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Heat Is On GOP To Allow Witnesses At Impeachment Trial, Sen. Warren Says

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is on the line. She is a member of the jury for President Trump and one of the leading Democratic candidates for president. We are two days before a vote on trial witnesses and five before voting in Iowa. Senator, welcome to the program.

ELIZABETH WARREN: Thank you very much. I'm delighted to be here.

INSKEEP: I want to note that you would need four Republicans to join all the Democrats to get witnesses at this trial. That vote appears to be coming up on Friday. Our correspondent has identified three Republicans who would be with you on this, but are there four?

WARREN: I don't know. But the heat is sure on the Republicans right now. You know, the Constitution requires that when articles of impeachment are delivered to the Senate, the Senate has to hold a trial. And most people kind of think that means a fair trial. And a fair trial means calling in the relevant witnesses and getting the relevant documents. I've never heard of a trial where you can't call in relevant witnesses and get relevant documents.

So, you know, the heat has been on from the beginning. But now, when Trump's lawyers have said, hey, there's no one here who has any direct knowledge of Trump saying that he would condition aid to Ukraine on getting help in throwing dirt on his political rival, and John Bolton's book evidently says exactly that, it gets even harder to keep out those witnesses.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. It's correct that, according to The New York Times - and this has been largely confirmed by Bolton's lawyer - the former national security adviser has written in a book about this, and he has described conversations in which President Trump linked military aid to those investigations. So you want John Bolton, but if it ends up being that Democrats get to call John Bolton, but as part of the deal, Republicans get to call Hunter Biden, are you going to say, you know, I don't like that, but have at it? That's, on the whole, a win for us?

WARREN: You know, look. The way I see this - this is about a trial. And this is supposed to be about the relevant evidence. And I get what the Republicans want to do. They want to try to distract everyone from Donald Trump's wrongdoing.

INSKEEP: But if they force that compromise on you, Senator, are you going to say, go for it, at least we get John Bolton?

WARREN: Look. They want to turn this into the shiny object of let's see if we can distract and put all the attention somewhere else. This is a serious trial, and it is a trial about what the president did. The people you bring in on a trial are the ones who know something directly about what the president did, have real evidence to offer on that. And I don't think that includes Hunter Biden. I think what that's about is just trying to distract and get people somewhere else.

INSKEEP: So you wouldn't approve that if that was offered as some kind of compromise? You wouldn't be voting for that.

WARREN: I just don't think it's a compromise. I think what it is - it's about let's see if we can not make this trial about what the Constitution requires it to be about, and that is the president's high crimes and misdemeanors. The people you bring in, the documents you bring in are directly related to the fundamental question of, what did the president know? What did the president do? And we need people who know that.

INSKEEP: Question period begins today - two days of questions from senators for the various prosecution and defense teams. Do you have a question?

WARREN: Yeah, I do, and we're working on them with other people, trying to do some coordinating, so it's not a lot of repetition. But I think the fundamental question here is about the corruption. Think about what this impeachment trial is really about.

You know, who lies right at the heart of it is an ambassador, one ambassador who is a career ambassador, a public servant, the other one who got his spot not because he had any qualifications but because he gave a million-dollar contribution to the Trump inaugural committee. And Trump himself is the embodiment of this fundamental corruption in Washington, using our foreign aid as a country, our foreign policy, not to advance the interests of the United States, not to help us fight against Russian aggression in Ukraine but to advance his own political interests. That's just wrong.

INSKEEP: Senator, I want to ask about your campaign. Since you were last on this program, you have given more details and modified your proposal on "Medicare for All." You originally said you endorsed Bernie Sanders' plan to eliminate private health insurance in favor of Medicare for All. And then late last year, you added to that - you called for a transition period where people would still have a choice. Did you change that because having no choice was so unpopular?

WARREN: I looked around this country and saw that 36 million Americans didn't have a prescription filled last year because they couldn't afford it. And think for just a second about what that means. They were sick enough or had a problem that scared them enough they went to the doctor. The doctor said it was serious enough that the doctor wrote a prescription. And then they looked at that prescription and said it's that or groceries or that or pay the rent on time.

INSKEEP: But I'm saying...

WARREN: That's - well, no, but...

INSKEEP: ...I understand the argument for Medicare for All...

WARREN: ...But I'll get there...

INSKEEP: ...But you're now saying choice.

WARREN: No, but the point is that the way I see this on health care is we need the maximum amount of help to the maximum number of people as quickly as possible. So what I propose is to do exactly what a president, everything a president can do all by herself on the first day - defend the Affordable Care Act, and reduce the cost of prescription drugs, commonly used drugs like insulin and EpiPens and HIV/AIDS drugs.

We can save American families hundreds of millions of dollars. The law is already there. We just need a president with courage to stand up to the drug companies. And then...

INSKEEP: I understand that - I just want to - forgive me, Senator. The time is a little short here. I need to - I want to ask about this matter of choice. Bloomberg reporter followed you around in December in Iowa and wrote the following - quote, "during a three-day bus tour through Iowa, she increasingly stressed the word choice in her interactions with voters." Now, that is a popular word, Senator, and it sounds like you would have choice still for a while in this transition period, but is that a misleading word to use if your plan eventually takes away the choice for private insurance?

WARREN: So my plan here is to give people the choice. I've shown how we can pay for health care, full health care coverage for everyone in this country without raising taxes on middle class families by one thin dime. And what I propose is that in the first hundred days, we pass a plan to make that health care available to everyone who wants it. We could make it available at no cost to about 135 million Americans, everyone under the age of 18.

INSKEEP: So that's like...

WARREN: Family of four...

INSKEEP: ...A public option is what that is.

WARREN: Well, it is a fully-paid-for option for people who want to try it and at a low cost for anyone else because I've already figured out how to pay for full health care coverage. And then when people have a chance to try it, when they see what health care is like when it's just between them and their doctor or their mental health professional or their nurse practitioner or a physical therapist without some insurance company in the middle making their profits by saying, no, no, no, then we have a vote.

What I want to do is build allies. I want people to give it a try. I've shown how we can pay for it. Let's let people try it, and then we'll vote on Medicare for All. I believe...

INSKEEP: But in the end...

WARREN: ...I believe we will get there...

INSKEEP: But in the end, people...

WARREN: ...Because I believe when people have a chance...

INSKEEP: Forgive me, Senator...

WARREN: Well, forgive me, but when people have a chance to experience full health care coverage - they don't have to do it, but when they have a chance to experience it - I think what tens of millions of people are going to say is I like that, that's what I want and that's what I support. That's what I think is the path...

INSKEEP: In the end, people won't have a choice. Right, Senator?

WARREN: Well, in the end, we vote. That's what we do in a democracy.

INSKEEP: I see. So you'd have a later vote is what you're saying.

WARREN: That's right.

INSKEEP: One other question. The New York Times did an unusual thing - it endorsed two candidates for the Democratic nomination. As you know, one of them was you, Senator, and the other was Amy Klobuchar. They described that as a choice for Democratic voters between more radical change and more moderate change. Why shouldn't people who want to unite the country and be sure to defeat the president go for the moderate?

WARREN: You know, I just think it's the wrong way to characterize this. I've been talking a lot about anti-corruption. We have a Washington that works great for giant drug companies, not for people trying to get a prescription filled. Works great for giant oil companies that want to drill everywhere, just not for the rest of us who see climate change bearing down upon us. If we want a government that doesn't just work for those at the top but works for everyone else, we have to be willing to take on the corruption in Washington, the influence of money.

And here's the thing - that's something all Democrats can run on. It doesn't matter where you are. And here's the thing - it's also something that is very attractive to a lot of independents and a lot of Republicans. Our problem in this country is a lot less about the old left-right and a lot more about how this country, how this nation, how this economy works for those at the top and not for everyone else. 2020 is our chance to turn that around.

INSKEEP: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, it's always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

WARREN: Always good to talk to you too.

INSKEEP: She is in Washington, where she will be back at the impeachment trial today. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now. Hi there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What stood out for you there?

KEITH: Well, in terms of Medicare for All, she is certainly saying that it will take a while to get there to Medicare for All, and then it may not happen, it seemed like is what she was saying, is that, you know, then there will be a vote. And of course, that is actually how government works. The president doesn't just say and now there will be Medicare for All. In fact, if there is a progressive president who wants Medicare for All, they'll still have to contend with a House and a Senate that will not necessarily be as progressive as that president.

INSKEEP: So she has converted this plan that she endorsed into a kind of future aspiration. Is that something that was necessary because of the politics here? It was something that turned a lot of voters off even if people generally like the idea of Medicare for All?

KEITH: You know, she was pressed on why she didn't have a plan when she has a plan for everything. And ultimately, this is what she came up with was this sort of transitional idea. And in part, that came from pressure on her to say how she would pay for Medicare for All when she was just merely endorsing Bernie Sanders' plan, which he doesn't explain how it's paid for either.

INSKEEP: Tam, thanks so much for your reporting. Really appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tamara Keith.

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