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Week In Politics: Capitol Riot, Trump's 2nd Impeachment And Inauguration

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When a week in politics feels like a month, we know it's a good time to pause and ask what just happened. Well, for the first time in U.S. history, a president was impeached for a second time. Also, we've learned more about how violent the insurrection at the Capitol was intended to be. The inauguration and more security threats loom. And the Biden-Harris administration is pushing forward with its plans for the next four years.

Well, joining me now, Lanhee Chen, a Hoover Institution fellow and policy director for the Romney presidential campaign. Welcome to you.

LANHEE CHEN: Thank you.

KELLY: And Errin Haines, editor-at-large of the news site, The 19th. Welcome to you.

ERRIN HAINES: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

KELLY: We are going to kick off with the big-banner, historic news - an impeachment, a second impeachment, which this time included 10 Republican votes in the House. Congressman Kevin McCarthy was not one of them. He did not vote against the president, but he did say this.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: That doesn't mean the president is free from fault. The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.

KELLY: Lanhee, I'm going to let you take this one on first. And I should note for people listening that you are informally advising some Republican members. Speak to how fractured the Republican Party is after all of this and especially this week.

CHEN: Well, I think there are significant divisions, and, you know, it goes a lot deeper than just how one feels about Donald Trump. I think there are questions about the future arc of where the party goes in terms of policy. I think there are great disagreements about how the Republican leadership ought to deal with the misinformation, frankly, that's been spread to a lot of voters, for example, about claims of election fraud recently.

And I think a lot of these issues are going to get sorted out over the next few years. I think some of it's going to come in the form of elections, primary elections, in the coming years. But also, I think there has to be a very direct conversation between Republicans about what the party stands for - exactly what the agenda is and should be going forward. And I think all those questions will demonstrate the degree to which there is division but also the degree to which Republicans can come together in the coming weeks and months.

KELLY: Well, and speaking of the coming weeks, I suppose we have a Senate trial to get through in those coming weeks. Errin Haines, let me bring you in. What struck you this week watching the second impeachment of Donald Trump?

HAINES: Well, certainly, what was different this year from where we were really just about a year ago is that you did have those 10 Republicans joining Democrats, including the highest-ranking woman in the Republican Party, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

You know, it - hearing, you know, the case for or against impeachment, you know, on both sides was really striking. And hearing from Republicans, some of whom, you know, certainly were wanting accountability in terms of the insurrectionists but not wanting to go so far as to hold the president accountable despite the fact that he was at the Stop The Steal Rally just ahead of the storming of the Capitol and the weeks and weeks that he, you know, has perpetuated the false claims of a rigged election - not really wanting to tether him directly to the events of January 6 was really remarkable. And so I think that maybe foreshadows, you know, how a final vote may go once this goes over to the Senate along party lines and the justification for that.

KELLY: Now, all of this - impeachment - is happening, of course, against the backdrop of a pandemic. We watch vaccines being slowly rolled out. And, of course, we're bearing witness to the staggering economic impact of this pandemic, which Joe Biden referenced last night when he announced his new $1.9 trillion pandemic plan.

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JOE BIDEN: And it's not hard to see that we're in the middle of a once-in-several-generations economic crisis with a once-in-several-generations public health crisis. A crisis of deep human suffering is in plain sight. And there's no time to waste. We have to act, and we have to act now.

KELLY: Errin, let me return to that number - $1.9 trillion. It feels crazy to ask is that enough (laughter), but would that be enough financial support for Americans to get through what the CDC is projecting will be the deadliest months of the pandemic, and they're still ahead?

HAINES: Well, we are in the worst of the throes of this pandemic. And, you know, this huge challenge needs a huge response. And that is what President-elect Biden is proposing in this $1.9 trillion plan, which is going to provide wide-ranging relief, the campaign says, to millions of workers, including the women who have been disproportionately economically impacted by a pandemic that is not interested in the peaceful transfer of power, did not stop, you know, amidst, you know, a racial reckoning and did not stop even, you know, in the midst of that insurrection, where we saw members, you know, coming down with the coronavirus during the insurrection at the Capitol. And so, you know, a lot of these - the pillars of that plan are going to center around issues that have affected women, from child care to school reopenings...

KELLY: Yeah.

HAINES: ...To hunger to evictions.

KELLY: Yeah. Lanhee, your thoughts on the Biden plan and, I suppose, whether Republican lawmakers will vote for it.

CHEN: Well, I think there are elements in here that some Republicans have already expressed support for. For example, you had a few Republicans like Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley express support for expanded direct payments at the $2,000 level, which is essentially what this plus up in the Biden plan would do - increase the level of direct support to $2,000.

I think that the question is going to be, of course, whether some of the other elements in this package that, quite frankly, probably don't belong in a COVID relief package - whether things like, for example, a debate over the minimum wage - if that is going to turn off some Republicans. But in my view, it's going to be very difficult for those Republicans who are already on the record supporting elements of this package - the enhanced unemployment insurance, the direct payments, you know, assistance for COVID-19 vaccine distribution...

KELLY: Yeah.

CHEN: ...It will be a challenge for those Republicans to then turn around and oppose elements of this simply because Joe Biden is the one that's put them on the table instead of a...

KELLY: We just have a...

CHEN: ...Republican president.

KELLY: Forgive me - we just have a minute or so left. But a quick parting thought from each of you as we look ahead to what promises to be another remarkable week in politics - an inauguration in what is basically a green zone. The Mall is closed, the outgoing president - President Trump - says he's not going to be in attendance. What are you watching for next week, Lanhee?

CHEN: Well, I'm hoping that the country can begin to come together, and we can begin to deal with some of these challenges. I do think it's important that Congress takes up action on this stimulus package quickly in order to help move the country ahead and begin to heal some of these divisions that we've seen.

KELLY: Errin Haines - last word to you.

HAINES: Well, we are marking this inauguration in the wake of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday. And I leave you with this quote from King who said that in the days ahead, we must not consider it unpatriotic to raise certain basic questions about our national character.

KELLY: Well, there are certainly a lot of questions about our nation and its character and what may come next. That is Errin Haines, editor-at-large of The 19th news site, and Lanhee Chen, Hoover Institution fellow and policy director for the Romney 2012 presidential campaign.

Thank you to you both.

CHEN: Thank you.

HAINES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DATA'S "ELECTRIC FEVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.