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Week In Politics: Democrats In Iowa, Impeachment Reaches Senate


We're going to turn now to the week in politics. And to do that, I'm joined by our regulars.

David Brooks of The New York Times, welcome back.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

CORNISH: And E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Georgetown's McCourt School, welcome back, E.J.

EJ DIONNE: Lovely to be with you.

CORNISH: It seems like the week was dominated by two stories - obviously, the impeachment of Donald Trump and the 2020 Democratic contest. I'm going to start with the Democrats' debate first, the final one before the Iowa caucus, notable for a couple of reasons - smallest lineup on stage, just six candidates, and then, of course, what happened after the debate.

Let's start with who was kind of a breakout in terms of, like, policy or just having a moment where you think they really stood out, and then we'll get to the controversial stuff. David?

BROOKS: Well, I'll give Elizabeth - Elizabeth Sanders - Elizabeth Warren a lot of credit. You know, she's been slipping in the polls. She was - started Iowa maybe a year ago in the mid-20s. Now she's in the mid-teens. She's behind Bernie Sanders in pretty much every state. If the polls are correct, she'll come in fourth or third pretty much in all the first few races. So she had to try to shake things up, and she did by going after him hard. Whether it worked, I'm a little dubious. I don't think this is a voting issue, what he allegedly said in a private conversation.

CORNISH: Right, we'll come back to that in a bit. E.J., do you want to jump in then? Is there anyone else you think stood out?

DIONNE: Well, first, I agree that Warren had a good debate. And it's funny, I think her best moment had nothing to do with that controversy but did relate to gender, and that was her answer on child care. And I think that will serve her well if she can get back to this as a fundamental issue. She talked about how it affected her, linked that experience to the experience of women all over the country. I think that Joe Biden had a good night, partly because he didn't make any mistakes.

CORNISH: No news is good news. That's the standard.

DIONNE: That's good for Biden.


DIONNE: But I thought his standard rap, which he's repeated God knows hundreds of times, that, you know, we can survive four years of Trump; we can't survive eight years of Trump, I think that reinforced the people who are already for him as the guy they think can beat Trump. And so he has - he is the great survivor so far in this race.

CORNISH: All right. Since you both underscored Warren to start, let's talk about what happened after a question and answer back-and-forth in which Bernie Sanders denied telling Elizabeth Warren in a prior conversation months ago that a woman could not beat President Trump. Debate goes on, and then afterwards, as everyone's doing their handshaking, the CNN cameras catch this.


ELIZABETH WARREN: I think you called me a liar on national TV.

BERNIE SANDERS: Let's not do it right now. You want to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion. You called me a liar. You told me - all right, let's not do it now.

CORNISH: So for the longest time, everyone had been talking about this pact between them not to attack each other - didn't look pretty, right? So you guys want to weigh in? Is this going to have an effect - two progressive candidates in a way turning on each other or being turned against each other?

DIONNE: I think that there has been tension all along, particularly online, where online just seems to make people vicious. I was talking to a friend today who said, you know, I have a lot of friends who are Bernie supporters. She's a Warren supporter. We have wonderful conversations. And then people go online, and things get really hot. And I think that reinforces this problem. We thought that there'd be a fight in the Democratic Party between the left and the center, but this is left versus left. And it's making a lot of progressives in the party uneasy. A bunch of them said - issued a statement that essentially said to Sanders and Warren, chill.

BROOKS: Yeah, I sort of disagree with that. I mean, it's part of the game, and it's part - this is serious business. They're competing against each other. The Obama people and Clinton people really detested each other. And the closer you are ideologically, the more you're likely to test. That's just human nature in these things, especially with Twitter and email, where you're reacting every second.

I can't think of a time where that hatred within a movement really had any long-term effect. It didn't hurt Reagan. He was certainly hated when he was running. It didn't hurt Obama. So I...

CORNISH: So for you, it's just campaign theatrics.

DIONNE: Yeah, I...

BROOKS: Not theatrics; it's genuine enmity, but it doesn't seem to hurt long term.

DIONNE: I don't disagree that campaigns bring out hostility of this sort because Warren and Sanders are, in part, fighting for the same vote. But I think the very, very personal nature of this - if they were arguing over single-payer or some particular issue, I think that's different. This got very, very personal, and that can last.

CORNISH: All right. We're going to keep an eye on that as we head into the Iowa caucuses. First, I want to talk about the other big story, the opening of President Trump's impeachment trial.


JOHN ROBERTS: Do you solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States, now pending, you will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help you God?


CORNISH: And as this happens, you have Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, coming out, talking about his activities against the former U.S. ambassador of Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. All this means is kind of, like, new information is coming out to the public on the eve of the Senate impeachment trial. David, does this make a difference?

BROOKS: No. I'm struck by the power of the pomp and circumstance as they get going. It has a certain gravity and a certain weight. And I think what Parnas shows us is that he's really, really guilty. I thought we learned that he was guilty of this in the first transcript of the call, and we've since learned it 19 times over with Fiona Hill and all the other witnesses.

The crucial question of impeachment is politically, will there be pressure on Republicans to bend or to change the position they have? And if you look at public opinion over the last month since the House acted, support for not removing him has gone up.

CORNISH: E.J., to you.

DIONNE: And support for calling witnesses at this trial is overwhelming. And I think there's enormous pressure on Republican senators, particularly but not exclusively those in states where you could have very tough Senate races this year...

CORNISH: Witnesses to change minds, or witnesses because at least then, the information is public?

DIONNE: At least then, the information is public. I mean, I don't think either of us expects enough Republicans to bolt from Trump. But you have to ask two questions - did Trump break the law? People say, well, there's no lawbreaking. But did he break the law in holding back the money from the Ukraine? Yes, he did, the Government Accountability Office said. And as you suggested and David suggested, is there more and more evidence that he acted to pressure Ukraine not for - because he was worried about corruption, but to extract from the Ukrainian government an announcement that they were investigating Biden, Joe Biden, for corruption? Yes, that case is stronger today than when the House voted the impeachment. And I think that matters to how the debate goes forward.

CORNISH: Lightning round, and this is not a euphemism. What are you looking for next week, David?

BROOKS: Any reaction, any public change in public opinion. And I think the cost of - for a Republican to defect is almost suicide. So I do not expect that.


DIONNE: A much larger number of Republicans saying, yeah, we need to have a real trial than people now expect. I think some of the senators - older senators, the ones not up for reelection or who are retiring - might say, yeah, we don't want to go down and say this was a trial without any evidence.

CORNISH: That was the week in politics with E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Georgetown's McCourt School.

Thank you, E.J.

DIONNE: Great to be with you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times, have a good weekend.

BROOKS: You, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHROMONICCI'S "THOUGHTS.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.