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My Mind Isn't Necessarily Made Up On Impeachment, Sen. Braun Says

NOEL KING, HOST:

At this moment, the U.S. House is voting on the rules that will inform the debate around President Trump's impeachment. House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern opened this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM MCGOVERN: The president, a successor to the same office as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, betrayed his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. These aren't opinions. These are uncontested facts.

KING: And the top Republican on the Rules Committee, Tom Cole, had this to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM COLE: It's going to be a deeply partisan vote coming at the end of an unfair and rushed process prescribed solely by Democrats to ensure a predetermined result.

KING: That vote will take place later today. NPR's Claudia Grisales is on Capitol Hill. She's with us now. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So an historic day. What's it like there at the moment?

GRISALES: So the House of Representatives started out this historic day with a series of procedural votes related to Republicans' efforts to adjourn the House or stop the proceedings, but those failed in a series of votes. House lawmakers have since moved on to these opening statements, some of them very emotional, ahead of this procedural vote. Perhaps this morning, we could see that to wrap up before the actual debate on the articles of impeachment this afternoon.

I was in the chamber earlier this morning, and you could sense the history in the air. And the mood was very somber for both sides.

KING: So these are rules votes that are happening now. Can you explain what that means exactly?

GRISALES: Well, it depends on what side you ask - what that means for them.

KING: OK.

GRISALES: So for Republicans, for example, it's obviously an effort to stall the proceedings. They - this is their way of saying they're opposed to this process, to the impeachment of the president. They've been fiercely defendant of him throughout this. And so for that, that's the Republicans' aim there.

But for Democrats, they're moving forward towards voting on this rule to set the stage for how this impeachment vote on both these articles of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress could look later today.

KING: What time do we expect this to be wrapping up today?

GRISALES: Well, this is a very fluid number.

KING: OK.

GRISALES: It's been moving all day. And as we know on Capitol Hill, things can shift on a dime. But right now, they're saying we could see the votes by 8 p.m. tonight. We know one thing we've learned from the previous proceedings before Judiciary - they don't want to vote on these articles in the dark of night...

KING: Yeah.

GRISALES: ...So very late, like 11 p.m., midnight.

KING: Get it done while people are still watching, right?

GRISALES: Exactly, so they can wrap it up, yeah.

KING: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thanks, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you.

KING: Now, if the House passes the articles, the Senate will begin a trial with all 100 senators serving as jurors. Earlier today, I talked to Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun.

As jurors, senators, including you, will take an oath to, quote, "do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws," end quote. Are you prepared to do impartial justice here?

MIKE BRAUN: I am. And earlier, it was mentioned - being objective. I think the big issue is, as we get into the Senate trial, is there any other pertinent information that we hear beyond what we've heard so far? And I think the easiest way to understand this idea of political is you could almost swap roles between McConnell and Schumer if you go back to the Clinton, you know, years.

So that, I think, is the best explanation of how this is political. And look at the votes and the outcomes back then, regardless of the reasons of how we got here, so...

KING: Senator Mitch McConnell says his mind is made up. He is working in conjunction with the White House. Is your mind made up?

BRAUN: I think that's based upon, once we get into the trial, that there's nothing else we hear. And I think in that case, you can, again, say that same thing on both sides. You know, I wrote an op-ed recently about how difficult this most - must be for the five senators still in the presidential race on the Democratic side, you know, where none of us would probably be seated as jurors if you tried to parallel this completely to a court alone.

KING: It sounds like you are saying your mind is not made up - that there's - if you heard additional information, you would be willing to vote to impeach; you would be willing to vote guilty. What more do you want to learn about the president's behavior at this point?

BRAUN: I don't think there will be anything more to learn because we've had three renditions - the hearings behind closed doors, the public hearings, the four constitutional experts. And I listened carefully to see if I could glean anything from the two later discussions, and I didn't really hear anything other than kind of a regurgitation of stuff that we heard leaked out, the main hit points, you know, early, so...

KING: Your mind is made up.

BRAUN: Not necessarily, because I will listen.

KING: (Laughter) OK. All right.

BRAUN: If there's something different, I'll consider it because I think we need to do that.

KING: Do you want to hear from witnesses? And if you do, who do you want to hear from?

BRAUN: I believe - sure, I'd love to hear witnesses that we could call, and vice versa.

KING: Specifics, though - who would you want to hear from?

BRAUN: I would say that I'm not sure about the whistleblower, but I'd certainly probably want to hear from Biden or his son Hunter, probably all the ones you've been hearing about. And I think there, that's a non-starter. That's a parlor game because both sides know witnesses won't be involved because you'd have to give the other side that same latitude. And, you know, Chuck Schumer's already said that, you know, Hunter Biden would be off the table in terms of a witness, so I don't think we even start there. But I know why the subject was broached. It's all part of the process.

KING: OK, this is the mutually assured destruction argument.

BRAUN: (Laughter).

KING: May I ask you in the seconds we have left, what do you make of the letter that the president sent to Nancy Pelosi? It was in his own words. Some people referred to it as a rant or a bit unhinged. It was certainly strong.

BRAUN: It was strong. And if you look at the entirety of the six-page letter, I think it was, almost every paragraph was something I've heard before. And it was kind of put into a compilation because I think, for President Trump, as much as he lets anything roll off his back, you know, we're converging on a day here that, you know, he's all along said that impeachment is an ugly word, and I think today is that day when it's formalized. And for me, the foundation of how we got here in the first place is different from other proceedings. And that, to me, taints the process a little bit, and I think you're going to see that play out.

KING: Senator Mike Braun of Indiana, thank you for coming in.

BRAUN: Good to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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