A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, December 15, 2019 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" starts right now.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Abuse of power, obstruction of Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Today is a solemn and sad day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: For only the fourth time in history, members of Congress vote to impeach a president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To use the power of impeachment on this nonsense is an embarrassment to this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: The divide partisan, the debate bitter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): We have an ongoing crime. We have a crime in progress.
REP. DOUG COLLINS (R-GA): This is the kangaroo court that we're talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: But as the full House moves toward a final vote this week, the parties coming together on trade and defense. What does that say about the politics of impeachment, the Senate trial, and Trump's prospects in 2020?
Our exclusive guests this morning, the Democratic chairs leading the charge for impeachment, Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff, plus Texas Senator Ted Cruz on the GOP's strategy for a Senate trial.
And Trump ally Boris Johnson wins big in Great Britain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We did it. We pulled it off, didn't we?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that Conservative landslide a warning for Democrats? Insight and analysis from our powerhouse roundtable.
We will break down the politics, smoke out the spin, the facts that matter this week.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."
Here now, chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."
For the first 200 years of our history, only two American presidents faced impeachment. This week, the House will vote to impeach for the second time in just 21 years, all but certain to approve two articles against Donald Trump, almost to the day Bill Clinton faced a similar fate in December 1998.
And like Clinton, Trump is all but certain to be acquitted along party lines. Historians will weigh what that says about the presidents we choose, the actions they’ve taken and the times we live in.
For now, for us, the job is figuring out what it means, what to do, as we approach a national election with an impeached president on the ballot for the first time in American history.
And, this morning, we begin with the two Democrats leading impeachment in the House, Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff and the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler.
And, Chairman Nadler, let me begin with you this morning.
When you first became chair of the Judiciary Committee, you set a pretty high bar for impeachment. Here's what you told me back in March:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADLER: Before you impeach somebody, you have to persuade the American public that it ought to happen. You have to persuade enough of the opposition party voters, or the Trump voters, that you're not just trying to steal...
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a very high bar.
NADLER: Yes, it is a very bar -- that you're not just trying to steal the last election, to reverse the results of the last election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Republican voters overwhelmingly impose impeachment right now. Haven't you failed your own test?
NADLER: Well, I don't think so. The polling shows that about 70 percent of the American people approve of this. But, more importantly...
STEPHANOPOULOS: They approve -- they say that something is wrong. They don't improve impeachment, though. Seventy percent...
NADLER: But more -- but, more importantly, this is a continuing threat to our -- to the integrity of our elections now. This is not a one-off. Impeachment is not a punishment for past behavior. This president conspired -- sought foreign interference in the 2016 election. He is openly seeking foreign interference in the 2020 election. And he poses a continuing threat to our national security and to the integrity of our elections, to the -- to our democratic system itself. We cannot permit that to continue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's Chairman -- that's Chairman Nadler's position, Chairman Schiff.But, apparently, right now, you haven't persuaded a majority of Republicans that it's worthy of impeachment. And back in March, you also warned against that. You said: "The only thing worse than putting the country through the trauma of impeachment is putting the country through the trauma of a failed impeachment."
If President Trump is overwhelmingly acquitted in the Senate, is that a failure?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): No, it isn't a failure. At least, it's not a failure in the sense of our constitutional duty in the House. And I will tell you what changed my mind, George, because you're right. I resisted going down this road towards impeachment. But it was two things. It was the discovery of the most egregious conduct to date. It was one thing with the president invited foreign interference as a candidate, when he couldn't use the power of his office to make it so.
It was another when, as president of the United States, he withheld hundreds of millions of dollars to coerce an ally, betray our national security, and try to cheat in the next election. That was not something we could turn away from.
But it was one more fact, George, that I think made it inexorable. And that is the fact that it was the day after Bob Mueller testified, the day after Donald Trump felt that he was beyond accountability for his first misconduct, that he was back on the phone, this time with President Zelensky, trying to get that country to help him cheat in the next election.
That told me, this president believes he is above the law and accountable to no one, and that this road was necessary. And I think it very much is.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And let me -- let me build on that point right there, because I wanted to get your reaction to the fact that -- reports that Rudy Giuliani was actually at the White House reporting back to the president on his trip to Ukraine, saying he was acting as the president's lawyer, collecting more information on the bidens and Burisma, and he visited with the president the day after the House vote on impeachment.
SCHIFF: Well, this is exactly the problem, and that is that the misconduct hasn't stopped, that the president is out there on the White House lawn just a month or two ago saying that he still wants Ukraine to do this investigation, that he would like China to investigate the Bidens. The president's emissary was in Ukraine just this past week once again trying to conduct the same sham investigation, trying to get Ukrainian help to cheat in the next election.
So this misconduct goes on, the threat to our election integrity coming up goes on. It's a clear and present danger, I think, the our democracy, and not something that we can turn away from simply because the Republicans in the House refuse to do their duty, and continuing to put the person of the president above their personal obligation.
NADLER: This is a crime in progress against the constitution and against the American democracy. We cannot take the risk that the next election will be corrupted through foreign interference solicited by the president, which he is clearly trying to do. It goes to the heart of our democracy. It was the heart of what the constitution meant by high crimes and misdemeanors for the president to engage in self-dealing for his own benefit to put himself above the country and to threaten the integrity of our elections, upon which everything else depends. It is a total threat. And we must meet that threat.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We are seeing the first signs of a political backlash. Your colleagues, Democratic colleague in the House Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey is now suggesting he's going to switch parties, likely to announce that before the vote in the House this week. Of course, he opposed impeachment, the only one who has publicly opposed it so far.
NADLER: Well, first of all, what he's reacting to is public polling that shows he can't get renominated. His electorate in his district is 24 percent to renominate him and 60 percent to nominate somebody else.
But more to that point, this is not political. We should not be looking at those things. This is the defense of our democracy. Do we stay a democratic republic or do we turn into a tyranny?
There are two questions that are implicated in all this. One, is it OK to solicit foreign interference for your election campaign? Is it OK to use the power of the presidency to coerce a foreign government into helping you in the election, and to subvert the honesty of the election? And secondly, is it OK to order everyone not to testify in order to cover it up?
Those are the two articles of impeachment. If the answer to either of those questions is it's OK, we will not have a democracy anymore.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chairman Schiff, I know that Speaker Pelosi said she's not whipping this vote, members are free to vote their conscience. We know that the Republicans are targeting 31 Democrats from Trump districts. Are you confident you have the majority to impeach the president?
SCHIFF: I am confident. I'm not whipping this either. I don't think anyone is. This is a real vote of conscience. The real question is, why won't the Republicans do their constitutional duty?
What has really changed between now and Watergate isn't the nature of the president's conduct, if anything, this president's conduct is far worse than anything Nixon did, far more sweeping in its obstruction of accountability, far more damaging to our national security than the coverup that was Watergate. The question is, why are Republicans placing this president above their oath of office?
I don't think any of us have any question that had Barack Obama engaged in the activity, the conduct which is the subject these articles of impeachment, every one of these Republicans would be voting to impeach him. And you know something, I have to hope to hell, George, if it were Barack Obama, I would vote to impeach him.
This is, I think, the crux of the matter, which is something the framers were also deeply concerned about, and that is an excess of what they would call factionalism, but we would call extreme partisanship where it is more important to one party that the president of their party remain in office than what he does to the country, and that I think puts us deeply at risk.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's look ahead to the senate trial. Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, was out speaking about how he's going to handle the trial this week on Fox.
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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Everything I do during this, I'm coordinating with White House counsel. There will be no difference between the president's position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: This is what I see coming -- happening today is just a partisan nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's pretty clear, Chairman Nadler, that Republicans in the senate, at least the leadership, is going to be in lockstep with the president on this. Is there anything you can do about that?
NADLER: Well, you know, the senators -- the constitution prescribes a special oath for the senators when they sit as a trial in impeachment. They have to pledge to do impartial justice. And here you have the majority of the senate, in effect the foreman of the jury, saying he's going to work hand in glove with the defense attorney.
And that's in violation of the oath that they're about to take, and it’s a complete subversion of the constitutional scheme. We have done -- we will have done our duty in the House to protect the national security and the -- of our country and the integrity of our democratic process, which is what is really at stake here.
I hope that despite what you just heard, that they will do their duty and will look into this, and will see the uncontroverted facts. Remember, these facts are basically uncontroverted.
The president solicited, he blackmailed a foreign government into giving aid to his election, using funds that were appropriated for military aid to a country under invasion by Russia, and there's virtually no controversy about that. And then he ordered everyone not to testify in order to cover it up. This is a subversion of the constitutional order, a subversion of our democracy. And if he gets away with it, future presidents of either party will -- will be able to really change the nature of our government.
This changes the nature of our government. Do we have a constitutional democracy, or do we have a monarchy where the president is unaccountable? That's what at stake here.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chairman Schiff, the president has had different views on what he wants and what he expects in the trial. He's talked about having a long trial, calling witnesses including perhaps you. But now, it appears that Republicans are coalescing behind a strategy for a short trial with no witnesses.
Do you as a potential House impeachment manager feel the need to call witnesses in the Senate trial?
SCHIFF: I think there are any number of witnesses that should be called in a Senate trial, and many witnesses the American people like to hear from that the administration has refused to make available. And perhaps of equal if not greater importance are the thousands and thousands of documents that the administration refuses to turn over.
I would hope that every senator of both parties would like to see the documentary evidence. They’d like to hear from these witnesses that haven't testified, and I would urge Mitch McConnell to start negotiating with Chuck Schumer to make sure that those senators have a full record.
But I think we see clearly what's going on here with the comments of Lindsey Graham and others, and that is they don't want the American people to see the facts. They realize what's been presented in the House is already overwhelming, but there's more damning evidence to be had, and they don't want the American people to see that, and I, you know, think that's disgraceful.
But I hope that the senators will insist on getting the documents, on hearing from the witnesses, on making up their own mind even if there are some senators who have decided out of their blind allegiance to this president that he can do nothing wrong, that he can shoot somebody in the middle of the street, and they’d still support him. That there, these other senators, I hope they fulfill their constitutional obligation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chairman Nadler, do you have any evidence that any Republican senators are prepared to break ranks?
NADLER: Well, I don't know, and I’m not canvassing Republican senators. But I would agree with Chairman Schiff. It's their duty to look through the evidence and to reach the appropriate conclusion, in order to vindicate and to safeguard American democracy.
It is disgraceful that the president refused to let people testify, refused to hand over any documents, and the Senate should certainly demand to see the documents that have been with withheld, get the witnesses.
If they don't think that there is sufficient evidence on the record -- and I think the record is overwhelming -- but if they don't think there is sufficient evidence on the record, they should demand the testimony of people like Secretary of State Pompeo and Mulvaney and others, John Bolton, who have under the president's instructions, have refused to testify.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally Chairman Schiff, before we go, I do want to ask you a question about the Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI investigation into the Russia investigation. As you know, it found that there were significant errors, 17 significant errors and omission in that FISA surveillance application for Carter Page, and you’ve received some criticism because of your past claims that there were not any omissions.
"The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, I want to show it right now.
Mr. Schiff claimed DOJ met the rigor, transparency and evidentiary basis needed to meet FISA court standards. But Mr. Horowitz makes clear that FBI officials didn’t even tell senior Justice officials about the concerns and irregularities of its Page application.
Would the court have granted the warrants if it knew the whole story? We don't know.
Do you accept that your original judgments were wrong, and what can you do about it?
SCHIFF: Well, I certainly accept that two years later, 170 interviews later, and 2 million documents later, the inspector general found things that we didn't know two years ago. And I certainly concur with the inspector general’s conclusion that there need to be significant changes to the FISA process. We just didn't have that evidence available two years ago.
But I think equally important to those that have made the argument, including many that are fond of "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, that somehow this investigation was tainted from the start and properly begun, driven by political bias, that it was all essentially a deep state conspiracy, there was spying on the Trump campaign. All of that was debunked by the inspector general. "The Wall Street Journal" should spend a little more time talking about that in its editorial.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chairman Schiff, Chairman Nadler, thanks for your time this morning.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, the GOP response from Senator Ted Cruz, and later our powerhouse roundtable.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The director of the FBI, pal. So here's what I want you to tell every politician. If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: To the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: That’s the FBI Director Chris Wray back at his confirmation hearings in July 2017.
I want to bring in now, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican senator from Texas.
And I want to pick up there. You’re a member of the Judiciary Committee that have to confirm Christopher Wray.
And there seemed to be a consensus then that accepting foreign help in an election is wrong. Yet during the hearings, House Republicans defended President Trump's requests for foreign investigations into Joe Biden and the Democrats.
If it's wrong to accept foreign help in an election, why is it right to ask for it?
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Well, look, there's a difference between foreign interference of the kind Russia did, which was hacking into the election, creating fraudulent bots, actively trying to deceive people, and law enforcement investigation into -- into corruption. We cooperate with law enforcement with countries all over the earth.
And one of the central issues right at the heart of this discussion is on the face of the transcript with Zelensky, what President Trump is asking for is assistance with the U.S. government with investigating corruption. That is inherently within the authority of the president, the Department of Justice to do, and that is their responsibility to do.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator Cruz, as you know in that phone call, the president never mentions the word corruption. He talks about CrowdStrike. He talks about the Bidens. And back in September, you actually said that you wish the president didn't go down that road to look into the Bidens, to call for investigations into the Bidens. So, what's changed?
CRUZ: Well, look, what I said is there's an appearance of impropriety, and that allows opponents to exploit it, to turn it into the kind of circus we’ve seen. But what I also said is there is real prima facie evidence of corruption.
You take, for example, the Bidens. We know that Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, was receiving up to $83,000 a month to serve on the board of the largest natural gas company in Ukraine, Burisma. Eighty-three thousand dollars a month, that's a million dollars a year. That's nearly ten times as much as ExxonMobil pays its directors.
And Hunter Biden -- look, I’m from Houston. I know lots of people who serve on the board of natural gas companies. You know what they tend to have? They tend to have a background in geology and geophysics. They tend to know something about -- about actually drilling for natural gas.
Hunter Biden had none of that experience. But his dad, he was vice president of the United States, and we have Joe Biden on film publicly and proudly bragging about how he threatened Ukraine with withholding $1 billion in foreign aid unless they fired the prosecutor that was potentially prosecuting Burisma, the company on which his son sat on the board.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And --
CRUZ: Now, that's not just a little bit of evidence of corruption. That's serious evidence of corruption.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, as you know --
CRUZ: And I think the president was perfectly within his authority to say, you need to investigate that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, there have been investigations and there's no evidence of wrongdoing. The prosecutor was not looking into Joe Biden and Burisma at the time, and, Senator, the Vice President Biden --
CRUZ: Wait a second, George. Who is investigating it? When you say there's no evidence of wrongdoing -- Hunter Biden hasn't testified. On its face, there's a lot of smoke there. Whether that was corrupt at the end of the day, I don't know, but there's more than enough evidence to investigate corruption.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. And that investigation apparently is continuing now. The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani reporting back to the president. The president wants him to report to senators. As you heard, Chairman Nadler says that's a crime in progress.
CRUZ: So, look, Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff are interested in one thing which is their partisan attacks. You notice they have zero interest in any actual corruption. They don't want to know what happened during Burisma. In fact, they say, if you investigate what happened with Hunter Biden, that's a crime in progress. They have zero evidence. You brought up the inspector general report. Listen, two things happened this week of great consequence. Number one, the inspector general report which is unbelievably damning of the Department of Justice and FBI. The abuse of power that occurred there is stunning.
But number two, we actually saw the House of Representatives articles of impeachment, and their entire partisan case collapsed. For weeks and months, they have been promising evidence of criminal conduct. They abandoned all of that and admitted that the evidence doesn't support all of -- all of their attacks that have happened before.
I think this is the beginning of the end for this show trial that we’ve seen in the House. I think it's going to come to the Senate. We're going to have fair proceedings, and then it's not going anywhere because the facts aren't there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, just to be clear, then you think there is nothing wrong with the president continuing to ask and having his personal lawyer continuing to ask for investigations into Joe Biden and the Democrats?
CRUZ: I think it is perfectly within the authority of the president to investigate corruption, and to investigate corruption with allies. We're doing it every day. And, by the way, we did it every day under Barack Obama, under Bill Clinton, under George W. Bush.
The U.S. Justice Department cooperates with the justice departments -- when I was at DOJ, I flew to Rome to meet with the Council of Europe, to meet with justice departments all throughout Europe, focusing on cyber-crime. That's a big part of how you enforce the law.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you can cook up fraudulent attacks on your opponents. This would be a very different allegation if someone was say -- if the president had said, please concoct something that isn't real, that -- that would be qualitatively different.
That's not what the transcript says. The transcript says, investigate what happened. Find out what happened.
And the House Democrats, they don't want to find out what happened. They stopped Republicans from calling Hunter Biden. They wanted no witnesses who would say anything to disrupt their narrative. And it's a one-sided partisan narrative that I think a lot of the American people are frustrated with and are ready to move on.
STEPHANOPOULOS: House Republicans were in charge when the Biden revelations were first made and did -- chose not to investigate.
Also, you mentioned the Justice Department. William Barr, the attorney general, told NBC News this week that he didn't have it on his priority list, even though the president wanted to, to investigate this as well.
But I do want to move on to this -- to the Senate, Senate trial.
You heard both Chairman Nadler and Chairman Schiff respond to Senator McConnell's and Lindsey Graham's statement this week.
And I do want to put up the impeachment oath, the oath you're going to take before any potential Senate trial.
And it says: "I solemnly swear or affirm, as the case may be, that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment now pending, I will do impartial justice, according to the Constitution and the laws, so help me God."
Aren't the comments from Senator McConnell and Senator Graham indicating that they would be in violation of that oath?
CRUZ: Well, look, I -- I fully intend to follow by oath, and -- and -- but -- but the oath of a Senate juror, it has some similarities to a criminal trial, but it has some differences as well.
The framers understood that impeachment, particularly the impeachment of a president, is inherently a political exercise. Senators are not required, like jurors in a criminal trial, to be sequestered, not to talk to anyone, not to coordinate. There's no prohibition.
And, by the way, past trials, you look at the Clinton impeachment trials, the Senate Democrats were all talking with the Clinton White House. You look at this impeachment trial. The House Democrats are all talking with the Senate Democrats.
The -- this remains a political process. The framers knew what they were doing when they put it into the political branches. But there are also legal and constitutional standards to be followed.
And, George, if you go back three, four weeks, you remember there was a moment three, four weeks ago where every House Democrat began saying the word bribery over and over and over again. You -- I'm sure they said it on your show.
The reason is, the Democratic Campaign Committee did some polling, and the focus groups told them bribery polled really well. The people thought, ooh, bribery is bad. So their talking points that everyone used were bribery, bribery, bribery.
Well, fast forward to this week. This week, they have abandoned bribery. They don't allege bribery. There's no article of impeachment on bribery. Instead, what they're arguing is, they can impeach with zero evidence of a crime. They don't have to prove any criminal law was violated. They don't have to prove any federal law was violated.
They don't have to prove the president has a speeding ticket. What we're seeing now, they have abandoned that whole allegation of bribery. And this is fundamentally political opposition. The base, the far left of the House Democrats hate the president, and they're mad at the American people for electing him.
CRUZ: And this is trying to undermine an election. And it's why it's not going to go anywhere in the Senate.
It's not going to go anywhere in the Senate because the facts don't back them up. You heard lots of rhetoric from Schiff and Nadler, but what we didn't hear was actual facts, because the witnesses did not demonstrate any law was broken.
And that doesn't meet the constitutional standard for impeachment, which is treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors. They haven't met the burden of proof.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, but it doesn't require a crime. It doesn't require a crime, as you know. But the final question, are there 51 votes in the Senate for the quick trial with no witnesses?
CRUZ: Well, listen, I think there are 51 votes in the Senate for a fair trial.
What we have seen in the House was a partisan show trial. It was one-sided. They deliberately -- they didn't allow the White House to cross-examine the witnesses. They didn't allow the Republicans, the minority to call any witnesses.
The Senate, I'm confident, is going to do much, much better. We're going to have a fair trial. We're going to respect due process. I think that means we allow both sides to present their case. We should allow the House managers to do their very best and present their case.
But you can be sure we're going to allow the president to defend himself as well. And that means, I believe, if the president wants to call witnesses, if the president wants to call Hunter Biden or wants to call the whistle-blower, the Senate should allow the president to do so.
We need to ensure that we're respecting due process, having a fair trial, listening to the facts and evidence. And I'm confident that, once we do so, this -- this show trial from the House, that proceeding will be over, and we'll leave it to the American people to have the choice to select who our leader should be.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Cruz, thanks for your time this morning.
CRUZ: Thank you, George.
CRUZ: Roundtable is up next. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable is ready to go. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (July 27, 1974): Clerk will report.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (July 27, 1974): Twenty-seven members have voted aye, 11 members have voted no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (July 27, 1974): And pursuant to the resolution, Article One, that resolution is adopted and will be reported to the House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (December 11, 1998): The clerk will report.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (December 11, 1998): Mr. Chairman, there are 21 ayes and 16 noes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (December 11, 1998): And Article One is agreed to.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY) (December 13, 2019): The clerk will report.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (December 13, 2019): Mr. Chairman, there are 23 ayes and 17 noes.
NADLER: The article is agreed to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Scenes from three impeachments right there in the House and Judiciary Committee. We're going to talk about that now on our roundtable, joined by our regular contributor Chris Christie, also Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundation, also served as political director and ambassador to South Africa under President Obama, "Washington Post" columnist Ruth Marcus, she's out with a new book, "Supreme Ambition: Brett Kavanaugh and the Conservative Takeover," and Rich Lowry, editor of "The National Review." His new book, "The Case for Nationalism."
Welcome to you all.
And, Patrick Gaspard, let me begin with you.
We just saw the Judiciary Committee three times going back to 1973. There's some consistency, some overlap in the impeachment articles of those three committees. Very inconsistent response, though. We've seen each time the response progressively more partisan.
PATRICK GASPARD, PRESIDENT, OPEN SOCIETY FOUNDATIONS: Yes, and that's no surprise in the era that we're living in right now, particularly since we know that the conversation that's taking place in the halls of Congress is one that's being played for television and being played for November of next year. It has very, very little to do, regrettably, with the -- with the rule of law irrespective of the abuse that our foreign service officers incurred from the State Department and from this White House. Irrespective of the context of the relationship that the U.S. has with Ukraine at a time when its sovereignty was violated by Russia and at a time when the president of the United States said to the president of the Ukraine, I need you to do us a favor, a political favor. That’s not a conversation (INAUDIBLE) --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Rich, you wrote this week that impeachment becoming somewhat normalized.
RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yes. I just think we’re all saying this is historic, the rhetoric around is really hot, as we’ve heard earlier on the program.
But, basically, this is now a pro-forma exercise in my view. The Democrats want to get it off their plate as soon as possible. It's not convulsing the nation. Even Democratic presidential candidates aren't talking about it very much on the campaign trail.
So, I tend to believe when he gets acquitted in the Senate as he inevitably will, that this like so many over things in the Trump era, and two weeks later, it will feel like it happened a decade ago, and it will have very little effect on the presidential politics going forward.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ruth Marcus, Democrats may not be talking about it as much -- actually, I don't know -- I’m not sure if that's exactly true. We know that the president is talking about it a lot, tweeting about it a lot, including something -- you should know something about. He said, after watching the disgraceful way, that a wonderful man Brett Kavanaugh was treated by the Democrats and now seeing first hand how these same radical left, do nothing Dems are treating the whole impeachment hoax, I understand why so many Dems are voting Republican.
You do see strong echoes between the Kavanaugh confirmation and impeachment going on right now.
RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Sure, and I think the biggest echo is this just -- and it’s something you alluded to earlier, the increasing tribalism, the reflexive partisanship. I spent yesterday at which we saw in Kavanaugh, everybody goes to their sides. The facts are not necessarily what is determining their decision-making. It's the desired outcome, and the desire to find facts depends on which side you're on, and what you want the outcome to be.
I spent yesterday reading -- re-reading what we lived through, which was the Clinton impeachment. And when you listen to the rhetoric there, some of it is very similar. There’s Democrats talking about coups and Republicans talking about the rule of law. But there’s also Democrats who are willing to be way more critical of their president, President Clinton, talking about his deplorable, unacceptable behavior than anything you see from Republicans right now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, and one huge difference if you go back to the Clinton -- if you go back to the Clinton impeachment, the day he was impeached in the House, you had a pretty fulsome apology from President Clinton back in 1998.
As you have talked about before, Chris Christie, there's no way we're going to see that from President Trump, and it does appear at least in a small P political way, that strategy is working for him.
CHRIS CHRISTIE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's not even a strategy, George. It's who he is.
I mean, I heard someone this week ask me about whether his tactics are working. I’m, like, he doesn't have tactics. This is him.
So, when you saw him at the rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania, or what you see him in any of the tweets that he's sending, this is who he is. It's how he has always conducted himself, whether it's been in his political life or in his business life.
When someone attacks him, he attacks back twice as hard. He doesn't apologize for things almost ever. A couple of times in ‘16 campaign, but that was really an exception.
So, you know, what we're seeing though -- and I would disagree a little bit on the Clinton side. Absolutely President Clinton at the time apologized, but the tribalism was still the same because in the end, you can say whatever you want to say, but how you vote is what you do.
CHRISTIE: Listen, the Democrats did -- wait a second, Patrick. There's no Democrats who voted for impeachment of Bill Clinton, is there?
MARCUS: There were five Democrats in the House who voted for impeachment of Bill Clinton.
GASPARD: Yeah, there were, and I actually want to quote Rich. Rich made a terribly important quote.
LOWRY: Now you’re in trouble.
GASPARD: Earlier this week Rich wrote a column for --
CHRISTIE: I need to sit back.
GASPARD: -- wrote a column for “Politico” where he disagreed that these offenses were impeachable, but said very clearly that there was something irresponsible about the way the president conducted himself. That really matters.
When the Democrats said back in 1998 that President Clinton's behavior was just grotesque, that matters when you’re setting standards for the highest office in the world. So I would respect Ted Cruz and other Republicans, Jordan, Gohmert, the whole class if they said, we don't believe that this rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors for impeachment, but there is untoward about using presidential authority in this way about against -- with an ally to -- to subvert our national interest.
That’s not what they’re not saying. The standard is distorted.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Ruth, we have -- we have seen a pretty big shift. I mean, you saw Senator Cruz said back in September, Lindsey Graham back in September was saying, if you show me anything besides the phone call indicating any kind of pressure campaign, any kind of quid pro quo, I might change my mind.
But we did see in the House, at least in the Judiciary Committee, something much more of just, what the president did was right.
MARCUS: Yes, and if Lindsey Graham a few months ago open to that, facts develop that a made it harder for him to continue that line.
One of the things that's striking though is Lindsey Graham back in a day when he was an impeachment manager, which is a prosecutor, in a case against President Clinton, where he talked about -- really begged the Senate to keep an open mind, said, if you make up your mind in advance, we're not doing our job. We’re really losing something as a country.
Boy, now, it's -- it's a crock. I have made up my mind.
Certainly, the oath for impartial justice doesn't mean that you're a juror -- you're a regular juror and you have to come to this completely tabula rasa. That's ridiculous. Certainly, Democratic senators have expressed -- and Democratic presidential candidates...
MARCUS: ... have expressed their point of view.
Nonetheless, this absolute unwillingness to try to get to the bottom of what happened here and to consider whether it really is problematic is appalling, from my point of view.
LOWRY: I think almost all Senate Republicans think what Trump did was wrong here, whether they will say it or not.
MARCUS: Whether they say it or not is a big deal.
LOWRY: But, also, almost all of them sincerely believe that this does not justify impeachment and removal.
And if you look at the other side of this ledger, if Democrats just had held hearings to get to the bottom of this, expose it, extract damaging revelations, it'd be a home run for them.
It's just trying to make the case that this episode in particular justifies removing a president for the first time in our history, that's where they're -- they're falling down.
And, at the end of the day, nothing happened. Ukraine got the money, didn't even announce...
GASPARD: Nothing happened because the president knew that he was exposed, right?
LOWRY: No. Well, because he was getting political pressure. And even his own aides...
GASPARD: No, the president reversed course and released the aid after he was aware of the whistle-blower.
MARCUS: Fifteen Republicans in the Senate who voted to either impeach or convict President Clinton, only one of them -- 15 Republicans who were there, only one of them, Susan Collins, voted against convicting him.
Why is what President Clinton did impeachable and removable, and what President Trump did doesn't rise to that level? That's the one I have a really hard time with.
So, I think this is the strongest case Democrats can make. Republicans impeached Clinton with no hope of convicting him in the Senate, and we're going to do the same thing.
But that is not the standard that Nancy Pelosi or any of them set out at the beginning of this process. They said they'd only do it if it was going to be bipartisan. And it's going to be bipartisan the other way. You're going to have House Democrats voting against this. You could have some Democrats in the Senate voting against removal.
MARCUS: But that doesn't really answer the question. The question is, why should President Clinton have been removed from office and President Trump not?
LOWRY: I think Republicans should have ended up censuring him instead, and Democrats would have been wiser to do the same...
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not what we're -- that's not what we're seeing.
And I did want to ask you about Jeff Van Drew, congressman from New Jersey, now apparently going to be a Republican congressman from New Jersey.
Of course, you were New Jersey governor.
How much of Chairman Nadler's analysis is right there, that he's switching parties -- he was going to lose a Democratic primary?
CHRISTIE: Well, he was a Democratic state senator for all eight years that I was governor in an incredibly Republican district, and found his way to win over a number of years. Every time we thought we might be able to get him, we never did.
So I don't think it's -- I think there's always political considerations in these things, George, but I also think that Congressman Van Drew has become increasingly uncomfortable with the leftward shift of the Democratic Caucus.
He's a moderate Democrat. And I don't think he feels like, from what I can tell, that there's a place for him in the House caucus.
GASPARD: Because of the moderation of the Republican Party?
CHRISTIE: No, no, but his...
CHRISTIE: Listen, he may be uncomfortable for other reasons if he moves to the Republican Caucus.
But right now, he's in a situation where he's going to have to vote -- if he wants to be in the mainstream of the Democratic Caucus, he has to vote for impeachment, which, by the way, his district was a double-digit Trump district in 2016.
GASPARD: Well, but double-digit Trump districts have been swinging to Democrats in the specials and all the recent elections.
CHRISTIE: Well, they didn't in '18.
GASPARD: When you said that there's always political consideration in these things, I think I would change the word always to only.
There are only political considerations in these matters.
GASPARD: And your party never rewards you for going against the majority interests in your...
STEPHANOPOULOS: We will take a quick break right now.
We will be back with more roundtable, plus new analysis from Nate Silver FiveThirtyEight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This morning, I -- I went to Buckingham Palace. And I am forming a new government.
And I'm proud to say that members of our new One Nation government, a people's government, will set out from constituencies that have never returned a conservative MP for 100 years.
And, yes, they will have an overwhelming mandate from this election to get Brexit done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Boris Johnson coming off his landslide victory in Great Britain over Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party on Thursday. We're going to talk about what that might mean for the election here with the roundtable.
First, some analysis from Nate Silver of FiveThirty Eight. Like Corbyn, Bernie Sanders calls himself a Democratic Socialist. And he's been a steady number two behind Joe Biden in national polls after that sustained run against Hillary Clinton in 2016. So we asked Nate to take a look at Sanders' chances of winning the nomination in 2020.
NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: So, the Democratic primary hasn't been that chaotic, but there certainly have been a few meaningful shifts in the race.
There was Kamala Harris' quick rise and long fall. Pete Buttigieg has surged recently in Iowa and New Hampshire. Elizabeth Warren spent months climbing in the polls, only to lose some momentum in the last few weeks.
All the while, Bernie Sanders has been chugging along at between 15 and 20 percent in national polls. The support has barely budged, second only to Joe Biden.
It's therefore easy to forget about Bernie, and he's gotten less coverage in the media than the other frontrunners, but he's still in a pretty decent position. He's within striking distance of winning both Iowa and New Hampshire.
According to the FiveThirtyEight polling average, Buttigieg currently leads in Iowa by about 1 point, but it's basically a three-way tie between him and Biden and Sanders, the same is true, more or less, in New Hampshire.
Sanders is also polling relatively strongly in the third state to vote, Nevada. And his support has edged up in delegate rich California, which votes on Super Tuesday.
Here's why that matters. Sanders is close enough to Biden nationally, that bounces from the early states, especially in Iowa, can make the rest of the race extremely competitive.
Of course, being in striking distance in Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada is not the same thing as actually winning those states. And if he does manage to win an early state or two and close the gap on Biden, you would expect the Democratic primary elites might make some moves to stop Sanders.
So, do I buy that Bernie has a shot at the nomination? Definitely. I do. Look, if you were to pick one candidate in this race, it probably would be Biden. His position is fairly robust, but Bernie has as strong a hand to play as anybody else.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about that now on our roundtable. Before we came on the air, we were all sort of agreeing that he had shown remarkable staying power, Bernie Sanders this year. But I want to tie that to the election of Boris Johnson on Thursday. He seems to be uniting a lot of analysts. Mike Bloomberg says he's the canary in the coal mine for Democrats. Steve Bannon -- I mean, James Carville says, you can go so far to the left, you can lose to an unexceptable incumbent. That's the lesson. The lesson is screaming right in your face.
Steve Bannon picks up on that, if Democrats don't take the lesson, Trump is headed for a Reagan-like '84 victory.
So, Ruth Marcus, if James Carville and Steve Bannon agree, does that mean it's right or it's wrong?
MARCUS: That's an interesting question.
Look, we all have a tendency to over-interpret the impact of mid-term elections, of off-year elections, and certainly of elections in other countries, which have different politics and different political systems than ours.
That said, that lesson of that election, which I'm going to over-interpret having warned against it, is not good news for Democrats and it should be particularly chilling for people who are thinking about the possibility of a Sanders nomination, because that -- I'm not sure we're going to get to Reagan landslide territory, but I think it would be a really big challenge for Democrats.
STEPHANOPULOS: And Patrick, one of the things we've seen from Democratic voters this year is even though, you know, like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren take a big chunk of the vote, 30-40 percent of the vote, sometimes more, whenever one of them rises too high they do seem to hit a wall with Democratic voters who are most concerned about who can beat Trump.
GASPARD: Yeah, let's talk about that boom and bust cycle. But I have to just very say quickly, George, that I don't think there are many lessons from England unless you think of Corbyn as a serious leader. This was a failed leader who coddled anti-Semites in his ranks and never took a clear, coherent position on Brexit, that's why he failed there.
But there is this boom/bust inside the Democratic Party over the course of the last many months. If you had told me that Mayor Pete would be in the contest still and Kamala Harris would be out, if you said that six months ago, I'd say that you are insane.
There is a resilience that Bernie Sanders has demonstrated four years ago, that continues to accrue to his benefit now. That California number is a powerful -- he's up at 26 percent in California now. California early on March 3. If he finishes...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Votes even before that. I mean, the date is March 3. The early voting...
GASPARD: There's still the early voting. He's the only one with any serious momentum right now. And as Governor Christie has pointed out to me, the super delegate erasure from the Democratic Party is only going to benefit Bernie Sanders in the end. Serious momentum.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Listen, you know, if you're Donald Trump and you're sitting there watching this and you just can't believe your good fortune...
MARCUS: Again, Their good fortune again
CHRISTIE: They really can't, right, you really can't believe it. I mean the fact that-- that Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren are the people who have had where the energy is. Joe Biden has seemed unable to perform at a level that's acceptable for him to take off with the rest of his voters that are reluctant about Warren and Sanders, and that -- that Buttigieg just does not seem, in my view, to be able to be taken long-term seriously as a nominee for a whole bunch of reasons, including his lack of support in the minority community. I think, you know, he's looking at the very real possibility that he could be running against a Warren or a Sanders, which he would relish.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But -- but -- but, Rich Lowry, if -- if Bernie Sanders has persisted, and he has, and that's stayed pretty steady --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Even after a heart attack, so has Joe Biden --
STEPHANOPOULOS: At the top of -- well, he's been remarkably stable it turns out.
LOWRY: Yes. His performance has never risen above fair or mid length at best. And, still, he's showed remarkable persistence.
But, look, this thing is -- is wide open. Biden easily could win Iowa. Wins Iowa, he's probably the nominee. And it's much less dramatic than -- than we thought.
But as Nate Silver alluded to, Bernie Sanders easily could win Iowa and New Hampshire, and then you're looking at a desperate stop Bernie Sanders campaign. So I would say two things the last couple of weeks have been the big story in the Democratic race. One, the uptick of Bernie Sanders. The other is Amy Klobuchar beginning to show a little momentum in Iowa.
STEPHANOPOULOS: In Iowa.
LOWRY: So I think any of five candidates possible could win out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well --
MARCUS: Right, and --
STEPHANOPOULOS: And it is true, Ruth, that Iowa seems remarkably unsettled right now. We know that Pete Buttigieg has surged and he's got a good organization. So does Elizabeth Warren. But there does seem to be a lot of up and down among all the top four candidates, including -- and a little bit of momentum for Klobuchar.
MARCUS: Up and down and Iowa's a place where people make up their minds late, where the late organization matters a lot, where people are going to get to see these candidates. And I -- I'm not on the sort of Bernie surging, that -- you know, that this is our nominee, the nominee bandwagon. I think that Biden's resilience has been remarkable, especially considering some unimpressive debate performances and some unimpressive performances on the campaign trail.
I would not discount Buttigieg the way you are. I think there is a hunger. And whether or not it's fair to take a lesson from England, I think that -- that there is an anxiety in the Democratic Party about going too far left.
GASPARD: There is.
MARCUS: That opens the door to Buttigieg and I think it also opens the door to Senator Klobuchar.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Could be.
GASPARD: But -- but those of us who have spent a lot of time in Iowa over many, many elections know that it is always volatile until about two weeks out. And because it votes late this time, I wouldn't discount Elizabeth Warren, who has the deepest field infrastructure in that state and is due for another boom cycle at some point (INAUDIBLE) election.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well -- well, what the big -- but the big wildcard in all of that is, how long is this Senate trial going to take, if it takes -- and what does it mean if it takes Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar off --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Cory Booker off the field in those final few weeks?
GASPARD: Or - or increases their profile in that moment when they're -- when they --
MARCUS: Well, they have to stay quiet during the trial, so that's going to be a little hard.
CHRISTIE: There will be a lot of -- there will be a lot of press conferences out in the hallway by those folks during breaks in the trial. But I do think the trial -- and -- and this is another reason why some of the political considerations here are crazy because they're going to take those folks off the field. And it's a great thing for Biden because Biden's going to be out in Iowa, essentially by himself, and trying to ignore what's going on in Washington and talk about what people in Iowa think.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all the time we have today.
Thanks for a great discussion.
And thanks to all of you for watching, sharing part of your Sunday with us.
Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT," and I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."