Transcript: The 7-Minute Vote

The full episode transcript for Article II: Inside Impeachment, The 7-Minute Vote.
Image: Pramila Jayapal
Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal votes during the House Judiciary Committee's vote on House Resolution 755, Articles of Impeachment Against President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Dec. 13, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

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Article II: Inside Impeachment

The 7-Minute Vote

Jerry Nadler: The question now is on article one of the resolution: impeaching President Donald J. Trump for abusing his powers. The clerk will call the roll.

Clerk: Mr. Nadler?

Nadler: Aye.

Clerk: Mr. Nadler votes "aye."

Steve Kornacki: From NBC News, this is Article II: Inside Impeachment. I'm Steve Kornacki. Today is Friday, December 13th. Here's what's happening.

Nadler: The article is agreed to. The question now is on article two of the resolution: impeaching President Donald J. Trump for obstructing Congress. The clerk will call the role.

Kornacki: Three hours of opening remarks on Wednesday, followed by 14 and a half hours of bitter partisan debate on Thursday led to this moment.

Nadler: The article is agreed to. The resolution as amended is ordered reported favorably to the House. Members will have two days to submit views.

Kornacki: The House Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment against President Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The panel met for just seven minutes this morning to cast those two votes. Today on Article II, we're asking: What did it take to pass these two charges? And how does today's vote set the stage for the full vote in the House next week? Garrett Haake is a Washington correspondent for MSNBC, and he joins us now from Capitol Hill, where he has been putting in some serious overtime covering the impeachment process this week. Garrett, welcome and really thank you for joining us after what has been a wild week for you.

Garrett Haake: My pleasure. I don't even know where I am anymore. (LAUGH)

Kornacki: So let's actually start with something that was simple and was straightforward. And that was this morning, 10:03 a.m. Eastern Time, Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, gavels the committee into session and seven minutes later gavels it out. And in between, to articles of impeachment against the President are passed. Take us through what happened there.

Haake: Yeah, for such a historic moment, it was incredibly anticlimactic. Two party line votes, 23-17 on both counts. Democrats hung together. Republicans hung together. There were no final speeches, no last-minute parliamentary high jinks of any kind. Just a very quick, very solemn vote. The gavel fell, and we were done.

Nadler: Notice is heard. Without objection, the committee is adjourned.

Kornacki: So that was the simple part. The more complicated part is all day yesterday and a bit starting even the day before, they had what they called the markup. The Judiciary Committee looking at these two articles of impeachment, considering possible amendments, lots of discussion.

Talk a little bit about the strategizing that was taking place throughout the day and throughout the night that led to that. Because we're watching these on television, and mostly it's just one member after the other talking. But you see notes being passed sometimes. You saw a few breaks. How did strategy like that emerge while the hearing was going on?

Haake: Well, this is a pretty coordinated process. And it is interesting. Because in a markup like this, Democrats you should think of as basically playing defense. Their goal all day long is to get through this markup with no changes to the resolution that they want to see on the floor.

And ideally, get through it as early as possible and, you know, by winning the messaging war that's going to happen by doing this all day on TV. Republicans have a different set of goals here. They would love to change the resolution if they could. But knowing that they can't, they want to try to win the messaging war and essentially make Democrats bleed for the trouble of getting this to the floor.

So Republicans came into the room knowing how many amendments they would probably try to offer, knowing the order in which they'd offer them so that they could in a weird way control the discussion a little bit even in a chamber controlled by Democrats. Everybody had their role to play here. The only question really going into the day was: How long did Republicans want to fight this out before they would ultimately say, "Enough is enough. We're ready to move this to the floor"?

Kornacki: There was even an interesting moment there, I believe it was Tom McClintock from California, late at night on Thursday night--

Tom Mcclintock:Mr. Chairman, dare I to state the obvious? I have not heard a new point or an original thought from either side in the last three hours. The same talking points have been repeated over and over again ad nauseam by both sides.

Kornacki: Saying, "We're all making the same arguments over and over and over again. If you don't have anything new to add, maybe you shouldn't add it."

Mcclintock: This hearing's been enough of an institutional embarrassment without putting it on an endless loop. So if I could just offer a modest suggestion, if no one has anything new to add, that they resist the temptation to inflict what we've already heard over and over again. And with that, I yield back.

Archival Recording: The point is well taken.

Kornacki: And then they still debated for about two hours after that.

Haake: Yeah, nobody listened to Mr. McClintock's advice there. It really did, being in the room, have a bit of a Groundhog Day feel to it. I was in there all 14 hours, off and on. Occasionally I would get up and leave to stretch my legs or to get a bite to eat, or a Red Bull, or something like that.

And you'd come back in, and you'd be hearing versions of the same argument over and over again, some of the same anecdotes being told by the same members or some members sort of building on each other's talking points. And it could be a little bit disorienting to think, you know, "What hour of the day is this?"

There's no windows in that room. It feels the same all day long. It is cold. The members mostly stayed in their seats for a lot of the day. There wasn't a lot of coming and going because there wasn't any other business happening on the Hill except for this. And it was almost disorienting at certain points just to be kind of caught in the spin cycle of all of these arguments.

Kornacki: So the reason obviously that that hearing on Thursday went on, and on, and on, it's because there were amendments that were offered. One of them, I think it was the second one that was offered during the day, I think generated a particular amount of heat amongst the committee members. It was offered by Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida.

Clerk: Amendment to the amendment in the nature of a substitute to H.res 755, offered by Mr. Gaetz of Florida. Page three, strike lines 10 through 11 and insert the following: "A) A well-known corrupt company, Burisma, and its corrupting hiring of Hunter Biden and."

Kornacki: Explain what Gaetz was trying to do there and why it set off the kind of reaction it did.

Haake: So Matt Gaetz is known for some political stunts. Remember, he's the guy who led the march on the Schiff during the Intel Committee's portion of the impeachment inquiry when they were still interviewing witnesses. And in this case, he offered an amendment that was really actually kind of interesting but also involved a stunt on the back end.

And this was never gonna happen. All these amendments were party line votes. But what it did was it focused the conversation on this question of: If President Trump in his phone call or subsequently or at any point in the Ukraine scandal had been very clear in suggesting that Ukraine should investigate Hunter Biden and Burisma, doesn't that make a very different argument than if the President is saying that Ukraine should investigate Joe Biden, right?

Hunter Biden is not running for president. He's not a political rival of the President. And Burisma, the company in Ukraine that he worked for, did have, does have known corruption issues. And so if you're talking about very specifically Hunter Biden and Burisma, is that an abuse of power too? Or is it only an abuse of power if the President is talking about investigating Joe Biden, the guy who's running to replace him? So there is actually an interesting and relevant argument there. Where Gaetz arguably botched it is he then in explaining his amendment and in defending it later on made passing references to Hunter Biden's past drug problems.

Matt Gaetz: And I don't want to make light of anybody's substance abuse issues. I know the President's working real hard to solve those throughout the country. But it's a little hard to believe that Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz Rental Car over leaving cocaine and a crack pipe in the car.

Haake: Which opened the door for Democrats to make passing references to Matt Gaetz's past DUI problems.

Hank Johnson: I would say that the pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do. I don't know--

Haake: And the otherwise interesting intellectual exercise and discussion about what is a presidential use of power got pulled a little bit off the rails because of that.

Kornacki: So that was perhaps the most lively discussion, if you want to put it that way, in any of these amendments. But the bottom line is for 14 hours of debate in front of this committee, the articles of impeachment weren't amended at all. Is that right?

Haake: That's right. I mean, they call this a markup, but the only marking that was made on this document, and this is not a joke, was to change the nomenclature of the President of the United States from "Donald J. Trump" to "Donald John Trump."

Nadler: This amendment makes a minor change. In certain places where the underlying resolution refers to "Donald J. Trump," the amendment refers to "Donald John Trump." Otherwise, it makes no changes to the resolution. I urge all of my colleagues to support it.

Haake: Now, there's a parliamentary reason for this. They like to open with some amendment that will actually pass so that other amendments can be offered, but that is the only change that was made to the resolution of the impeachment of the President.

Kornacki: It was I believe around 11:00, give or take, on Thursday night when Jerry Nadler, the chairman, instead of moving to vote on both articles of impeachment then, said, "You know what? We're gonna gavel this session closed."

Nadler: It's been a long two days of consideration of these articles, and it is now very late at night. I want the members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over these last two days and to search their consciences before we cast our final votes. Therefore, the committee will now stand in recess until tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m., at which point--

Archival Recording: Whoa!

Nadler: --I will move to divide the question--

Kornacki: It caused a lotta anger from Republicans.

Nadler: The committee is in recess.

Archival Recording: Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman.

Kornacki: It did seem on the surface a little strange, right? Take us through what that was all about, that delay.

Haake: There was a lot of bad faith and ill will created by that delay.

Doug Collins: There was no consulting from the ranking member on your schedule for tomorrow, which you've just blown up schedules for everyone. You chose not to consult the ranking member on a schedule issue of this magnitude?

Archival Recording: Really?

Archival Recording: So typical.

Collins: This is the kangaroo court that we're talking about.-

Louie Gohmert: This is outrageous--

Collins: --not even consult.

Gohmert: It's Stalin-esque. Let's have a dictator. It's good to hear about that.

Collins: 10:00 a.m.

Archival Recording: Unbelievable.

Haake: And from talking to members in both parties, Republicans thought they had a deal last night late at night. You know, they took a break about 9:00. When they came back from that break, they were operating under the assumption that there was a deal that they were gonna finish everything up last night. They would take the final vote sometime around midnight.

But Democrats felt like this vote was too important to take in the middle of the night for strategic reasons, as well as political reasons. You can just see how this would play out. And we've seen this with other debates, health care comes to mind, where you could see Republicans if the vote had happened late last night make the argument that, "You know, it was in the dark of night, Steve. In the middle of the night, Democrats voted to impeach this president, to undo your will, at midnight when no one could see it," you know?

And Democrats wanted to deny them that. Democrats defended this as, you know, an important vote that the American people see in the light of day. Republicans had no warning about it. It's sort of unusual to have something like that drop on Republicans at the last minute. But at the end of the day, when we re-gathered this morning, folks were ready to get down to business.

Kornacki: All right, Garrett. We gotta take a quick break. But we're gonna talk a little bit more right after this. Stay with us.

Kornacki: So, Garrett, I wonder: Does either side feel that they achieved something through those 14 hours of debate, that they moved public opinion in any way, that they changed the politics of this in any way? Or do they both sort of view this as sort of a stalemate?

Haake: I'm a little bit of a cynic on this point, Steve. And I think if you look at it across the scope of these hearings, I think both sides feel like they got something here. For Republicans, they stopped the bleeding. When the impeachment inquiry first started, we saw this big swing in the polls towards being more in favor of impeachment, right?

The American public all of a sudden went from, you know, in the high 30s to the 40s, to in some cases low 50s in favor of impeachment. And that number seems to have hit a cap and maybe drifted backwards a little bit, whether it was just sort of soft Democratic support becoming more supportive of impeachment and that's as far as it could grow. I think Republicans are relieved that that number never got any bigger than it did.

Democrats feel like they've got the facts. They've got what should be the winning hand here. They have the evidence that they think they need. I don't know that Judiciary moved the ball forward as much as they would have liked, but at least they stayed focused on the constitutional issues for the most part. It never got quite as nasty as at least I was expecting it to, given the history of partisanship on that committee. But incredibly, we are not done yet.

Kornacki: Well, yes. So as you've said, it was 23-17 on both articles of impeachment. That was the vote in the Judiciary Committee. As soon as that vote was held this morning, the chairman, Jerry Nadler, he spoke publicly. Nadler saying the House will act expeditiously. Do we expect that the House vote will look like this committee vote? Basically all the Democrats on one side, all the Republicans on the other side? Or do you see potential on one or both sides for crossover votes?

Haake: The potential at this point looks like it would be for Democrats to vote with Republicans against the articles, and here's why I say that. In the first vote, to move forward with the impeachment inquiry, you did have two Democrats voting with Republicans against starting this process. Both of those two Democrats seem likely to vote the same way.

What I'm watching now are the Democrats in those frontline districts, those battleground districts. Do they back up their votes for the inquiry in the first place with another vote to move forward on the articles and send them to the Senate? Or do they say, "We didn't get enough done here"?

The early evidence seems to be that frontline Democrats are staying with the Democratic Party right now. All these Democrats who voted for starting the inquiry are already gonna have those votes used against them. By voting against the articles now, they also make their Democratic and more liberal supporters mad. So you've already taken the political hit. You might as well vote your conscience on this. And it seems like that's the way at least the frontline Democrats who we've heard from so far are leaning.

Kornacki: In for a penny, in for a pound. I guess maybe the political equivalent of that. In terms of President Trump, he spoke after this vote was held this morning. What are you hearing from Trump now? And what can we expect as this moves to the House and then potentially the Senate from him?

Haake: Well, the President's talking points on this really haven't changed. You know, "It's a witch hunt. It's a scam. It's a sham impeachment." The reality is it's a real impeachment. I mean, he's really gonna get impeached on the floor of the House. Whether he wants to call it a scam or not, history will record it as a real impeachment. The question now is: How does the Senate want to handle this? The Republican-controlled Senate. Mitch McConnell has said there's gonna be no daylight between he and the President.

Mitch Mcconnell: Well, exactly how we go forward I'm gonna coordinate with the President's lawyers. So there won't be any difference between us on how to do this.

Haake: That's not been true up to this point. McConnell has, you know, not really shown his cards but has quietly indicated he'd prefer to have a shorter trial. Well, the President has said he wants to have a big fight on the floor of the Senate. He wants to call a whole bunch of witnesses. He wants to turn this into another big show.

There are a number of reasons why that's unlikely to happen. But maybe the simplest is one fundamental truth about Capitol Hill: The Senate never wants to be the House. And to the degree that the House floor vote might turn into a food fight, that the battles thus far have been sort of partisan, and nasty, and junior varsity level juvenile, the Senate will try, and I'm not saying they'll succeed.

They'll try to stay above that in how they try to conduct themselves. And I don't think that leads to, you know, trying to drag Hunter Biden, or the whistleblower, or Ukrainian official X, whomever they may want to call, down to the well of the Senate to testify, which is what the President has indicated that he wants, at least for now. (MUSIC)

Kornacki: All right. NBC's Garrett Haake. Garrett, for somebody who has not slept all week, you sound very sharp and very on your game. I gotta congratulate you on that. (LAUGH)

Haake: Thanks, Steve. I think I live in this mental space now.

Kornacki: All right. Well, I hope you get a little bit of rest this weekend, and thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

Haake: You bet.

Kornacki: This weekend, lawmakers are heading back to their districts to talk to their constituents about impeachment. The full House is expected to vote on the articles next week. That's before Congress breaks for Christmas. Article II: Inside Impeachment is produced by Isabel Angel, Max Jacobs, Claire Tighe, Aaron Dalton, Preeti Varathan, Allison Bailey, Adam Noboa, and Barbara Raab. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of audio. I'm Steve Kornacki. We'll be back on Monday.