News Brief: Impeachment Acquittal, Iowa Caucuses, Juan Guaidó

Feb 6, 2020
Originally published on February 6, 2020 9:21 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Although the result was never in doubt, you could feel the weight of history as senators cast their votes yesterday.

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JOHN ROBERTS: It is therefore ordered and adjudged that the said Donald John Trump be, and he is hereby, acquitted of the charges in said articles.

NOEL KING, HOST:

The Senate acquitted the president on both articles of impeachment - abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The vote was almost entirely along partisan lines. But the vote of one senator, who said he was guided by the facts and by his faith, made it harder to dismiss as just a partisan proceeding.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis has been covering this impeachment drama and is in our studio. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Who was the one senator?

DAVIS: Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a familiar name, the 2012 nominee for president...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

DAVIS: ...For the Republican Party. And he gave a very emotional speech on the floor - at times, he seemed to get choked up with tears - in which he explained that he just simply couldn't vote to acquit the president.

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MITT ROMNEY: Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demands of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history's rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.

DAVIS: It was a politically courageous vote because Mitt Romney will get no awards for this. This will not be rewarded in any way, shape or form. If anything, it's brought on a ton of attacks already, including from the president himself, and some calls to expel him from the party. Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked about that yesterday, and he quite literally laughed it off.

INSKEEP: Yeah. You have to assume that there would be some Republicans who would make the opposite calculation, that my vote here - you know, it would not make any difference anyway, and therefore, I should just vote to acquit the president.

DAVIS: Exactly.

INSKEEP: That would be the easier thing to do.

DAVIS: It was never going to affect the outcome, which we knew from the beginning is that the president was going to be acquitted.

INSKEEP: And yet he made this statement. Now, there were some Democrats - it would be easy for most Democrats to vote for conviction. But weren't there some Democrats who faced a difficult vote of their own?

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, there are political consequences for the senators who cast this vote, especially for the ones that are also on the ballot this year. And the one that took another politically risky vote is Doug Jones of Alabama. He's a Democrat in a ruby-red state, maybe one of the states where Donald Trump is his most popular. And there was a question whether he would vote to acquit because that is more aligned with his constituents' home state. So obviously, voting to convict is something that I'm sure that Republicans are going to use against Doug Jones, who's probably the most vulnerable incumbent in the Senate.

INSKEEP: I'm also thinking about Democrats such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who spoke at one point during this week of going for censure of the president, which sounded like he was going to vote maybe for acquittal. But he voted for conviction, right?

DAVIS: He did. And he and another Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also comes from a state where the president is more popular. But they're Democrats who have the luxury of not being up for reelection in 2020 and have a little bit more runway to explain this vote to their constituents.

INSKEEP: So the next question, Sue Davis, is how the president responds. People have been asking, will he quiet down, calm down? Will he feel unleashed because Congress went after him with the biggest weapon they could and did not get him? What happens to the president now?

DAVIS: Well, I think if you watched the State of the Union address, it's safe to say that the president's feeling pretty confident right now. He's expected to give remarks this afternoon, what the White House is billing as a victory speech. Although it's important to remember that, while he was acquitted, the judgment on him from Republican senators was far more mixed.

There was, I think - believe eight to 10 Republicans who said what the president did was wrong, was inappropriate. And even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has never answered the question when asked if what he thinks the president did was wrong. At a press conference yesterday, reporters tried three times to get McConnell to say, is it wrong for a president to solicit intervention in an election? And he simply wouldn't answer the question.

INSKEEP: Which means he's also not saying that it's right, I suppose we should mention.

DAVIS: Exactly. But the judgment on the president is still very mixed.

INSKEEP: Sue, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

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INSKEEP: One of these days - one of these days - we will learn the final results of Monday's Iowa caucus.

KING: Yeah. There's still no clear winner in Monday's voting even though around 97% of the results have been released. This whole delay started with a failure of technology.

INSKEEP: NPR's Miles Parks is taking up residence in Des Moines until this crisis is over. Miles, good morning.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I hope that's not literally true, that you're going to take up residence there. But what are the latest results?

PARKS: So this race just continues to tighten as we've gotten more and more results over the past 24 hours. Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Bernie Sanders are now essentially tied in state delegate equivalents, with Buttigieg ahead by about a tenth of a percentage point. What's interesting is Sanders has actually got a more sizable lead in the raw vote total. He's up by about 2,500 votes, and that lead has continued to grow as more of the vote count has been coming in over the last few hours.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note that's like the difference between the popular vote and the electoral vote. That's a rough equivalent to what you're talking about in this hunt for...

PARKS: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Delegates. But it sounds like they're more or less tied, both near the top, which means Elizabeth Warren is farther back. Joe Biden is farther back. The other candidates are very far back. That seems to be the results that the candidates take into New Hampshire. Now, what about the actual meltdown itself, the failure of technology? Is more information coming out about that?

PARKS: So we know it comes back to some sort of coding error within the reporting app that precinct leaders were using on Monday night. And it's meant the party has needed to go through this week all of the paper records that caucusgoers filled out when they arrived on Monday. You can just imagine how labor-intensive that process is.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

PARKS: I talked to Michelle Smith, who's the chair of the Jasper County Democrats. She also led a precinct. She told me how deflating this whole thing has been, specifically because her individual precinct actually went really smoothly on Monday.

MICHELLE SMITH: I was excited; like, we're not going to be here forever. And then it went downhill from there.

PARKS: She realized there was going to be a problem on Monday when one of her friends, who was also leading another precinct, was bragging to her, saying she used the app; it went so quickly; come join us at the bar; we're already done caucusing.

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

PARKS: And then the state party calls Michelle because she's the county chair and asks for her friend's results again. She's like, uh-oh. And you can kind of imagine that same reaction happening at 1,700 different precincts across the state at different times Monday night.

INSKEEP: OK. So I just got to mention, Miles - I don't want to embarrass you or anything, but as this debacle unfolded, people began, on Twitter, sharing a story by one Miles Parks, along with Iowa Public Radio's Kate Payne, stories about problems with this app before the Iowa caucuses. Why didn't they listen to you?

PARKS: Well, we were talking about all the potential issues. I can't say with a hundred percent certainty that I knew this was going to happen. We just said a lot of experts had a lot of questions, and those questions weren't being answered, and they're still not really being answered. State Democratic chair Troy Price answered a few questions on Tuesday about some of the technology, but he gave no timetable for the final results.

He also repeated this comment that top cyber experts, nationally renowned cyber experts, have looked at the app, but he has given no indication about who those cyber experts were, what companies they worked for. And just yesterday, a report came out from ProPublica that a cybersecurity firm they contracted with took a look at the app and found major security vulnerabilities, basically saying, this could have been hacked.

INSKEEP: OK. Miles, thank you very much for the update.

PARKS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Miles Parks, still in Des Moines - very pleasant place to be.

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INSKEEP: OK. For more than a year now, the White House has been looking for ways to push Venezuela's president, Nicolas Maduro, out of power.

KING: And yet, they have not found one. But then this week, President Trump invited Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to his State of the Union address.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Please take this message back that all Americans are united with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Guaido was also at the White House yesterday.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is covering this story. He's in our studios. Good morning, sir.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how is the president trying to support Venezuela's - I guess they would say acting president, is the way the United States recognizes him?

ORDOÑEZ: Correct, interim president.

INSKEEP: Interim president.

ORDOÑEZ: He's - you know, President Trump is trying to show that Venezuela is still a priority even though it hasn't been as much in the headlines, kind of to give Guaido a boost as he seeks to unseat Maduro. I mean, you'll remember a year ago, Guaido inspired these massive demonstrations and hoped that he could lead an uprising. But those hopes kind of dwindled a bit.

So when Guaido stood up during the State of the Union - you just played the clip - it really sent a message. It was a rare moment when both Republicans and Democrats stood and clapped. And Guaido's still here. He's making the rounds today, meeting with the USAID administrator and congressional leaders.

INSKEEP: Does the symbolism of this appearance matter?

ORDOÑEZ: The symbolism does matter. There have been accusations from current and former U.S. officials that President Trump was pulling away from Guaido. The White House says that's not true. A senior administration official told reporters that they still have a list of ways to increase the pressure on Maduro. That official said that Trump has authorized new measures to be taken in the next 30 days. He didn't give details. But I will say, I talked to Fernando Cutz. He's a former White House official who helped draft a road map of economic sanctions for Maduro. He had this to say.

FERNANDO CUTZ: I would say that, realistically speaking, when you're thinking about options that will make an actual impact that aren't symbolic, the United States has used the vast majority of its options in the economic realm. Now, of course, you know, again, you could go into a military realm, but that is not something that I think is seriously being considered.

ORDOÑEZ: I can tell you one strategy that the White House says it is not considering, and that is negotiating with Maduro himself unless it's for his departure.

INSKEEP: What the U.S. seems mainly to have, then, is economic pressure to apply in Venezuela. And I'm just thinking, economic pressure has not yet overturned the government in Iran or North Korea, just to give a couple of other examples. Does the White House have any other tools at its disposal?

ORDOÑEZ: Right. You know, experts say sanctions can be effective at pushing countries to change their behavior, but it's not the best at leading to new leadership. I will say, you know, Trump is motivated to keep the pressure up regardless. Look; it's an election year. This is a very important issue for many Venezuelan and Cuban expats, particularly in South Florida. Florida is a key swing state.

But it is unclear how they're going to do this beyond taking the symbolic steps. One option is against countries that still back Maduro. Robert O'Brien - he's the national security adviser. He basically told Russia and other supporters that they just need to knock it off.

INSKEEP: Franco, thanks for the update.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.