Why the Jan. 6 Hearings Came Too Late
The Jan. 6 hearings were must-see TV for many Americans, but did they come too late? Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian and Politico’s Rachael Bade join Andy to explain why the hearings were in many ways a tacit acknowledgement that the second impeachment got botched. They take us inside the thoughts and minds of political leaders, including Nancy Pelosi’s aversion to impeachment and McConnell’s decision to vote against his gut, all heavily reported for their book, “Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump.”
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Order Rachael and Karoun’s book, “Unchecked: The Untold Story Behind Congress’s Botched Impeachments of Donald Trump”: https://www.harpercollins.com/products/unchecked-rachael-badekaroun-demirjian?variant=39999908544546
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For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit lemonadamedia.com/show/inthebubble.
Andy Slavitt, Rachael Bade, Karoun Demirjian
Andy Slavitt 00:18
This is IN THE BUBBLE with Andy Slavitt. The January 6th committee wrapped up and is now subpoenaing former President Trump after the final hearing. As we know, Donald Trump has eluded this sort of response before and accountability, and call me a skeptic. But I think despite what he’s saying his chances of testifying seems slim. But that’s one of the things I’m going to ask my guests today, knowing how to wrap up the January 6 hearings after such a monumental set of events, not just the events of January 6, but the events that led up to them seems a difficult task, what’s the right way to do this? You know, we have had monumental days in our history, September 11th, November 22nd, April 4th, July 4th, you know, this feels like we could be dealing with one of them. And it’s not entirely clear that we as a country have any sort of unified view and what happened, let alone what to do, as I think Saturday Night Live said and I’m paraphrasing, that hearings are great for all the Democrats nodding their heads and other Republicans who weren’t watching. So I think, you know, there’s this truism that I think applies to all of us, you know, people just don’t want to hear negative things about people they like. But you know, look, I think thanks to Adam Kinzinger, and Liz Cheney, the hearings were bipartisan, but they could have been a hell of a lot more constructive, if Kevin McCarthy had agreed to have the Republicans participate. By all accounts, and we’re going to hear about this. McCarthy was plenty upset over January 6, but ultimately appeared to decide that a shot of being speaker was more important than reacting to that day in any sort of way that would create accountability. So whether we’re going to look at the new subpoena, or what else has come out of this hearings, I couldn’t think of two better guests to talk to, then two really, I think, amazing, thoughtful, and at the time, we’re having this conversation very, very buzzy, co-authors of a new book called unchecked The Untold Story Behind Congress’s botched impeachment attempts of Donald Trump. So much of what I saw in that book was like stuff like, wow, I forgot that happened. Did that happen? Really. So if you get political playbook, you’ll know who Rachael Bade is. Rachael writes political playbook, which is either the Bible or the bane of people’s existence, depending on who you are, welcome to the bubble, Rachael.
Rachael Bade 02:49
Thank you. I hope it’s the Bible. But you know, if it’s the vein, at least they’re reading if they’re reading.
Andy Slavitt 02:54
Yeah, it’s probably can maybe it’s occasionally each. Yeah. And Karoun Demirjian is also here, she’s a national security reporter for The Washington Post. Welcome Karoun.
Karoun Demirjian 03:05
It’s good to be here.
Andy Slavitt 03:07
Okay. Let’s start with the news peg of the moment, which is the hearings wrapped up. Oh, what did they accomplish?
Rachael Bade 03:18
I mean, look, the January 6 committee has done an incredible job trying to sort of piece together, what happened on January 6th, from all different angles, whether it’s from, you know, these would be writers coming to Washington and organizing themselves to storm the Capitol, or what was happening in the White House what Trump was doing when he wasn’t doing. And so this is obviously very critical for history, right, that they are going after, and subpoenaing Trump’s inner circle they are fighting for, you know, to enforce these subpoenas if people are ignoring them. And they’re having a lot of success in the courts and unearthing a bunch of information. The problem, though, is that sort of, as you alluded to, in that opening, the January 6th has really lost the moment. If there was a moment to sort of change people’s minds about what happened on January 6th, or convince Republicans moderate Republicans, it probably would have been right after January 6th, right around the time Trump was most politically vulnerable. In right around the time, Democrats were leading the second impeachment of Trump. And so, you know, our book very much talks about how both of these impeachments missed key opportunities to check Trump in terms of short circuiting the investigations of the former president. And so in terms of January 6th, they’ve clearly done a good job, but it’s a little late.
Andy Slavitt 04:45
Yeah, one of the things in your book that I think we’re gonna get back to as you do something different than I think most commentators, is, you don’t lay it all at the feet of the Republicans cowering from President Trump as we’ve seen in other books, but you also lay some responsibility And the Democrats. Did you get into that? I do. And I want to come back to that a bit later, but through and I’m wondering if you have any lasting perspective on what job the committee did?
Karoun Demirjian 05:11
Yeah, I mean, look, I think that the committee, Rachel spelled it out saying that they have taken these investigative steps and they’re trying to basically be the modern day Watergate, they are putting the whole record out there trying to pull in witnesses, Republican witnesses running now, subpoenas. Not, I know, you predicted Trump probably isn’t going to show up. But they didn’t shy away from calling him and calling him with a subpoena.
Karoun Demirjian 05:34
I mean, I think we probably agree with you there. Or it’s just gonna take a whole lot longer. But the point is that, you know, they’ve just kind of worked following the evidence here, I think people probably expected that they would have put out a report by now we’re three weeks away from the midterm elections, they’ve decided to keep going with the investigation up until, you know, a politically less convenient point, to make sure that they’re running down all these threads. And so that is significant. And it’s important, but I think the thing that we see there is, look, you know, the fact that they’re doing this in the first place now, and retreading, a lot of the ground that at least was the subject matter of the second impeachment is kind of a tacit acknowledgment that there was an incomplete record two, that that had to be completed that they had to do, which then automatically ricochets you back to the second impeachment, when you had a bunch of impeachment managers that were trying to actually do that, that wanted to do that, and got squished out and shut down by their own party, who was too afraid that if they allowed them to pursue that sort of an angry that they would, you know, start to eclipse, the nascent Presidency of Joe Biden, which, you know, okay, that was a concern at the beginning of his presidency, but we’re almost two years in now. And we’re still talking about Donald Trump. So in a way that the January 6th committee is trying to set the record straight, trying to wrest back the congressional oversight muscle that they didn’t flex, frankly, during the second impeachment all the way. But, you know, as much of a credit as you want to give to the January 6, committee members, they’re not working in the same environment, the end game is not the removal of President and in fact, they’re being helped by the fact that the person who’s in the oval office right now, and the administration is running the Justice Department is if anything friendly to their cause. This is not a situation in which we are actually getting a pure test of can Congress with their constitutional power stand up to an executive that they think is Rogue, we are getting the can we correct the record a little bit later, when we have more help this time, and hope that that’s enough, that it won’t, you know, cause these fundamental safeguards of our republic to look as weak as they might be.
Andy Slavitt 05:34
Am I right? Am I wrong?
Andy Slavitt 05:57
It seems pretty clear that we’re not prepared to figure out how to handle a situation where a President goes so out of bounds even not just breaking potentially laws, but also threatening people’s lives causing people to be in harm. It’s just not something that I think we have a playbook for. And it filled with all kinds of hazards, particularly when one of the bases, the Republican base, seems so strongly still committed to Him. And I think like politicians put their hand in the breeze all the time. You want to go back and talk about how Democrats were doing that, as well as Republicans throughout the first impeachment but I want to play a clip from the hearing of this is representative […]. Yeah, she’s talking to former spokesperson Sarah Matthews, White House spokesperson who worked with Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, about Trump’s activity and the day of the insurrection and his decision to not condemn the writers. So that was pretty astounding testimony. And you know, it feels like you know, if we were listening to a tape of someone went inside al Qaeda talking about a plot to overthrow the US Capitol. You know, this would have been something that had a unified outrage, the fact that it was happening within the White House, one political party obviously made it very tricky, is you guys have done your reporting, and you’re interviewing what stands out to you as the most monumental elements of that day, in particular, whether in the White House or how people within the Capitol, were reacting, what are the things that strike you as the most important elements?
Karoun Demirjian 10:33
Yes. So I mean, look, we’ve through the January 6 committee and other venues taken a really sharp look at what was going on in the White House and how Trump was acting. Rachel and I lay out in this book, I think, for the first and most complete time, what was happening at Fort McNair, as the congressional leaders from their lockdown were basically trying to do everything that they wished that the White House had been doing to save the Capitol.
Andy Slavitt 10:54
So, leadership to clarify was brought over to Fort McNair, in the midst of that afternoon?
Karoun Demirjian 10:59
Right, leadership was evacuated from the Capitol even though all the rank and file members were kept in various secure chambers on the campus.
Andy Slavitt 11:06
That means Pelosi, Hoyer.
Karoun Demirjian 11:09
Pelosi, McConnell Hoyer, Schumer, McCarthy, we’re all we’re all Scalise whisked away and taken a couple of miles away from the Capitol, basically, because of their positions. They were taken into separate rooms initially, which just tells you kind of the knee jerk assumption that oh, we still have to keep the party separate. And then they’re both trying to work their phones, get the leaders of the Pentagon, on the phone, get DOJ leaders on the phone, anybody that has armed troops basically or the equivalent of SWAT teams to get them down to the Capitol to stop what is happening. And because there’s rioters in the building at that point, we document this scene, everybody’s watched some of Nancy Pelosi has video that was shot from when she was in lockdown. We document a broader aperture that shows basically, that came to a point where Mitch McConnell had so lost his patience that he leaves the room that the Republicans are in goes to find the Democrats says, we have to work together here. We can’t rely on President Trump anymore; they are not going to come and save us. We have to do this ourselves. And so that’s one of two what I lay out as two striking moments that day, you have, you know, Republican leaders finally saying, We can’t be with this guy anymore. We have to work together, the Congress, unified Congress, both parties matters more here than whatever fealty we have to Trump. We’re done with this. And that, in a way is an indictment of what came in just days afterwards, as the party leaders started to just come right back, crawling back to kiss the ring. There was this moment, we documented in painstaking detail of just how done they were and how there was this moment of unity. And the other episode that I just add on to that is a couple hours later, after they get back to the Capitol. And they go back to try to certify the Electoral College results on the floor. There is a band of rank and file Democrats who come to Pelosi saying we wrote articles of impeachment, let’s put them on the floor now, let his strike while the iron is hot. Republicans are hopping mad; they will vote for this. And she box, she talks in the video about wanting to throw punches at President Trump’s she’s presented with a constitutional punch to throw at him on a silver platter. And she pulls it because it’s not the way things are done. And in the several days that transpire as she resists the pressure to impeach for a second time. The Republicans start thinking they start doing their political calculation, they stopped feeling that anger that we document so clearly on the sixth. And this goes to the point Rachael was making before about the moments matter, you know, grabbing the moments of history when there is that opportunity matters. And it was lost by leaders of both parties, even though it was clearly there in the moment.
Andy Slavitt 13:44
Your national security reporter what was going on inside the Department of Defense, and the people who were able to call up the National Guard but didn’t appear to be doing it.
Karoun Demirjian 13:54
Yeah, it seemed to be a little bit of a passing the hot potato for sort of a situation a terrifically honest of, you know, people looking towards well, you know, do they have the authority already? Or do I get the authority? It wasn’t clear. There’s also something that is just, I think, a kind of indictment of just the culture right now of the Department of Defense and all of this look, I as somebody who’s covered Capitol Hill for years and I’m covering the Pentagon could not sit here and say in confidence in full confidence that you know, if something like this happened again, or we’d be prepared for it next time I don’t frankly think that we would be.
Andy Slavitt 14:24
But why, why was secretary or acting secretary I think Miller and Millie you know they I mean they basically needed to get my understanding please either of you correct me with […] to give some authorization to National Guard. So we are at the ready from I believe Maryland and from Virginia to come in. They were desperately needed. We had 1000s of people storming the Capitol, storming actual offices picking up lecterns deprecating, I mean, like all this kind of stuff going on for all of us to see.
Karoun Demirjian 14:53
Like I wasn’t a pentagon reporter then I was still on the hill. But I would say in retrospect, what seems to have happened is it nobody wanted to take the full responsibility for making that call knowing that the President was in the mindset that he was in, and people who were ready to do it. You mentioned Mark Milley, Mark Milley is not in the chain of command. He’s an adviser to the President on the military issues as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He’s not the Secretary of the Army, he’s not the Secretary of Defense. Similarly, with Mike Pence, he finally did. He was the person that the congressional leaders were able to connect with and rouse and get to make that call saying send them in now. But even that was a message a method of using his influence, not actually his position, and being able to order those troops and the people who were put in place to order the troops were people that Trump chose in those positions. And they didn’t step out with the full force that they potentially could have mustered in that moment, in order to take advantage of your order in order to step into the void basically, they’ve been created in the confusion and the chaos that was occurring at the Capitol.
Andy Slavitt 16:21
Rachael, we just, were talking about Vice President Pence and how he had to step outside the chain of command to call the defense department and say get on this, we’re at risk, people’s lives are in danger. The leadership was calling […] asking me to do this because it knew that Trump wouldn’t. What else? Can you tell us that we learned about pence that day?
Rachael Bade 16:41
Yeah, I mean, like he was clearly in the, in the capital in the basement, as has been reported, with his staff. And, you know, we heard and we record this in the book that, you know, when the leader started calling him and asking him to do something to help them move the National Guard, you know, they had heard that there was a high level meeting going on in the White House about the chain of command and like, what, what was necessary to actually move the guard. And this is sort of one of those things that hasn’t really been talked about. I mean, the January 6th committee has done a lot of investigative work and, you know, shined a really strong spotlight on the White House, but you know, what happened with the chain of command that day? I mean, like, there seems to be a lot of sort of just a muddled understanding about, you know, whether Prince was allowed to give that order, or did he step out of bounds. Obviously, he saved the country, he helped save the country. But when leaders were getting stonewalled in these their respective Democrat and Republican rooms, they didn’t know who to call and the he was obviously their last resort. But yeah, in terms of stonewalling, I would just add that, you know, McConnell, we talked in the book about how McConnell, he was trying to get a hold of the Pentagon for a long time from Fort McNair, and he kept getting put on hold. It’s just, it’s, it’s crazy. I mean, we have a scene in the book about Republicans being like, how is the GOP Leader of the Senate being put on hold in the middle of a national emergency like this?
Andy Slavitt 18:09
Yeah, like we’re have no practice that what happens when the violence comes from inside the house, right, to pick a horror film? The calls coming from inside the house? Like, what do we do? And as we talk about McConnell, and we talk about McCarthy, and we talk about pence, and sort of the general narrative has been that, you know, Pence showed bravery on that day, that his loyalty to the Constitution may have been stronger than his loyalty to the President. And that as a principal person, that’s where he was. Is that the right narrative? McCarthy clearly angry the you talk about, as others have the comments he made to the president live, the anti-science, something that was said to the Supreme Court, asking that the election results be overturned in of course, and since I’m trying to minimize things and get closer to Marjorie Taylor Greene, and then McConnell may be the one who, you know, from your book, you really had stopped talking to President Trump even before then. And you know, he’s now in the do very squarely in the rhino camp. irony of ironies, right for you guys who’ve been watching the hill for so long. Are those the right ways to think about the narrative or are there other important things?
Rachael Bade 19:25
Yeah, just to start with pens. I mean, obviously, what he did on the sixth of January in terms of ignoring, you know, Trump’s demand to ignore the Electoral College votes and also making that call to, you know, the National Guard to get them to the Capitol, both of those very heroic, and should be commended. We have reporting in our book, however, that you know, his heroism or his bravery, I guess you would say there’s a limit to it. There was a limit to it. We report that Jaime Raskin’s team during the second impeachment was trying really hard to get One of […] aides who was with him in the capitol to testify that day in the trial. […] was hearing from Senate Republicans that if they got more information about what Trump was doing that day, and sort of what was happening behind the scenes with Secret Service, that they would be open to a conviction. And so Raskin was desperately trying to get Mark Short, who’s Pence longtime chief of staff who was with him to take the stand. And Pence said, no, we have reporting in the book, he said, that even if Raskin were to subpoena them, they would take it to court. That could drag out for weeks, which ultimately scared the Democrats, when they decided to cave on this instead of actually, you know, calling their bluff. But you know, it just sort of underscores how, yes, Pence did what he did that did that day on the 6th, but there were limits to how far he was willing to go to check and hold Trump accountable and potentially keep him from running for office again. As for McCarthy, I mean, we show in the book How McCarthy has had this sort of crisis of conscience right after the election, basically, from the time that Trump started talking about this big lie through January 6th, and through the second impeachment, and we show how McCarthy knows what’s right and wrong, right? He has these gut reactions in these critical moments, where he says, I’m not going to do something that I think is bad, but then he sort of gets browbeaten by Trump aides into doing it, for example, the amicus brief that his members were filing at the Supreme Court to try to say, We want you to throw out the election results of these key swing states that Biden one. McCarthy talked about it with Liz Cheney, and he agreed that it was bad for democracy. And it could cause problem. He told her he was not going to do it. And then right after the signatories come out of the House Republicans who had signed this document, McCarthy was not on it. He gets browbeaten by Trump supporters, and he ends up saying, oh, sorry, technical mistake. My name should have been on there.
Andy Slavitt 22:02
Pretty consequential decision, right?
Rachael Bade 22:04
Oh, absolutely. I mean, absolutely. He’s basically greenlighting his entire conference to take a position that would, you know, in some ways, inspire the Republican base to believe the big lie and ultimately lead to what happened on January 6. And even after the violence happened on the sixth, we report that he had this meeting in his office, when he came back to the capitol where he thought, Okay, this was bad. Maybe we should drop our objections to the electoral college, he had spoken to Liz Cheney, about it while he was in lockdown and told her I’m going to, quote, do the right thing. Cheney sits in the front of the chamber when they come back into session. And just to support McCarthy from his break from Trump, because she expects that what he’s that’s what he’s going to do. But he gets up instead, and continues to lead more than 100 House Republicans to continue to object to the Electoral College, even after violence.
Andy Slavitt 22:55
One of the most fascinating decisions ever. I mean, […], eat your heart out, right? You’ve literally just been attacked the life of you and your entire caucus and their staffs. And you’re on record. I mean, people don’t know Kevin McCarthy has plenty, not just of moderate friends. He has plenty of Democratic friends in the house, probably as many as most Republicans do. Because he works out of the house gym, and he’s sort of buddy-buddy with everybody. And yet here he was, without the conviction, having just seen everyone’s lives threatened making a decision to put it behind him that evening.
Rachael Bade 23:35
Yeah, not only that, but you know, he went he actually physically ran from the rioters. I mean, we have a scene in the book where his secret service takes him out and his whole staff follow and they can hear the people coming down the hall and banging on the doors. And they literally run down the stairs and through the Capitol, and yell at people who don’t know what’s going on to follow them like we’re escaping. So yes, running from the mob. And still he does this. And then there’s, you know, in terms of impeachment, we write in the book about how, you know, he was so torn about what had happened that he told his other members, basically they wouldn’t be punished for how they vote on this. Jaime Herrera Butler who as you know, plays a central role in the second impeachment.
Andy Slavitt 24:18
Explain who she is, please.
Rachael Bade 24:20
Okay. She is a moderate Republicans from Washington State, actually a very close friend of Kevin McCarthy. They have a good relationship, he helped her fundraise. In the first impeachment, McCarthy actually convinces her we report not to vote for the first impeachment she had problems with what Donald Trump was doing in Ukraine and McCarthy is able to sort of spin her up on procedural complaints about what the Democrats are doing to keep her in mind. Fast forward to after January 6th, she calls McCarthy again for like Councilman advice about how she’s going to vote on the second impeachment, and instead of whipping her to vote against impeachment, he ends up using it as a therapy session. And he tells her about this call he had with Trump on January 6th, where the President sided with the mob and basically just pours out all these frustrations with her. She gets off the phone and decides that is the thing that is going to have her make her vote to impeach Trump. And so she bucks the party and she votes to impeach. But we’re talking about McCarthy here. And it’s important to note that just a couple of weeks later, after she went public, and told people about that conversation to sort of say, This is why I voted to impeach Donald Trump. McCarthy calls her in his office. And B rates her to the point that she cries. And again, I mentioned that they had a close relationship. She shoots back, you know, what do you want me to do lie? Like, I did what I thought was right. And he basically says, how can you thank me for everything I’ve done for you. I alone holding the republican party together after January 6, I alone and making sure Trump doesn’t go after people like you. And it’s just very much a breakdown of their relationship all because this woman followed what her conscience, right?
Andy Slavitt 26:08
She said, I’m doing I’m doing the right thing. And he said, I’m doing the political thing.
Karoun Demirjian 26:12
But there’s this fundamental misunderstanding on the part of Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, who you mentioned a moment ago, and I don’t want to give him short shrift. But, you know, in what Rachel was just describing, where they have this false sense of that they can control what happens under President Trump and they operate as if that they can actually control what they’re going to be able to put him in a bottle and make him go away. And they can manage it.
Andy Slavitt 26:36
Well, and they were getting something for it. I mean, McConnell was getting judges. McConnell is getting judges. So there was a they did a deal. Yeah. Because they saw this empty vessel, right, they, you know, so to speak, where they felt like they could fill it up with their, their policy ideas.
Karoun Demirjian 26:53
Completely and because they became so addicted to that sort of a relationship they failed to see at the point at which they were losing any sort of gain to get from it and kept thinking, you know, McConnell said publicly, like Trump is going to go away, his presidency is over. It’s not going to we just have to get this behind us. That was fundamentally not true. And it came from an own a misunderstanding of their own ability to exert control over things, and yet at this exact same time, is complete abdication of what they could control, which was to be a leader for their own people.
Andy Slavitt 27:24
So play the thought exercise, what would have happened if McConnell would have voted for impeachment?
Karoun Demirjian 27:29
If McConnell votes for impeachment, you get Rob Portman, if McConnell votes for impeachment, you get a whole bunch of Republican senators who are moderates who are willing to call foul, you probably get the mike rounds is of this world, right? You get the people that you don’t think of as being maybe the firebrands like Lindsey Graham, but who have votes that count for just as much. You saw the David Cassidy vote flip. Right. There’s a lot of other people like him in the Senate, there’s actually enough of those Republicans to add up to potentially 10 More that they would have needed in that final vote. And you also would have gotten even if you had if you’d had McConnell on that procedural vote, at least set sort of the momentum and the mindset and the tempo for what they would have rolled into.
Andy Slavitt 28:10
Yeah. But I think what I hear you saying, is that McConnell, if he had made the decision to back impeachment, he would have gotten more support. And I think, you know, to refresh the audience, you need 67?
Karoun Demirjian 28:26
67, which would have meant 17 Republicans at that time.
Andy Slavitt 28:30
Which would have been 17Republicans. Do you think there’s ever two votes there, do either one of you think there were 17 votes to be had?
Rachael Bade 28:35
Oh, that one? Yes, absolutely. I mean, it would have probably been more than that. If McConnell had stuck with his that, you know, he didn’t even believe the argument he gave publicly for voting to acquit. But the real reason is the obvious follow up question is like then why didn’t do it? Right. I had a McConnell person say to me one time when we were reporting on this book, that McConnell more than anything, sees himself as the leader of a caucus. And the idea of taking a vote against the majority of his members on such a critical issue, like impeachment, was just something he couldn’t stomach.
Andy Slavitt 29:14
I think you wrote; did you write that he would have said he would have had to resign the chairmanship, or the leadership of Senate leadership, at the very least?
Rachael Bade 29:22
Yeah, Lindsey Graham was actually saying that publicly. So, you know, McConnell, decides he’s not going to try to whip his numbers to get enough numbers to convict him by the president. He’s going to sort of hold back and not be a leader at all. And in the meantime, you have allies like Lindsey Graham, who sort of fill in this void, and are saying publicly, I think Ron Johnson was another one that if McConnell votes to convict that he can no longer lead the party. So basically, he’s faced with this decision, that he can either vote to convict and retire, or he can stay with his party and hope that Trump goes away and he sort of he goes with the latter and there was a point right after this Second impeachment where McConnell really believed that Trump was going to just sort of fade into the background. Clearly he was very wrong about that Trump is as relevant as ever, and is causing a lot of problems for McConnell, in terms of, you know, races in these various states supporting candidates who probably can’t win. So obviously, Trump is still a thorn in his side, he really miscalculated on that.
Andy Slavitt 30:51
I want to turn to the Democrats now. Because I think what you write about what was going on with the Democrats is really kind of a new contribution to this whole dialogue. Maybe we’ll start by playing a clip from January 6th, this is a clip of incoming Speaker Pelosi and majority leader Schumer. Okay, so just a couple of things, maybe throwaway comments, first of all, amazed, I’m always amazed at the poise of Nancy Pelosi. In that moment, even when she says she’s gonna punch the guy she says it with, with such kind of poise. And there’s also something about the two of them together. That’s so SNL skinnable, that I don’t and I don’t know what it is, but take us back, certainly to that day, but even before then, around how Pelosi was thinking about the pros and cons of impeachment, the realistic nature of impeachment, and what she was trying to do and trying not to do.
Karoun Demirjian 32:34
Look, Pelosi is poised, she is hung on as one of the most recognizable longest serving most successful leaders have a division of the Capitol. That’s undeniable. She’s got a history that also includes a lot of serious policy wins, we wouldn’t have Obamacare without Nancy Pelosi, we wouldn’t have a lot of Biden’s agenda with Nancy, Nancy Pelosi. She knows how to work people and keep people in line. And yes, so the poise that she’s exhibiting in that moment, is characteristic and that is very real. And that’s all part of her legacy. The other part of Nancy Pelosi, though that is true, is that she came of age when it comes to things like impeachment, as a lawmaker during the Clinton years, right, she is afraid of if you flex the oversight muscle too much. Or if you go after a president on impeachment, it can work like a boomerang, and it can hurt the party that comes for the king. And she’s looking at the political landscape and saying this is messy. I don’t like this. Yes, I know Trump is bad. Yes, I can see that there’s a groundswell within my own party, starting from these more liberal members than the center of her party that are in the judiciary committee, who knows their con law, but don’t necessarily read the map the way that she does, and they’re agitating for impeachment. The second the mullah report comes out, they are pushing, pushing, pushing, building their numbers getting her to try pushing her to try to take this on. Jerry Nadler from the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee is trying to help and she is basically standing like the one woman dam trying to hold back the tide that is going to become overwhelming, that will become overwhelming at the point at which she starts to lose the moderates they go to and she can’t really hold it back anymore. So she has to acquiesce and let the impeachment happen. But that doesn’t change who Nancy Pelosi is and her own thinking about this. She never gets fully on board. You saw this play out through the impeachment. It’s like we got to the point where she’s going to say yes, we’re going to impeach first of all her opening impeachment speech was not that declarative. It was saying we’re going to continue to, it was confusing sometimes listen to, but even after she’s embraced impeachment, she’s holding them back saying that you cannot investigate anything other than Ukraine. You have to finish this before Christmas, because I am not going to keep talking about impeachment when my party is going to the 2020 election cycle. So it’s saying I’m going to use the strongest power that I have under the Constitution, but I’m going to use it really weakly so that I don’t actually like test the full strength of it. And the thing is, and we can talk about this in more detail in a second because I haven’t talked to Blue Streak but her mindset on that does not even really change after January 6 happens. Yes. She talks about how I’d like to punch him. I don’t even care if I go to jail. That’s a really good political message. But again, she is presented with an opportunity mere hours later to level a constitutional punch at him to knock him out with an impeachment that would have, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that in that moment, on that night, it would have gotten more than 10 Republicans. And she pulls that punch, she walks away from it, she doesn’t, she shuts down her own party again. So again, she’s great at the political messaging about what she will do. And when it comes to actually flexing the constitutional muscle, she’s afraid to flex it because she’s afraid that it might blow back somehow. And this results in lost opportunities that we document in a lot of detail.
Andy Slavitt 35:35
Can I just say that, like in 2017, I went to present to the Democratic caucus, and then Minority Leader Pelosi has requested and I went to present on health care. And you know, at the end of this conversation, Pelosi asked the caucus for questions and there were a few questions. And more than one member stood up at that meeting and said it’s time to impeach the president. Literally, he’d been in office for several months. And yes, there were there was a monuments issues and so on. But in some respect, like I think the culture within that caucus was, it’s always been Pelosi trying to protect Democrats from themselves. And I’m not suggesting to your point that a line wasn’t crossed when the case was made. And I think in those cases, she did it. But I think she also had a political instinct. And correct me if you disagree, that she had to appear to be reluctant, and had to actually be reluctant to that it’s not a tool that she wanted to set a precedent for using for, you know, scrapes and bruises. Right, but only for major things. Because if she looked like she was too hungry, it would look politicized that she wanted the case to be stronger than some of her members did. And I think she also just felt like some of our members in like, 8020 districts, right. We’re like, why not impeach him, even though there’s no possible way to get votes in the Senate. So I kind of understand where she was coming from, at least up to a point.
Rachael Bade 36:59
It definitely wasn’t just for optics, though, to the point that Carmen was making. I mean, we have reporting in the book about how she had told her members privately in his latest July of 2019, that I don’t care if all House Democrats are supporting impeachment, I’m not going to do it.
Andy Slavitt 37:15
So what’s the why behind that? She wouldn’t shake the man’s hand during, so we don’t really I don’t think she voted for him.
Rachael Bade 37:20
But she likes him. No, no. We talked in the book about how she privately like likened him to a skunk and you know, she thought he was unworthy of the office, Yes, but it all comes back to the politics and this political boomerang that she feared. I mean, we have a magazine story up in Politico right now, Politico magazine, that takes part an excerpt from the book where Pelosi in June of 2019, went down to the skiff, this sort of secure facility in the house basement to read classified materials that they had just gotten from Bill Barr. And these were materials that obviously the public hadn’t seen. You know, even after seeing the nearly 500 Page Mueller report, and she reads in this document that Muller’s investigators thought Trump had perjured himself, basically seeing just how far Trump went in terms of trying to obstruct justice. And you know, after she reads it, she asks a staffer, who was in the skiff is this impeachable? And everybody turns to this staffer? And he says, Yes, ma’am, it is. And even after that, in June, she spent all of July and August fighting Jerry Nadler saying, we’re not going to do this Chairman Jerry Nadler, he’s a Judiciary Chairman. He got to the point that he was so frustrated that he tried to trick her into impeachment through these various legal filings that they were filing to try to enforce their subpoenas. And then he went out and just declared that the house was in impeachment. In August of that year, well, before the Ukraine narrative broke, by the way, against Pelosi as well. And so like, there’s just all these mutinies happening, to push her to push her to push her. It wasn’t just an act that she didn’t want to do it. She didn’t want to do it. And the thing that forced her hand was this op ed that a lot of people will remember, after the Ukraine, news started breaking, there was a group of frontliners with national security backgrounds, people would work in the CIA, FBI, former military folks to who started crafting this op ed where they were going to say it’s time to impeach the president. That was the thing that forced her hand. She knew that after that happened, that she couldn’t hold back because these were the people that you know, if they said it was time, it was gonna be time and so ultimately, she gets pushed into it. And again, that fear stays with her and it sort of influences every strategy decision in the first impeachment, whether it was not going after John Bolton for his testimony, whether it was you know, not wanting to take the time for due process in terms of the president. All these different things, the calendar, it all influences what happens and just as she feared Trump emerges stronger after that first impeachment.
Andy Slavitt 40:04
So, all this leads me to conclusions. And I invite you to kind of give you both the last word you tell me if my conclusions are right or what your conclusions are. But I think there’s two things that appear to me. One, is it, nobody wanted to hold the knife. Everybody probably wanted him gone at various times and to various degrees. But everybody wanted someone else to do it. Second conclusion, probably, in retrospect, the biggest mistake, because it caused some of the thinking around the first decision is that everybody underestimated his staying power. People assumed that if he lost reelection, that the case would take care of itself. In other words, people, both Democrats and Republicans who’ve been who’ve said, look, we just want him gone. I don’t care about anything else, we just want him out of our lives, assumed that they could do that without touching the knife, so to speak. So that’s where I land after listening to you and seeing the committee hearings and all of this. And obviously, there’s some very few and notable exceptions like Liz Cheney, like Adam Kinzinger, and a few others, but I’ll turn it to both of you for a quick last word. Maybe starting with you, Rachael.
Rachael Bade 41:21
You’re right on both points. Obviously. Even McCarthy told people after the second impeachment that, you know, Trump is going to fade away. He told people privately; I’m just going to make friends with him at Mar a Lago to sort of keep him off your back. I mean, we all talk about how that trip that McCarthy made down to mar a Lago to kiss the ring was very much sort of the beginning of Trump’s, Trump coming back and rebuilding his brand, and Republicans feeling comfortable embracing him. But even McCarthy in that moment only did so because he thought Trump was going to be fading from the headlines and quietly, eventually go away. So yes, that has 100% proved wrong. As for, you know, nobody wants to hold the knife. It’s clear that, you know, even Democrats, maybe they were willing to hold it for five seconds. But then they quickly dropped it before they did the deed, right. We didn’t get into this much. But it wasn’t just Pelosi, who, you know, sort of tamped down the second impeachment. We talked in the book about Chuck Schumer and his office putting pressure on Jamie Raskin and his team to sort of cave before they had made a full strong case to the public when Trump was at His weakest moment, basically trying to get them not to call witnesses during the trial. And then the White House also basically turning their backs on Jamie Raskin and his team when they wanted them to help gather evidence to turn the country against the president. So I mean, both of your conclusions are absolutely right. It’s almost like a Shakespearean tragedy. And that’s why I think, you know, for our book, there’s a lot of Trump books out there. But no trump books have no books, I really looked at the Congress that failed to check him. And so I think I hope people pick it up, because I think we have a story that has really not been told, the full story has not been told. And it’s important because this guy could be in the White House again, and people are gonna want to know, how the hell did we get there?
Andy Slavitt 43:22
Karoun, last word for you?
Karoun Demirjian 43:24
Sure. Yes, I think you’re right, that there’s a fundamental misunderstanding, wrong mindset of how much you control President Trump, whether it’s at the ballot box and making him leave, you know, the public consciousness, clearly that did not happen, whether that’s in his everyday motions and how far he’ll go. Clearly that didn’t happen. Those are miscalculations by the Democrats and the Republicans. And I like what you’re saying about nobody wanting to hold the knife, I guess I would have a slightly different metaphor there. Which is that, you know, look, in every story, right? In every story where there were looking for a hero to save everybody, the hero almost always has to go through some level of sacrifice in order to do the right thing. And when at the end of the day, Rachel was talking about six Shakespearean actors and dramas, I’m gonna go a lot more lowbrow for a second because the thing that just popped into my head as we were talking, the plot of independence day trying to save the world and the planet in Washington DC from the aliens, right? Is it the president and the fleet of airplanes that can take the noble flight and save them and come the home and cheer? No, it’s the guy who has to basically go on a suicide mission and blow himself up to save the world. Democrats were not willing to sacrifice their arm or their hand or potentially themselves as politicians in order to be the person to take the hit, to do what they wanted to do, or at least to say if not the country from Trump, impeachment from being cheapened for the next time, right to keep it as the constitutional weapon at the strength that it had to be to maybe be deployed at a later date and time where it was a more perfect time to do it. That would have cost them political time on the calendar. They were afraid because they misjudged what they could do to control Trump. So these are related points. You know what they were going to lose as a result and they were unwilling to emerge from it scathed and solely, because at the end of the day, they were most concerned with being able to score the political win. And so they couldn’t sacrifice the hand that held that knife. And I think that is why, you know, this didn’t go all the way. And I think that’s why Rachel and I have identified so many of these, these moments and these missed opportunities, it really comes down to, you know, we’re talking about matters of the Republic, we’re talking about institutions, we’re talking about constitutional safeguards, but we are talking about people wielding them and people who have the same sorts of fears and flaws and foibles, and that those matter, and it’s missed. It’s at the end of the day, you know, it’s an ordinary story almost about an extraordinary thing that had it not been for a few extraordinary moments might have gone a different way.
Andy Slavitt 45:47
Interesting way to look at it. Karoun Demirjian, Rachael Bade, thank you so much for coming up on Friday conversation in the bubble. We will have a link to be able to look at your book, which you said has a lot of things in that you won’t find in other places. Have a great weekend.
Rachael Bade 46:04
Thanks. You too. Yeah, thanks for having us on.
Andy Slavitt 46:20
Let me tell you what we have coming next week. A very excited to have Derek chalet on the show on Monday. Derek is a senior counselor to Tony Blinken, the Secretary of State, political calls him the man in Blinken’s ear. And I want to get into with him, the OPEC oil cuts Saudi Arabia, how that’s helping Putin in and what the US is doing about it, as well as a number of other topics. It’s a really rare conversation. Cody Keenan, on Wednesday from the Obama administration. Next Friday, we’re gonna have a conversation around ballot initiatives impacting reproductive rights, and then a whole salad week after that leading up to the election. Okay, we’ll look forward to talking to you next week. But I want you to have a great weekend.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.