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Transcript: Standoff

The full episode transcript for Article II: Inside Impeachment, Standoff.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (C-L) hold a press conference after the House passed Resolution 755, Articles of Impeachment Against President Donald J. Trump, at the Capitol on Dec. 18, 2019.Olivier Douliery / AFP - Getty Images


Article II: Inside Impeachment


Geoff Bennett: What are you looking for in terms of House--

Nancy Pelosi: Yes, sir. One left.

Reporters: The House rule does not end with the vote next week. You have to appoint impeachment managers to go to the Senate trial.

Pelosi: True.

Reporters: And tell us who there'll be?

Pelosi: Right now? (LAUGHTER) Okay. If you promise not to tell anybody. (MUSIC)

Beth Fouhy: From NBC News, this is Article II: Inside Impeachment. I'm Beth Fouhy, senior politics editor for NBC News and MSNBC, filling in for Steve Kornacki today. It's Friday, December 20th and here's what's happening. (MUSIC)

Pelosi: Seems like people have a spring in their step because the president was held accountable for his reckless behavior.

Fouhy: The president has been impeached and the House has gone home for the holidays. But lawmakers left Washington without doing something pretty important.

Pelosi: The next thing for us will be when we see the process that is set forth in the Senate, then we'll know the number of monitors that we may have to go forward, and who we would choose. That's what I said last night. That's what I'm saying now.

Fouhy: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is refusing to turn over the articles of impeachment to the Senate, or to name the lawmakers who will oversee the House's case.

Mitch McConnell: Meanwhile, other House Democrats seem to be suggesting they'd prefer never to transmit the articles. Fine with me.

Fouhy: So what's behind Pelosi's decision to delay the articles and the naming of the managers? And what does this standoff mean for the impeachment timeline? That's today on Article II. Garrett Haake is NBC Washington correspondent. Garrett, welcome back to the show.

Garrett Haake: Hey Beth. Good to be here.

Fouhy: So tell us, typically what is the process for transmitting those articles from the House to the Senate?

Haake: Well, one of the things you have to remember about impeachment is this is only the third time we're doing is, so there's not a ton of precedent. It's hard to say what's typical. What happened in the Clinton impeachment is within the same day they transmitted, through the normal process, through the clerk of the Senate, and sort of moved things behind the scenes.

But there was also this very formal process where the House impeachment managers actually walked to the Senate to deliver these charges. It was something of a show, really. But that's the most recent impeachment we've had, and previous history is more than 150 years ago. So there's a lotta leeway here.

Fouhy: So you've described a process that was very different in the Clinton impeachment. Why is the process playing out so differently now?

Haake: I think most of us thought the process was going to be similar until it started. I mean one of the big differences is is you've got a House and a Senate controlled by different parties. That wasn't the case in the Clinton impeachment. But on the night of the impeachment vote, I think everybody, myself included, assumed we would find out who the managers where within 24 hours or so and that this process would move over. Even if the trial didn't start till January, that Pelosi would wanna move this off her desk and over to the Senate as quickly as possible.

It quickly became apparent that that was not the case, when we were all ushered into the Rayburn Room just off the House floor, as many reporters, as many photographers as I have ever seen in that room. In fact when the press conference started, the photographers' shutter clicks were so loud you couldn't hear Pelosi as she started to speak. And we asked her, "What's the next step? Is the House done? Are you moving forward?"

Reporter: You would wait to send the articles until you understand what the Senate's going to do?

Pelosi: We'll make a decision as a group, as we always have, as we go along.

Haake: And she didn't really give a clear answer.

Fouhy: What are the impeachment managers? What role do they play in this phase? And what's going on with the Senate trial in delivering those impeachment managers over there?

Haake: Procedurally, the selection of impeachment managers is the next step that has to happen before the Senate could start any work. And the managers are essentially the House-appointed prosecutors who will go over to the Senate and present to them the case that they found in impeaching the president. In the Clinton impeachment there were 13, I think. More than a dozen impeachment managers. We expect there to be fewer than that this time around, but it's a very important job. They are custodians of the case to the United States Senate.

Fouhy: Well, so interesting, we know now that Pelosi says she wants to see, in some way, the structure of the Senate trial. What Mitch McConnell has in mind before she names those managers. What's the strategy there?

Haake: Well, it's twofold. What she says is that depending on what the Senate tries to do, it might change who she selects. So, for example, if the Senate does not agree to hear any witnesses, you don't necessarily need an impeachment manager who might be a really good cross-examiner. You just need somebody who's really good at presenting a case. Giving a speech on the Senate floor.

If there are gonna be witnesses, or if the witnesses are gonna be particularly technical, or focused on one particular area of the impeachment process here, of the Ukraine saga, you might pick a manager who you know is especially skilled at cross-examining or knows a lot about that one particular piece of the puzzle.

But the other thing that's going on here is this allows Pelosi to give a little bit of air cover to Chuck Schumer, who is trying very hard to force Mitch McConnell's hand in the Senate to guarantee that they will hear from witnesses during the trial.

Chuck Schumer: Is the president's case so weak that none of the president's men can defend him under oath?

Haake: That's really what the big fight is right now. This pause that we're in, this purgatory, for Democrats to try to guarantee that they can get witnesses on the Senate floor during an impeachment trial.

Fouhy: So you've mentioned some qualities that Pelosi might be looking for. You know, somebody who's very good at cross-examination or maybe the technical skill. What do you think are the other things that she's looking for when she's considering sort of the array of people to choose for this job?

Haake: Boy, there are a lotta considerations to take into place. I think credibility on the Senate floor is number one. You don't wanna have people who are perhaps seen as too political, too preening, too interested in the spotlight for themselves.

You want a diverse group of people, because you're also making a case to the American population. You want people who know the case cold. And you want people who are gonna represent the House well. This is a very big job for the people who get picked.

Fouhy: Can you're, essentially, naming the prosecutors who are going to present the case, not only to the Senate, but, once again, to the American people, correct?

Haake: That's exactly right. I mean I think it's important to think about the trial in those two separate parallel paths. There's what goes on on the Senate floor and in the minds of senators who are sitting in the room when it happens, and there's the public reaction to it. Right? There's a whole public process to this that will determine a lot about how this goes.

You know, as much as we talk about the idea that this is sort of like a trial and that people want these to be impartial jurors, this is political. And these senators are political actors. And they're gonna be paying attention to what the public is saying and what public polling is saying as they're making not just a decision to acquit or convict the president, but decisions on votes along the way. Perhaps to include witnesses. So if you're an impeachment manager you need to be really, really good at making your case.

And I'll just say, part of the reason that anybody in this country outside the state of South Carolina knows who Lindsey Graham is is because Lindsey Graham was an impeachment manager for the House during the Bill Clinton trial, and he was widely considered to be the best impeachment manager. He was the best prosecutor against Bill Clinton.

Lindsey Graham: Some want him removed and some don't. And you gotta consider what's best for this nation. The point that I'm trying to make, as not articulately as I can, is that I know how hard that decision is. It's always been hard for me. It's never been hard to find out whether Bill Clinton committed perjury or whether he obstructed justice. That ain't a hard one for me. But when you take the good of this nation, the upside and the downside, reasonable people can disagree on what we should do.

Haake: That launched his political career. So there's a lot of import, both in the selection of these managers and in how they handle the case.

Fouhy: So it's obviously a prestigious opportunity for some members of the House. Is this something that lawmakers are jockeying for at this point?

Haake: Well, it's funny. It's like the process of trying to become vice president or maybe pope, were you're not supposed to admit that you want it. So lawmakers who are on the short list, you know, might admit that they would be honored to be considered, or that, you know, they think it's an interesting challenge, but they trust the judgment of the leadership.

I mean you kinda hear the same quotes over and over again for folks who are perceived to be on the short list. But yeah, everybody wants this gig. I mean there is a political risk to it. For example, Adam Schiff is in the U.S. House in part because he beat a Republican in California who'd been an impeachment manager. There was that backlash to the Clinton impeachment that he took advantage of. The rest of it is a little more up in the air.

Fouhy: And you mentioned that there are political risks to this. I mean does that mean that Nancy Pelosi is unlikely to pull one of those freshman who flipped a red district to blue in 2018? Is she really trying to protect her people that way?

Haake: That's an interesting question. I mean you have to think, most of the freshmen, particularly those front line freshmen, were not closely involved in this process. For a lotta those front line members, they are perfectly happy to have this hot potato outta their hands and to have it be somebody else's problem now that it's moving over to the Senate. (MUSIC)

Fouhy: Okay, we're gonna take a quick break. Garrett. We'll be back in just a moment.

Fouhy: Okay, so on that topic of risks and rewards, knowing all of this, and the fact that Pelosi's waiting for McConnell's next move, do we have any intelligence on who she might choose as a manager, Garrett?

Haake: My money's on Adam Schiff. He has handled this process from the beginning with a pretty deft hand. He ran the Intelligence Committee in a way that Democrats were really impressed by and Republicans, frankly, quite frustrated by. He's continued to be probably the best spokesperson for the impeachment inquiry on television, which is such an important part of this. You're not just talking to senators. You're talking to the public.

I think Jamie Raskin, the Democratic congressman from Maryland, is another choice who's very likely to be picked. So same way with Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary chairman, although he's not been maybe as effective of a spokesperson for this along the way, I'm thinking about his very, very brief statement the night that the Judiciary Committee approved the articles. He's been intimately involved in this process from the get go. I think he's probably likely to get picked as well.

And then you're gonna have the speaker wanting to round out the group. You're gonna wanna have some diversity. You're gonna wanna have some women. You're gonna wanna have some people from different parts of the country so it's not all coastal Democrats, if possible. You're drafting a fantasy impeachment here, essentially. And pretty much anybody who you might consider is gonna want the job.

Fouhy: So back to Nancy Pelosi, you know, we've seen her talking about this process. She's been very solemn. You know, she talks about being prayerful, thoughtful. Trying to suggest that this isn't political. We're seeing the back and forth right now, of course, between Nancy Pelosi not sending the articles, McConnell reacting to that.

Mcconnell: I admit, I'm not sure what leverage there is in refraining from sending us something we do not want. But alas, if they can figure that out, they can explain it.

Fouhy: But with all this going on, this three-dimensional chess with Mitch McConnell, does it sort of undercut her argument that it's not about politics?

Haake: Well, look, this is an impeachment of a president. Is it both solemn and about politics. I think both of these things can be true at the same time. And so yeah, Pelosi's tryin' to have it both ways here a little bit by arguing that this is a very solemn proper constitutional process, and oh, by the way, we need to have it done this way.

Now, she can make the argument that they are trying to ensure the most high-minded, fair, witness-intensive, all the facts come out kind of trial, and that that's part of the solemn constitutional duty. But if you're looking at it from the other side of the aisle, you're seeing hardball politics here. And it's a little bit of both.

Fouhy: Yeah, and I wonder, do you think there's any chance that this could really backfire with some voters?

Haake: I think that depends on how long it goes. Remember, Pelosi's playing with House money at this point. This trial was never going to start before January anyway. Even if they had transmitted the articles over, bang, that first night immediately after the vote, the Senate would still sit on this till January. They weren't gonna suddenly spring into action today.

So if this delay turns out to not really be that much of a delay, I don't think she pays any particular political cost. But if we're still having this conversation in late January, or, God forbid, in early February, that's a different conversation.

Because Democrats have been arguing for weeks now that there's an urgent need to move forward with this impeachment. That it has to happen right now because of the way this president's behaving. And if you're not moving forward urgently, then what are you doing?

Fouhy: Hey Garrett, so one of our listeners, Keith from Durham, North Carolina, has a question about this process. Now Keith wants to know how long could Pelosi hold onto the articles? And what does this timeline mean for the start of the Senate trial?

Haake: Well, Keith, again, we're sort of in uncharted territory here. In theory there's no limit to how long she could hold onto them. It's not prescribed by the constitution. There aren't really rules on this. But the longer she holds onto them, the hotter they get, and the more political pressure that she will be under.

What you have right now is kind of a three-way standoff between Pelosi, McConnell and Trump. McConnell is famously patient, and he does not care what people think about him in public opinion. As long as he's got just enough to squeak by in reelection, he doesn't care how unpopular he is nationally. So he's perfectly happy to sit on his hands.

Donald Trump's the opposite. He cares a great deal about what people say about him, and we know he's been clamoring for this trial to get started. So who wins out between the patient McConnell and the impatient Donald Trump will determine a lotta this.

Once the articles get transmitted, which, remember, will really be a vote on who the managers are. It'll be an up or down, you know, an easy partisan vote for Democrats to win, things will start more or less (MUSIC) right away whenever they pull the trigger.

Fouhy: Garrett Haake, you know, a lot about this. Thank you so much for joining us.

Haake: I'm talkin' about this stuff in my sleep. (LAUGHTER)

Mcconnell: Wish all of my colleagues a merry Christmas, happy holidays, a joyous New Year. I hope everyone enjoys this important time with our families and loved ones. We'll see ya in 2020.

Fouhy: That's Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with some parting words for the end of this legislative session. Congress is scheduled to return on Tuesday, January 7th, but we'll continue to bring up updates over the next few weeks. 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 Beth Fouhy, senior politics editor for NBC News and MSNBC. Steve Kornacki will be back on Monday.