Week In Politics: Robert Mueller Testifies Before Congress

Jul 26, 2019
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This week's Mueller testimony brought the same words over and over again, like an echo - collusion, obstruction and, also, read the report. People received the special counsel's testimony very differently depending on who was listening.

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ELIJAH CUMMINGS: It is a moment which people will be talking about 3-, 400, 500 years from now.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It is definitely time to move on.

KEVIN MCCARTHY: This should be the end of the chapter of this book that we put America through.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, we had a very good day today.

JERRY NADLER: Mueller made clear that the president is not exonerated.

BRET BAIER: ...Halting and slow and painful.

ERIC SWALWELL: If you showed up expecting a Broadway show, sure, you may have been disappointed.

SHAPIRO: Reaction to special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony there from lawmakers, cable news analysts and of course the president. Another word that hung over Wednesday's hearings - impeachment. And that issue still divides the Democrats.

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NANCY PELOSI: No, I'm not trying to run out the clock. We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed - not one day sooner.

SHAPIRO: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi there. NPR's impeachment tracker says the number of Democrats supporting impeachment has just crossed over into triple digits. And this is where we will begin our weekly political roundup. Our guests this Friday are Kristen Soltis Anderson of the Washington Examiner and Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root.

Welcome to both of you.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON: Thrilled to be here.

JASON JOHNSON: Glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: So the Democrats began the week expecting that Mueller's testimony would be a turning point in the conversation about Russian election interference and the president's possible involvement in it. Kristen, do you think the Democrats overpromised? Did Mueller underdeliver? What?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think they overpromised because Mueller was very clear about what he was going to deliver, which was, read the report. When he came out and gave his press conference shortly after the report's release to try to clarify what he had felt was some of perhaps the misreporting or misunderstanding of what the report had said, he was very clear - I said what I meant; I meant what I said.

SHAPIRO: And I don't want to talk about it before Congress.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: And I don't want to talk about it before Congress. But if I'm going to, I'm just going to say, I would refer you to the report. So nobody should be surprised by the performance that Mueller gave because he was very clear well in advance that this was exactly how he was going to handle it.

SHAPIRO: Jason, what do you think these two hearings did for the Democratic push for accountability?

JOHNSON: Well, I don't think they really did much of anything. There's nobody in America who was convinced by these Mueller hearings because if you either read this report, you already know that the president engaged in impeachable offenses, and if you haven't read the report, then you're going by what's on television, and you're driven by whatever your political ideology is. So I don't think it changed anything.

What I did think was interesting from the sort of pure strategic standpoint is it was like watching this really, really bad game of charades with the Democrats saying what sounds like, second syllable, trying to get Robert Mueller to say impeachment.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

JOHNSON: He was never going to do that. That is the responsibility of the Democrats in Congress, and he's made that clear. He's given them tons of recommendations. So nothing changed. Both sides are just as set in as they were beforehand.

SHAPIRO: Well, far from putting the issue to rest this week, there has been more impeachment talk since Mueller testified than ever. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been asked about it repeatedly. Kristen, do you think Democrats risk being overly defined by this debate?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think every time another Democrat comes out and says that they would like Nancy Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings, Republicans are the ones that are celebrating because this, in public opinion poll after poll after poll, shows that there are large majorities of Democrats that would like their elected officials to begin this process, but independents are much closer to Republicans on this question.

They're focused on other issues. They would like Congress to be tackling other problems. They may not like the behavior that Trump engaged in that is detailed in the report but don't believe that impeachment is the way forward. And so this puts Pelosi in a very tough position.

SHAPIRO: Jason, I think Kristen is pointing out an important divide here, where the base that might decide the 2020 Democratic primary really supports impeachment, but the independents who helped Democrats win back the House in 2018 don't. So what do they do?

JOHNSON: Impeachment is more popular amongst all voters now than it was before the Nixon impeachment. You can pat your head and rub your tummy. I don't think the Democrats put any risk. Impeachment is actually more popular now when the Affordable Care Act got passed, and that cost the Democrats 30-something seats.

So I don't think that the Democrats are in any danger whatsoever if they go through with impeachment. Even for the Democrats who are in the seats that Trump won in 2020, I don't think that there's anybody in those districts who's going to decide, I will not vote for my representative again because they voted to have Donald Trump impeached.

SHAPIRO: So do you think...

JOHNSON: What this really boils down to is it's a responsibility; it's whether or not the Democratic Party wants to take on the responsibly for oversight or they want to play politics.

SHAPIRO: A lot of negative things have been said about Nancy Pelosi, but most people agree that she's pretty good at political calculus. Do you think her political calculus is just wrong here?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I do. I think her political calculus is wrong. I think she's - what would have been a smarter decision for her to make is, from the very beginning, say, hey, look - when my caucus comes to me and wants to do this, we can. She's been throwing water on it from the very beginning. She's been trying to have this sort of chilling effect because she believes somehow, some shape, way or form, that there has to be this magical number of consensus in order to get this done. There's a reason that you have an actual trial.

I think this is a mistake on her behalf because, at the end of the day, you are dragged over the line by your base. The Republicans understand that their base will drag them over the line. The Democrats seem to think that they want to keep running for a middle and an independent who are eventually not going to be the decision-makers in 2020, anyway.

SHAPIRO: I want to move onto one topic that was central to the Mueller hearings, which was Russian election interference. And Mueller said that did not stop with 2016.

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ROBERT MUELLER: They're doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.

SHAPIRO: Hours after Mueller finished testifying, Republicans blocked legislation that would have provided standards for reporting interference and given states millions of dollars to protect voting systems. Here is what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said about that bill.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: It's just a highly partisan bill from the same folks who spent two years hyping up a conspiracy theory about President Trump and Russia and who continue to ignore this administration's progress at correcting the Obama administration's failures on this subject in the 2018 election.

SHAPIRO: In response to that, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that McConnell is, quote, "standing in the way of common sense action." So Kristen, why do you think Republicans are blocking this?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: If you take a look at the vote in the House on the bill that was sent to the Senate as a factual matter, it was a very party-line vote. So this is the sort of issue that I think is going to require a bill that starts off with bipartisan support, and what Democrats have put on the table just wasn't something Republicans thought was appropriately tackling the issue.

SHAPIRO: But do you understand why? I mean, Republicans say Congress has already done enough. Congress, objectively speaking, hasn't really done very much.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think one of the bills that's being talked about in the Senate - which is being put forward and, I believe, is in the works by Senator Lankford, a Republican of Oklahoma, and Senator Amy Klobuchar - this is a bill that would look to give, I think, some funding but would also, I think, change the way that the federal government supports states and localities. That's the bill that I think you're more likely to see come out of the Senate, if something emerges.

SHAPIRO: Jason, in our last 30 seconds, I'm going to give you the final word on this.

JOHNSON: Mitch McConnell doesn't want to do anything about election protection because he knows the only way Donald Trump gets elected is by supporting - suppressing minority votes and making sure the voting systems can easily be corrupted. Everybody knows that. It's not complicated. This is not about patriotism. It's not about partisanship. It's about the future of this country, and Mitch McConnell doesn't care.

SHAPIRO: That is Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root.

Thank you for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And Kristen Soltis Anderson of the Washington Examiner, have a great weekend.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: You, too.

JOHNSON: I will. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.