The political problem on impeachment is for Republicans in the Senate: Rahm Emanuel

The Powerhouse Roundtable debates the politics of impeachment on "This Week."
14:46 | 01/19/20

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Transcript for The political problem on impeachment is for Republicans in the Senate: Rahm Emanuel
Let's not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion. You called me a -- let's not. The mics are always hot. Reminder there after the debate in Iowa this week. We'll get into that in a little bit, and we'll start on our round table with what's next in impeachment joined by Sara Fagan who served under George W. Bush, Rahm Emanuel, who served under president Obama, Donna Brazile and our chief political analyst, Matthew dowd. Let me begin. As we head into impeachment, which seems extremely unlikely that the president will get convicted, but express the reward. We're undervaluing the importance in the impeachment in the primary, and overvaluing in the general election. I think in many respects, the country looks at this as a political exercise. It was a political exercise in the house, and the country as an electorate, as a whole has sort of moved on, but for the Democrats, this is going to be everything over the next couple of weeks, and the way these senators handle themselves, other candidates on the trail could have a very -- a big difference in sort of who wins Iowa, New Hampshire and these next caucuses. Here's how I take a look at it. This is totally different than '98, and the reason is newt Gingrich pursued the case and lost six seats, in a hundred years, it's never happened before, and he got booted. We have had four elections, governor in Louisiana, Kentucky, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. This is no problem for the Democrats. They have cleanly swept all of those areas. What trail is -- actually is a problem here politically for the senate, we know what's going to happen with trump. The fact is if you vote no on witnesses, that's going to come back to haunt you. You vote note on documents, that's going to come back to haunt you. We had a test case already. Four elections, Kentucky, Louisiana, Delaware county in Pennsylvania which has five Republicans, all got swept out. You already know the the electoral impact of the impeachments. Democrats are not losing like the Republicans in '98 did, and the fact is the senate majority is at risk here as you vote no, or 75% of the American people already say they want witnesses and that will come back to haunt. Let me push that back to you because it seems like some of the Republican senators are damned if they do, and damned if they don't. Some of the senators feel if they vote for the witnesses now they're going to enrage trump supporters and draw themselves a I think that's true although if you stood to look at the more moderate Republican senators, they have put a foot forwa that they're likely to vote in favor of witnesses and documents. So it seems more likely to me than not that we will, in fact, have these witnesses at the end of the day. Having said that, you know, let's sort of consider the politics of the presidential election and the president having had so much thrown at him since being put in office, and we see his favorable rating going up during this impeachment. And yes, there may be a few Republicans who have challenges, but there's going to be a bunch of Democrats who have challenges as well because we're assuming that these witnesses are going to be one-sided, that we're only going to have the president's witnesses. His staff, and Republicans are not going to allow witnesses -- the Democrats -- It will be reciprocal, and that's what I want to bring to Matt because if Sara is right that witnesses are more likely than not, and I'm not sure either way at this point, but if she is right, all bets are off once you start having witnesses in the senate. It completely changes the process, of course, and it changes the timing of this. It goes on for weeks and weeks and weeks through the entirety of this, and then I think it puts the Republicans in an even worse position because if witnesses come forward and compromise the president's position, and they still vote the to not convict the president in the midst of that, that's an even bigger problem than not having witnesses in this. There's also another huge difference in this impeachment time and Bill Clinton. Clinton is Bill Clinton had a 73% approval rating. Donald Trump's approval rating is 42% or 43%. It was 42% or 43% a few days ago, and a year ago. That to me, if you are looking at something to focus on, you know, in the election, and Sara knows this full well, she and I having gone through the George W. Bush election in 2003 and 2004, the president's job approval rating is the most determinate factor of whether or not a president is re-elected because presidents almost always get within a point or two of what their job approval number is, and anything that doesn't change that, and the other factor in this, is we have an economy that is strong as ever, and in many Americans' minds -- Let me press you on the approval rating. Because we're so tribal right now, and polarized, is a 42% or 43% like a 49% or 50%? Not today. You remember 2012. We were not that much more tribalized today than they were in 2012 when Republicans were trying more than anything. I have been listening and I have been quiet which is unusual, but the reason is -- We were worried about you for a second. I understand, but don't worry. I have taken time to read what the framers wrote, and this was a weighted decision, the conversation between Mr. Hamilton, Mr. Madison, and the comments made by Mr. Mason. The impeachment and removal of a president was something they took time out to spell out, and for the senate to try to rush through this without hearing all of the evidence, without hearing from the witnesses, without getting to the meat and bones of what the house has charged the president with, it would be a huge mistake. We shouldn't weigh it just by the politics of the moment. We should weigh it by the history. This is the third time president could lose their job. But here's the thing. You are going to have -- 75% of the American people are for witnesses. If you vote no, that will be a rendezvous with your record in the senate. Once they vote no on the witnesses, say we want the documents. How do you back up into that? You have to parallel park into that position, and the other thing is in the last three months, tell me one piece of evidence that has come out that has worked to Donald Trump's point that I was worried about the Ukrainian corruption. You cannot be in a position that we all got scared after 2016. Russia was involved in the election, regardless of party. We're spending millions of dollars trying to basically protect our electoral system. If you worry about that, and you're willing to vote to spend money to protect the integrity of an election, you have a president of the United States just as the core issue, who has invited Russia, China and Ukraine to get involved in our election. If it's worthy to be concerned and spend money and because you're worried about foreign influence, how do you permit a president of the United States to welcomely invite Ukrainian involvement in our elections? I want to put that question to Sara because we saw senator Shelby, and even others like Alan Dershowitz, a lot of Republican senators not willing to say what the president did was wrong, and it makes them a little bit uncomfortable. At the end, are they going to have to move towards the Dershowitz position and saying that regardless of whether it's right or wrong it's not impeachable? They can't be endorsing this interference in our election? I think the question really is, you know, there was no actual investigation, and the aid was not ultimately withheld. So at the end of the day, yeah, that's right. Was the action impeachable? No. It doesn't appear so, and so the question in the debate about all these witnesses, what new are we going to learn when there was no investigation, and Ukraine got its aid? It was just determined this past week that the president violated the law. It was a crime -- Broke the law. Not violated. Thank you. You corrected me. All right. So the point is, Sara, that this evidence continued to trickle out. None of it exonerated the president or his point of view, whether it's just this interview that what's his name? Lev parnas. George, I mean there was so much dirt going on, and the threatening of our ambassador. The president has to do more than just present this little six-page, silly argument that I did nothing wrong. He needs to understand that he will have to respond to the evidence that has already been accumulated, the evidence that is continuing to come. I want to go off something Donna said earlier,s and the consequential moment of this which is profound for many reasons. The first of which is the senators -- the framers and founders of our country envisioned a president who might use their power and take power and abuse power. They envisioned that, which is why they put checks and balances and impeachment, and a number of checks in. What the founders never envisioned was a United States senate that would abdicate the responsibility in a partial way to hold the president accountable. To me, a year from tomorrow, we're going to inaugurate a one year from tomorrow, January 20, 2021. We're going to inaugurate a president. That inauguration to me will probably be the most profound inauguration of a president since 1861. Here's the big thing. You have a split screen step back. Ukraine is about to investigate whether, in fact, the ambassador has been trailed in something and broke the law. The United States senate is about to have a trial. No witnesses allowed, no documents allowed. We don't know. No, we do know. The predetermined talk is we haven't had a show trial like this since Moscow. But it is so ironic that the house rushes the impeachment, they don't do the difficult work to of debating these privileged arguments, they want to get impeachment done at all costs, they don't even have this lev parnas information in their case, and somehow now the senate Republicans if they don't go along with the Democrats' strategy are part of a criminal conspiracy to hold up the president. It's a farce. This whole thing is a political joke. They made an argument they fought to keep from having it. The Republicans are making an argument, why didn't you call these witnesses and get this stuff beforehand, and why are you just providing us with this? They're the reason why there was no witnesses, there was no documents and all that, and now they want to have -- there's a reason why in the constitution it says a trial. It doesn't say a rubber stamp. The house could have done this work if they chose to. It's more important to get it done. There's a difference between process and product. The fact is neither senator Shelby or Alan Dershowitz would defend what the president did. So the question is a core question. Forget all the process. Was a crime committed by asking Ukraine to come and be involved in our election just like was it a problem that Russia was involved in our election, or the president asking China? He has a pattern and practice of always asking foreign powers. There's a reason the united States in the constitution beyond all the checks and balances does not want a foreign-born president. Because you want a country and a chief executive who is looking for our interests and nobody would defend what the president did on substance. I want to bring up something else Sara brought up about how this could hurt Democrats in Iowa. You worked on presidential campaigns. What does it mean for Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren and Amy klobuchar over these next couple of weeks to be pinned down in the senate? Is it fatal? Does it matter at all? And Michael Bennet. I had to mention it and he's the fourth senator whose name might come up during the caucus process. I think it's already baked in. The voters know who they are, and if they can reach viability -- 15%. The 15% threshold and deal with all these new caucus rules which will be crazy at first to understand how do you get to 41 pledged delegates when we're counting the raw vote, and then the vote after they assemble? We might end up with four people claiming victory. It looks that way now. You worked on Iowa caucuses on the Republican side. This democratic win is so hard to read this close to the election. There are four candidates that are genuinely in the hunt, but it doesn't necessarily matter who the top vote getter the person who is the second choice -- The first and second ballot. They will have the momentum heading into New Hampshire which will likely be the first decisive contest in this race. Three things. One, you're going to learn out of Iowa who will not be the nominee, not who is going to be the nominee. Number two, I'm interested in turnout numbers. Meaning did the debates and all this process energize our party or exhaust our party? That's going to tell you a lot about the future. Number three which I think is really important in this whole process and what's going to happen, at the end of the day, twists and turns. There will be one candidate who comes out of the revolutionary pool, and the reform pool, and this will happen all the way to Milwaukee. You'll have four, possibly five, but more likely four seats coming out of Iowa. We're going to know who isn't our nominee, not who is our nominee. You have three, and I think Rahm is right. You could have four, and that would leave four in the middle. Pete buttigieg and Joe Biden, and two in the liberal lane, Progressive lane, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. We're likely to have the first four contests. We don't have any idea the twists and turns of this because I could give you a scenario where this race is done after New Hampshire. If Joe Biden wins Iowa and then he wins New Hampshire, the race is basically over because he wins South Carolina and wins all the other big states. If Joe Biden loses the first two, it's a huge problem for him. He has to win South Carolina. If Bernie Sanders wins the second one, that provides an opening for somebody like Michael Bloomberg in the bigger states down the road, but in the end, the order won't matter as much as who are the candidates. I have to make my last point. Remember, there will be satellite caucuses all throughout the country as well as in the state of Iowa, two in Chicago in case you want to just go and see. The republic of Georgia, Scotland and in France. That will be the last point. We're out of time.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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