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Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell Reacts To House's Vote To Impeach Trump

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now to the other breaking story - the historic impeachment vote against President Donald Trump. The House has voted on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power. The second vote on obstruction of justice is about to begin. And before it does, Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, has joined us for a conversation about the meaning of this.

Thank you, Congressman Swalwell.

ERIC SWALWELL: Good evening. And I just passed my second vote for obstruction of Congress.

SHAPIRO: You just passed your second vote for obstruction of Congress. You know, many members of Congress will never cast a vote on impeaching a president at all. Having just cast these two votes, what is on your mind right now?

SWALWELL: I hope I never have to do this again, and I hope no one who serves in Congress has to do this again. This is only the third time since our country's founding that a vote like this has been cast. But it reflects that there is an urgency to act. The president is not being impeached for having abused the power of the presidency. He's being impeached because he's abusing in real time right now the power of the presidency.

SHAPIRO: Because your line is a little bit difficult to hear, I want to restate. You say he's not being impeached for having abused the power of the presidency. He's being impeached for abusing the power of the presidency, which speaks to my next question. You say there is urgency. There is an election happening in less than a year. Why not allow it to take its course?

SWALWELL: The president asks us to wait for an election. But if he's trying to rig that election, then we could lose everything. And so he's asked a foreign government to help him cheat that election. And the only way to give us a chance to make sure our national security is protected and that that election is secure is to start holding him accountable now.

SHAPIRO: When you make this about the election, do you walk into the Republicans' argument that this is a partisan political undertaking?

SWALWELL: And I'm - it's not me or my colleagues who make it about the election. It was the president when he sought to move out of the way an anti-corruption ambassador in Ukraine to put in place a corrupt scheme to have the Ukrainians help him in the election. It was the president who brought up the election on the July 25 call with President Zelenskiy. And so once he invoked our election, there was an urgency to act on our part.

SHAPIRO: For more than two years, Speaker Pelosi resisted pressure to impeach the president, expressing concern that if it was not bipartisan, it could hurt your colleagues in districts that flipped from red to blue last year. Are you worried about a political backlash to this vote, if not in your district personally than with your party?

SWALWELL: I can't worry about that. But what I do worry about is what doing nothing means because on July 24, Bob Mueller testified to Congress that the president had committed 10 obstructive acts that he couldn't be charged for because of the president's policy that doesn't allow a president to be charged under the Department of Justice. Next day is when the president asked the president of Ukraine to involve himself in our elections. And so if you do nothing with this president, he's emboldened to push the limits even farther. And so I can't think about political consequences, just have to think about what this means to us now.

SHAPIRO: It has been 20 years since the last time a president was impeached, and Republicans are warning the Democrats are lowering the bar with this vote. They say it may not be 20 years until the next impeachment. How do you respond to that?

SWALWELL: Only three presidents have been impeached. One resigned before impeachment. And the conduct that this president is being impeached for is overwhelmingly worse than anyone has been charged with. He used his office, our taxpayer dollars, in seeking foreign interference to cheat an election. And no one has come close to that, and I hope that never happens again.

SHAPIRO: Meanwhile, President Trump is using this as a campaign issue not only at rallies like his one tonight in Michigan but also to raise money for his reelection. Do you think you've given him a tool that he can use to his advantage?

SWALWELL: The tool we don't want him to use to his advantage is foreign interference in our elections. And so that's the tool we're seeking to take away. And we have evidence that when you stand up to the president, it actually stops his corrupt ways. And the evidence is that Ukraine was not getting the aid that - Ukraine was not getting the aid they were supposed to get until Dr. Fiona Hill, Lt. Col. Vindman and the whistleblower came forward. Then Ukraine got their aid. So standing up against this president works.

SHAPIRO: That is Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, speaking to us just after casting two historic votes on impeachment of President Trump.

Thank you, Congressman.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.