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News Brief: House Passes Resolution On Impeachment, Zelenskiy Profile, Mississippi

Originally published on November 1, 2019 2:28 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What happens now that the House has approved an impeachment resolution?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yesterday's vote means the impeachment inquiry is entering a new, much more public phase.

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NANCY PELOSI: It's a sad day because nobody comes to Congress to impeach a president of the United States, no one.

GREENE: We should remember, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was notably reluctant to begin the impeachment inquiry. She acted after learning President Trump sought to have a political rival investigated in Ukraine.

The president's defenders have admitted he sought political dirt from a foreign source. They've also acknowledged that he withheld military aid from Ukraine while asking for investigations. But some have insisted he did nothing wrong, while others have criticized the whole House investigation process.

This is Republican Congressman Jim Jordan speaking after the vote.

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JIM JORDAN: Madam Speaker, trying to put a ribbon on a sham process doesn't make it any less of a sham.

INSKEEP: NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro joins us now. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's the vote do?

MONTANARO: Well, what it doesn't do, first of all, is it's not a vote on the president's impeachment...

INSKEEP: Sure.

MONTANARO: ...We should start that, first off. It sets up a framework of how the inquiry will be conducted going forward. And part of that framework means formally here, Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, is going to be the point person going forward. Devin Nunes, who's the ranking Republican on that committee, is going to get the opportunity to ask questions as well. They can defer to staffers as well to ask questions.

And Republicans can request witnesses. They can request that subpoenas be approved even though Democrats in the majority are going to have final say on that. And if it gets to the point of articles of impeachment being introduced, the president's lawyers will have the right to evidence presented against him. They'll get to also ask questions against witnesses.

INSKEEP: OK. So 232 lawmakers voted for impeachment - that's a majority, of course - an independent in there, but just about all of them Democrats. What does the count tell you?

MONTANARO: Well, yeah, the Democrats who voted with Republicans are two from some of the more conservative districts that were potential swing districts. But we have to keep in mind, in 2018, Democrats really won back - took back the House because they won a net of 40 seats. All those seats were held by Republicans. And we have to realize that that means that most of those swing seats went Democratic. And they were all on board for the most part, aside from these two Democratic lawmakers. So...

INSKEEP: Well, that's what I'm getting at here.

MONTANARO: Yeah (laughter).

INSKEEP: So you have Democrats, who are presumably vulnerable in 2020, a large number of them deciding that, yes, I will go forward with this inquiry even though I represent a district where President Trump may have won in 2016.

MONTANARO: Definitely. And I think the polling they've seen at least has moved in their favor, where you have independents having shifted in the last few weeks to say that they at least support the inquiry. Now, does that mean that they support impeaching and removing the president? It does not necessarily yet. But, you know, the evidence is going to play out in these committees in the next several weeks.

INSKEEP: We want to see how things may play out in the next several weeks. What does it say that not a single Republican signed on to this inquiry?

MONTANARO: Well, it's ride or die with the president of the United States. I mean, this is Trump's party. And they feel politically that if they don't back him then that's going to be a big problem for them.

INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're so welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

Now, who is the other president on a famous phone call with President Trump? Ukraine's president took that call that triggered the impeachment inquiry. The record shows President Trump saying, I would like you to do us a favor. He asked Ukraine to investigate debunked conspiracy theories about Democrats.

He also asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a rival for the presidency. And he urged Ukraine's leader to meet Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. David's been reporting on the president who fielded those requests. And, David, what have you learned?

GREENE: Well, the president Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Steve, is actually a longtime comedian and actor who really just delved into politics. It's amazing to think about this. He became such a central character in this whole impeachment saga. But he was only elected in April, having spent this long career in entertainment. So he's 5-foot-7. He has this small frame. He sort of reminds me of Steve Carell from "The Office"...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GREENE: ...So if you can think of Michael Scott from Dunder Mifflin becoming our president, that might tell you something...

INSKEEP: He'd be a fine president...

GREENE: Yeah. Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...But go on - nothing against Steve Carell - please.

GREENE: But, I mean, the whole - the weirdest part of all of this is, up until becoming the president of Ukraine, he was on TV playing the president of Ukraine...

INSKEEP: (Laughter).

GREENE: ...A guy who woke up one day and was president, so there's that.

INSKEEP: Why did Ukrainians choose him for real, then?

GREENE: Well, you know, it was at the time seen as largely a protest vote against the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, who was seen as part of the old, corrupt guard in Ukraine. That said, in talking to people, he got a lot of support from especially younger Ukrainians, who seem drawn to him.

I spoke to Sviatoslav Yurash. He's 23 years old. He actually went to work on Zelenskiy's campaign as an adviser at first because he just hated President Poroshenko. But then he found himself liking Zelenskiy's story.

SVIATOSLAV YURASH: He's the guy that made it. That's his story. He's the guy from the tough neighborhood that made it.

GREENE: So the tough neighborhood he's talking about, it's the working-class manufacturing city in the southeast of Ukraine where Zelenskiy grew up. And Yurash says those roots gave him this ability to speak to people and relate to people in the eastern part of the country. And that's where often the language is in Russian, people have cultural ties to Moscow.

And so in some ways he's, like, bridged this divide in a way that a lot of politicians in the country haven't been able to do - embraces Western democratic values. He's got support from pro-Europe parts of Ukraine. But he can also communicate these message about - messages about democracy in a way that doesn't really come across as elitist. So take that altogether, he won more than 70% of the vote.

INSKEEP: Wow.

GREENE: And Yurash, that campaign adviser, he's now gone into politics himself. He's the youngest member of Parliament in the country. And he says Zelenskiy really is the first politician he can remember who is truly inspiring younger Ukrainians, who largely have lost faith in their corrupt political system.

INSKEEP: So he wins election. Then he gets this phone call. Then the record of the phone call is released. How's he handled all the attention in the U.S.?

GREENE: I mean, he clearly doesn't want to be here. You just have to look back to September, when the impeachment process was just starting. Zelenskiy was at the U.N. in September, sitting awkwardly next to Trump.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKIY: I'm sorry, but I don't want to be involved to Democratic open - elections - elections of U.S.A.

GREENE: I mean, it was this uncomfortable moment. And - but it was a moment when the world really wanted to hear how Zelenskiy felt about that call from Trump and whether he felt pressured.

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ZELENSKIY: It was normal. We spoke about many things. And I - so I think and you read it that nobody push it - pushed me. Yes.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In other words, no pressure.

GREENE: No, you know, I mean, it was just a moment where he was trying to find the right words. But beyond that, this is a really important relationship. He needs security aid from the U.S.

INSKEEP: Does the story hurt him at home?

GREENE: Not so far. It seems like a lot of Ukrainians see this as him handling an incredibly impossible situation the best he can. But there's a lot more he has to deal with - that conflict with Russia in the east of his country, among many things. And that really will define his political future.

INSKEEP: Thanks for your reporting, David.

GREENE: You bet.

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INSKEEP: OK. President Trump, the president of the United States, heads to Mississippi for a rally tonight. He's trying to give a boost to the Republican candidate for governor there, Tate Reeves.

GREENE: As for why a Republican would need a boost in reliably red Mississippi? Well, that's a pretty good question. Trump's appearance in Tupelo comes ahead of next Tuesday's gubernatorial election. Reeves, the lieutenant governor, is locked in a hotly contested race against Attorney General Jim Hood. And Hood, we should say, is the lone Democrat to hold statewide office in what is deeply conservative Mississippi.

INSKEEP: NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Jackson, Miss. Hi there, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How important is this contest in Mississippi?

ELLIOTT: Well, it's the governor's race. It's the most important race there is, and that's why the president will be coming here. You know, Republican Tate Reeves has made this contest all about Donald Trump. Just listen to this campaign ad.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Do you stand with our president and Tate Reeves or with the liberals and Jim Hood? Mississippi, it's time to choose.

ELLIOTT: You know, the screenshot is showing his opponent, Jim Hood, framed by these unflattering images of national Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters. In a speech to business leaders yesterday, Reeves was, you know, sticking with that message, that a vote for him is like a vote for Trump.

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TATE REEVES: If you believe that our country is headed in the right direction and you support President Trump, next Tuesday is critically important.

ELLIOTT: You know, Reeves' overall theme is that conservative policies work for the nation and for Mississippi.

INSKEEP: Well, how is the Democrat, Jim Hood, fighting the way that Republicans are framing him?

ELLIOTT: Well, he's stressing his down-home roots in north Mississippi, saying people know me. This is the territory where Trump is headed tonight, in fact. His campaign ads have been actually showing him, you know, with his hunting dog, Buck and his rifle. Let's listen.

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JIM HOOD: You all know me. I've worked for you for years. I do my job. And I'm a straight shooter.

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ELLIOTT: Now, that shattering you hear is his target, a beer bottle. Hood is talking about how the liberal labels just won't stick.

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HOOD: People of Mississippi have voted for me and they've seen my record. And I think people will make a decision based upon my past.

ELLIOTT: Now, Hood has been the attorney general for 16 years. He stresses a moderate record, including that he has defended Mississippi's very restrictive anti-abortion laws. He's directly courting Republicans, asking them to step out of their comfort zone.

INSKEEP: Well, he would need Republicans in a state that is so Republican. Why would the race be so tight at all?

ELLIOTT: Well, I think Republican Tate Reeves had a really bruising primary. And now there's just not a lot of deep enthusiasm coming. I talked with Elva Eubanks from Star, Miss. She's active in conservative politics here. And this is how she assesses the governor's race.

ELVA EUBANKS: To say that we really don't have a good choice would put a bad reflection on one of them and I don't really intend to do that. My only choice is to get Tate elected.

ELLIOTT: So she's working to get Tate Reeves elected, but you hear how it's a tough job for her. Now, the president's rally tonight should help fire up the base here. Vice President Pence will come early next week to help get out the vote. Reeves also has the support of Mississippi's term-limited governor, Phil Bryant. He remains very popular here.

INSKEEP: Debbie, thanks for your reporting. We'll be listening for the results.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Jackson, Miss.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANDBOOK'S "CAN'T TALK NOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.