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News Brief: Trump Impeached, Democrats Debate, Boris Johnson's Agenda


When the House began voting on articles of impeachment last night, President Trump was in Michigan.


He told supporters there they were in for the greatest speech you've ever heard. He attacked Hillary Clinton. He mocked the name of Pete Buttigieg. He urged security to get tougher on a protester. He said Fox News hosts praised him. He said women tell him dishwashers don't work as well as they used to. And he mentioned impeachment.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It doesn't really feel like we're being impeached.


TRUMP: The country is doing better than ever before. We did nothing wrong. We did nothing wrong. And we have tremendous support in the Republican Party like we've never had before.

GREENE: The president was right about that Republican support. As he spoke, House Republicans were unanimously voting against impeachment. But Democrats prevailed. The House approved two articles of impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The alleged abuse is the president's effort to have Ukraine investigate political rivals. Here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after the floor vote.


NANCY PELOSI: December 18, a great day for the Constitution of the United States, a sad one for America that the president's reckless activities necessitated us - our having to introduce articles of impeachment.

INSKEEP: Three American presidents have now been impeached - Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump. NPR political reporter Tim Mak was covering the proceedings yesterday. Hi there, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

INSKEEP: What was it like watching it all?

MAK: So it was a long and momentous day. You could really feel the tension building over hours and hours of debate, which took some 12 hours from the start of the day to the end when we had votes. So as the day began, it was kind of almost a cozy winter scene in the House. There had been fires lit in the fireplaces of the speaker's lobby right off the House floor.

But in the morning, vocal protesters started to gather outside, urging impeachment and removal. And by the afternoon, it had become a pretty partisan scene in the House. Lawmakers were interrupting each other. Boos and cheers and jeers were heard on the House floor. And when it came down to the votes on impeachment, Republicans tried one last symbolic protest. They had wanted a roll call vote. That is for all 400-plus lawmakers to have their name read out...


MAK: ...And to physically vote yea or nay. They couldn't get that done. So what they did instead, as a kind of symbolic protest, is that they voted manually with red paper ballots. They usually vote by electronic machine. So they signed these red paper ballots, and they had the clerk tally their votes manually.

INSKEEP: When the clerk tallied them, all Republicans went one way, nearly all Democrats the other. But who were the exceptions?

MAK: Well, there were two Democrats who voted against both articles of impeachment - Congressman Collin Peterson, who has been in the House for nearly 30 years, and Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who has indicated he will switch parties and become a Republican. Both come from districts that voted for Trump in 2016. So there's been a lot of talk about these moderate Democrats in these 31 districts that voted for Trump in 2016 then flipped to Democrat in the 2018 midterms. The vast, vast majority of those Democrats in battleground districts decided to vote for the articles of impeachment.

INSKEEP: Then there's Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who voted present. She's a presidential candidate. Nancy Pelosi made a decision after that vote not to send the articles of impeachment right over to the Senate. Let's listen to what she said.


PELOSI: We will make our decision as to when we're going to send it when we see what they're doing on the Senate side. But that's a decision that we will make jointly.

INSKEEP: What's going on there, Tim?

MAK: They're depending on this idea that they have leverage over the parameters of the Senate trial. Those negotiations are still underway. They think that perhaps by withholding these articles, they can change the parameters and get a fairer trial in their view.

INSKEEP: Would Republicans be upset if this impeachment trial were delayed in some way? Is that why they'd have leverage?

MAK: The whole strategy would depend on Republicans wanting a trial to happen and the president wanting some sort of vindication.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll see what happens. Tim, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

MAK: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tim Mak.


INSKEEP: Given how vast the Democratic presidential field has been, a debate stage tonight in Los Angeles may seem comparatively empty.

GREENE: That's right. Only seven candidates will be there - Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer. Hard to avoid talking about that big impeachment vote, but the candidates are eager to cover other topics.

INSKEEP: NPR political reporter Juana Summers joins us now. Good morning.


INSKEEP: Fewest candidates we've seen in any debate so far. I suppose that's the way it's supposed to work. But what's changed here?

SUMMERS: So the seven candidates who will be onstage tonight have all participated in previous debates, but there have been a couple of big changes. Since the last debate, California Senator Kamala Harris dropped out. She had qualified to take the stage tonight. We also won't see New Jersey Senator Cory Booker or Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. And a couple of the later entrants to the race also did not make the cut. I'm, of course, talking about the former Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

There is one other big thing to note about this debate lineup. If you think back to July, Democrats had the most diverse debate stage in history. Now we're five months later, and all of the participants in the debate are white except for Andrew Yang.


SUMMERS: That has renewed criticisms of the Democratic National Committee's debate qualifying process and the nominating process overall. Here's candidate Julian Castro. He did not make the cut for tonight's debate, and he spoke about this in Iowa earlier.


JULIAN CASTRO: It's time for the Democratic Party to change the way that we do our presidential nominating process. Part of the reason for that is that I don't believe that the two states that begin the process, Iowa and New Hampshire, are reflective of the diversity of our country or of our party.

INSKEEP: Democrats have been talking about this, the fact that those are fairly white states compared to the country as a whole. Are Democrats agreeing there is a problem, though?

SUMMERS: So the Democratic National Committee and its chairman, Tom Perez, seem very clearly mindful of these critiques at a moment where race is at the forefront of this primary like never before. But they haven't said anything notable to suggest that they are either considering reassessing the order in which states vote or the calls from some, including the party's own candidates, that the debate threshold should be lowered for the debates that are coming in January and February.

INSKEEP: OK. So the debates have changed from a ridiculously huge number of candidates - too many even to fit in one debate - to a merely unwieldy and too large number of candidates. But seven - you can get a little better sense of them. What do you watch for?

SUMMERS: Yeah. That's right. And so, of course, we're always going to be looking to center stage. So one of the biggest dynamics I am watching for is the dynamic between Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Over the last few weeks, they have been really targeting each other as Warren is looking to recapture the energy and excitement that made her a front-runner in the late summer and early fall. And Buttigieg has risen to lead in the polls in Iowa. They've been talking about transparency a lot, as well as their respective health care plans.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, we'll be listening for all of that. Juana, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Juana Summers this morning.


INSKEEP: And let's move across to the United Kingdom now, where Queen Elizabeth gives a speech today.

GREENE: Right. The speech was written for her by the new government following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's huge win last week in national elections. In the speech, she will lay out Johnson's agenda for the coming year.

INSKEEP: To learn what that means for Brexit and the future of the U.K., we turn to NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Hey. Can you paint a picture for us here? The queen, who's supposed to stay out of politics, is in politics in this moment.

LANGFITT: Well, she is, but only in a sense in that she's speaking for the government. This is just the tradition that every time you have a big election, you have a new Parliament, the queen comes over from Buckingham Palace. And she sits in the House of Lords, which is incredibly ornate - not like the House of Commons, which people might be familiar with seeing.


LANGFITT: And then she reads the government's agenda. And it's usually filled with a lot of pomp and circumstance. I think because the turmoil in this country politically, there won't be as much of that this time around. For instance, she's coming over in a car, not in the carriage...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

LANGFITT: ...Which makes sense because we're kind of getting used to that here.

INSKEEP: Also, the horses are getting tired from all the various elections you probably have.

LANGFITT: Perhaps.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Anyway, go on. Go on.

LANGFITT: Perhaps. But so this will be lower-key. The big thing that Boris Johnson is going to be talking about in this speech, as the queen gives it, is getting Brexit done, the same thing he ran on. He now has the votes, an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, to get his withdrawal agreement through by the end of January.

The other thing that he's going to be talking about is giving more money to the National Health Service. The National Health Service here is really beleaguered. I think Americans can relate to this in the sense of concerns about health care and health services. And Johnson, even though a conservative government actually oversaw the decline in the National Health Service, he's going to talk about putting billions and billions more into it, which will be very popular.

INSKEEP: And we would presume from the huge majority that Johnson's party just won that he's going to get what he wants out of Parliament. Does that mean he's going to prevail in everything that he wants?

LANGFITT: He will. I mean, there could be some small changes to the withdrawal agreement, but this is a done deal. He has a huge majority. The bigger question is what happens next. And this is where I think that slogan, get Brexit done, is pretty misleading in a sense, because he now has set a deadline for himself of 11 months to get a trade deal with the EU, perhaps even a comprehensive one. I don't know any trade expert who says that that's possible. It's way too complex.

So we could either see one of two things - either at the end of next year, a no-deal Brexit, which would cause a lot of economic damage, would be a stunning, frankly, political failure in a lot of ways, or a bare-bones deal, which would actually cost the economy here - I was talking to economists yesterday - up to six percentage points over the next eight to 10 years off of GDP. The idea that Brexit is over at the end of January is not the case at all.

INSKEEP: I want to circle back to this formal moment of the queen delivering the words of the government. I suppose that is meant to symbolize the unity, the continuity of the nation. But is the United Kingdom now united? And is it going to stay that way?

LANGFITT: No. And what could be fascinating, Steve, in the coming years is, does Brexit actually break up the union? Just this morning, Nicola Sturgeon, head of the Scottish National Party - they got a big win as well, as - just as Boris Johnson did last week. She wants a second referendum on independence for Scotland. And she says they're owed it because they did very well in the polls last week in the vote. And Johnson is going to say no. So it's fascinating that on this day you have a message of unity, and then up in Scotland, you have a message - we want a vote to be able to leave.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks for your insights.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.