked about how these articles of impeachment are baseless. She expects the president to be fully exonerated in the Senate. Here's what she said on Fox News today.


STEPHANIE GRISHAM: Perhaps Speaker Pelosi had to make a deal with her Dems. I think a lot of her party is having problems in their own districts, and now they just have the two that they went with. One of them is obstruction of Congress, which is code for, he didn't play nice with us. You guys didn't participate in Congress, so now we're going to go ahead and hit you with obstruction of Congress. That's silly.

LIASSON: Well, that's the White House spin. But there were two very different articles with two very different messages, one the Democrats hope people understand, which is Americans didn't get to decide the election by themselves without foreign influence, which the president invited.

And the other one, which they do feel is much more important - and Stephanie Grisham referred to that. They felt constitutionally compelled to pursue this obstruction charge because, as you heard Representative Nadler say, the president, in an unprecedented, categorical, indiscriminate way, defied congressional oversight, refused to turn over witnesses and documents. And they feel in the long run, that's what could have the most profound consequences if they don't assert their Article One oversight authority over the president and the executive branch.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you.

CORNISH: And NPR's Sue Davis up on Capitol Hill. Thank you for your reporting.

DAVIS: You're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
News from Alabama Public Radio is a public service in association with the University of Alabama. We depend on your help to keep our programming on the air and online. Please consider supporting the news you rely on with a donation today. Every contribution, no matter the size, propels our vital coverage. Thank you.