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News Brief: GOP Discord, Trump Impeachment, Amazon's Bezos

NOEL KING, HOST:

The most powerful Republican in Washington has distanced himself from one of the party's conspiracy theorists.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, critiqued a new lawmaker in the other House, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. McConnell's written statement said a person who believes, quote, "looney lies and conspiracy theories" like that school shootings were staged is a, quote, "cancer for the Republican Party." Greene has promoted the elaborate con that is the QAnon conspiracy theory. Reporters asked McConnell about this yesterday.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I think I adequately spoke out about how you feel about any effort to define the Republican Party in such a way.

INSKEEP: So says the senator, but Greene is in the House where she's not the only QAnon promoter, and where Republican leaders looked over her record of false claims and decided that she should sit on the education committee. Democrats are now preparing to kick her off, and Republicans meet today to decide what to do.

KING: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is following this story. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: Representative Greene does not seem repentant in the slightest. How do Republicans start to address this?

GRISALES: To start, there were reports House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with Greene behind closed doors last night, as well as the House GOP steering committee, which can make decisions on whether a member can stay on a panel. McCarthy said last week Greene's comments were deeply disturbing, but he and other House members haven't said much publicly since. So Greene is forcing these leaders either to address her claims or risk she becomes the new face for the party. Meanwhile, Democrats are moving forward with this resolution to force her off her committee assignments. But this is highly unusual. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer conceded to reporters last night that this could backfire, setting a precedent for the GOP to kick their members off panels. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hopes McCarthy handles this first.

KING: So we know somewhat what McCarthy thinks. We know what Mitch McConnell thinks. What about other Senate Republicans? What have they said about Greene?

GRISALES: Many have said she's not good for their party and not good for the country. McConnell also said her claims would bring this cancer, as we mentioned at the top. And this is a theme we heard from others. For example, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst told a Capitol Hill pool reporter that Republicans don't need someone promoting violence as the face of the party and they should revisit what they want to see happen for the GOP in the upcoming years. Another senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, told reporters that the party's, quote, "big tent isn't big enough to accommodate both conservatives and kooks."

KING: OK. So the Republicans are meeting today. There is another one of their colleagues that is aggravating some of them, Representative Liz Cheney, who supported President Trump's impeachment. How do they plan to deal with Representative Cheney?

GRISALES: These same Senate Republicans are also issuing calls of support for her. McConnell said Cheney is a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them, and he looks forward to continuing to work with her. Senator Lindsey Graham said she's a valuable member of the party, a solid, reliable conservative woman and the party needs more members like her. So that's putting pressure on McCarthy and other House GOP leaders to push back on these members who are fierce Trump loyalists calling for Cheney to step down.

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

GRISALES: Thanks for having me.

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KING: OK. So we are getting a look at the arguments for President Trump's upcoming Senate trial.

INSKEEP: House impeachment managers wrote in a brief that Trump is, quote, "singularly responsible" for fueling last month's attack on the Capitol. Five people were killed and many injured in that attack on democracy. The facts, of course, are obvious. The president told months of election lies, told a crowd to fight and they attacked, although you also mentioned they should be peaceful. His defense lawyers and Senate Republicans have seized on a claim that it's unconstitutional to convict the president after he has left office. The Constitution is open to interpretation, although here also the president is clear. The Senate put a former official on trial once before because they didn't want him to escape punishment by simply resigning.

KING: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is following this story. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So you have this brief, 70-some odd pages. How do the impeachment managers make the case that Trump should be convicted?

LUCAS: Well, they begin their case back in the summer of 2020, actually. They cite interviews from that time in which Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost. And then after the election, the House managers document how Trump repeatedly pushed these baseless claims of his that the election was stolen. They say his tweets and public statements grew increasingly incendiary as the weeks passed and that it all came to a head on January 6 when he took the stage near the White House and told this crowd of supporters there to, quote, "fight like hell." The managers say Trump whipped the crowd into a frenzy and aimed them like a loaded cannon down Pennsylvania Avenue directly at the U.S. Capitol. They say that Trump incited the mob. They say that Trump incited the violence at the Capitol. They say that he did nothing to call it off, and that, they argue, was a violation of his oath of office. And he deserves to be convicted and barred from holding office in the future they say.

KING: Trump's legal team has filed their response as well. Who's representing him and what does the defense of him look like?

LUCAS: Well, Trump's two new lawyers are David Schoen and Bruce Castor Jr. They argue, first and foremost, that these proceedings, in their view, are unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office. They say the Constitution requires that a person be in office to be impeached and tried before the Senate, and since Trump clearly is no longer in office, the trial, they say, is moot. Now, there is a legal debate on this point. Scholars do come down on both sides. The House managers argue that it is constitutional and that the president must be held accountable for his or her actions from the first day to the last day of their presidency. There is no January exception, they say. But what may be more pertinent here is that the constitutionality argument appears to register with a lot of Senate Republicans since 45 of them voted last week that impeaching a former president was unconstitutional.

KING: Oh, that's interesting. OK, so we did expect the debate over whether or not this was constitutional. But at the heart of the charges here is the lie that Trump told about the election and the fraud. Did his legal team address the lies he was telling?

LUCAS: They brought up his election fraud claims, but I wouldn't say that they leaned heavily on them. What they say is that when Trump was publicly challenging the election outcome, that he was exercising his free speech rights, that he was just expressing his opinion. They also argue that there's insufficient evidence to conclude that Trump's claims of fraud were false. Now, his lawyers did not bring up in their filing the fact that dozens of courts rejected the Trump campaign's legal challenges to the vote again and again. Instead, what his lawyers do is they spend more time denying the allegations that are made against their client. They deny that Trump incited the mob. They deny that he violated his oath of office. And they deny that he committed any sort of high crimes or misdemeanors.

KING: Just real quick, the impeachment trial starts next Tuesday. What happens between now and then?

LUCAS: Well, we expect a full trial brief from Trump's legal team by next Monday. But I think it's worth repeating a key point about impeachment here, which is the members of the Senate are the ones who decide whether Trump's actions are impeachable and whether he should be convicted. It is their call and their call alone.

KING: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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KING: Jeff Bezos is stepping down as the CEO of Amazon, the company that he founded 27 years ago.

INSKEEP: Amazon started as an online bookstore. Bezos grew it into one of the biggest companies in the world, which now ships just about every product imaginable. Depending on the day's stock price, Bezos is often the richest person on this planet, but the company has also been accused of violating antitrust laws and mistreating employees.

KING: We should mention that Amazon is a financial supporter of NPR. And NPR's Alina Selyukh covers the company. Good morning, Alina.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: How surprising is this decision by Jeff Bezos?

SELYUKH: It's pretty surprising. You know, Bezos loves to say how it's always day one at Amazon, meaning always act like a startup. And we were joking with a colleague yesterday, you know, can we say now it's day two at Amazon? Have we got there? Bezos in many ways has already been acting kind of like an executive chairman, this new title that he will take on over the summer - less running shop day to day, more thinking big visionary thoughts years into the future. He says he wants to do more with his other big investments, like the space company Blue Origin, which is his huge obsession, plus The Washington Post, which he owns, some philanthropy. All that said, it's definitely an end of an era. He is the avatar for one of the most powerful companies of our generation worth nearly $2 trillion. But, you know, founders tend to eventually move on; happened at Microsoft, happened in Google. I guess this now leaves Mark Zuckerberg as the elder statesman of big tech at 36, I guess.

KING: Tell me about Andy Jassy. He's the man taking over for Jeff Bezos.

SELYUKH: Jassy is one of Bezos' longest serving trusted lieutenants. He shaped and shepherded Amazon's sprawling cloud computing business. That's a group that I saw one analyst call Amazon's cash printing division because it's Amazon's by far biggest profit center. Another thing about Jassy is that he is known to be fairly outspoken. He's weighed in on Black Lives Matter, for example. He's a pretty freewheeling public speaker. So it'll be interesting to see if his style changes as CEO, especially as he faces scrutiny over Amazon's treatment of workers, labor organizing, federal antitrust investigations.

KING: OK, so he might change or he might change Amazon or both. Let's talk about how his leadership could change the company. What do you think there?

SELYUKH: You know, lots of reading of the tea leaves happening on that. Jassy is an Internet infrastructure guy, cloud computing guy. How hands on will he be on the retail side of the business? What will his approach be? Remember that Bezos is still the biggest shareholder in Amazon. That's big power, and he's no wallflower at board meetings. So I'm imagining this a bit like, you know, a principal standing in the back of the classroom saying, you know, proceed as you were. I'm not really here. Look at your teacher. But, you know, their presence looms large.

KING: OK. And do you think we will keep hearing from Jeff Bezos?

SELYUKH: I'm sure. My biggest question is actually whether we'll hear more from him in the coming days. Will he become more outspoken outside of the CEO corporate role? I'm thinking like former Google CEO Eric Schmidt or Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Bezos mentions his charity funds. So far, he's not been seen as a major philanthropist. So we'll see if that changes. What he is known for is interest in Hollywood circles. Is he going to show up in a movie? You know, I joke, but he is one of the world's wealthiest people, and it is hard to imagine Jeff Bezos fading into the ether.

KING: NPR's Alina Selyukh. Thanks, Alina.

SELYUKH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.