Whipping Votes For Impeachment

Dec 14, 2019
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we're joined by Congressman Dan Kildee, Democrat from Michigan. He is the chief deputy whip for the Democrats.

Congressman Kildee, welcome back to the program. Thanks for joining us once again.

DAN KILDEE: Thanks for having me on.

MARTIN: So you just heard our colleague, Claudia Grisales. She - as she reported, she says that the members are saying that they've had zero pressure from leadership. You were quoted in The Washington Post saying that you were not whip-counting because - and I'm quoting you here - this is one of those issues where members have to come to their own conclusions. It's just too consequential. So can I reframe this to say you're not treating this as a party loyalty test? You're treating this as a conscience vote. Would that be fair to say?

KILDEE: Absolutely. In fact, it was the same case even when members were determining whether we should initiate an impeachment inquiry. There was no whip. There was no effort by the part of the leadership to get members to join the effort. People came to their own conclusions on their own timetable.

And in this particular case, I mean, this is a vote that members will be remembered decades from now as to how they voted. And this is not a case that should be based on party loyalty or anything other than the own member of Congress, their conscience, their constituency and what they think the right thing will be in terms of defending the Constitution. So there will be no pressure for any member of Congress to vote any way coming from the Democratic leadership.

MARTIN: OK. But for the members who are still on the fence, are they reaching out to you? What are they saying to you? What are you hearing from them?

KILDEE: Well, they all want to be very thoughtful about this. I think they were - it was proper for them to wait until the impeachment articles were drafted, take some time to evaluate them, consult with those people that are close to them, hear from their constituents and then come to a conclusion. But of those members who are more moderate members that I've spoken with, pretty much all of them are feeling like this is far too consequential for them to look the other way. The president's behavior is so far beyond reproach that I don't expect very many Democrats who will not support this.

I mean, the two that we are aware of could end up being the only two members in the Democratic caucus that vote against impeachment. And even in the case of those, they're at least not taking the position that most if not all Republicans are taking, and that is not just that the behavior doesn't rise to the standard of impeachment. But Republicans are taking the position that the president hasn't done anything wrong at all.

That's the hardest thing, I think, for Americans to accept. But at least in the case of those who are more moderate, there might be a couple of Democrats who don't vote for it. But at least in the case of those, they recognize that the president's behavior is wrong.

MARTIN: OK. But there have been zero defections on the Republican side so far, on the votes that have been taken so far, and that's been surprising to some people because this includes members who have been critical of the president on other grounds. Even if that's a minority of the caucus, they've stood out for the fact that they have been willing to criticize the president publicly. Members who are retiring, members who have a national security background have continued to support the president or say that they oppose impeachment.

So if some Democrats vote no, even a small number, and all Republicans hold, does that say anything about the strength of the case? Or does that say anything about the strength of the president?

KILDEE: Well, I think what it says is the Democrats think for themselves and are encouraged to think for themselves and listen to their constituents. But let's be clear. Republicans who in the elevator decry the president's behavior when they're going up to the second floor where the House of Representatives meets and then walk onto the floor and leave that courage in the elevator, that's not anything to be proud of.

The fact is, Republican leadership are whipping their members and considering it a loyalty test to the party. And the president himself is considering it a loyalty test to him and will exact punishment against those members who vote against him. You know, I don't think it shows a great deal of courage on the part of those members on the Republican side who clearly believe that the president has acted in a manner that should be subject to far greater scrutiny but don't have the courage to go vote...

MARTIN: OK.

KILDEE: ...Against their party and against their president.

MARTIN: OK. Well, we have no way of knowing what's going on in those member elevators because we're not allowed onto them. But I will say in the interest of fairness that minority leader - House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, says that the Republican from California has said that there would be no need to whip for his party. So I'll just sort of say that.

But if the articles of impeachment passed next week, the next step is for the Republican-led Senate to hold a trial. The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox that there is no chance the Senate will remove President Trump. So if that is the case, what do you say to people who say that this is a pointless exercise?

KILDEE: Well, I don't think it's pointless when we do our job because we swore an oath to the Constitution. Now, because Mitch McConnell seems to be more loyal to President Trump than to his responsibility - that's my view, of course - I don't think we predicate whether we do our job in the House based on whether the Senate is going to take action. I mean, if we did that, we would not have passed the 275 bipartisan bills that are sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk right now gathering dust.

We do our work, and we're going to adhere to the Constitution. We're going to interpret it the way we think it should be interpreted, and we're going to act accordingly. And it's up to the Senate whether or not they find that the evidence that we present moves them to impeach. But I don't think we can condition what we do based on some guess as to what the Senate might do.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, what are your constituents saying to you? We've been hearing from some of your members, including in your state, who say that the conversations are very heated. I mean, there was the - you know, Debbie Dingell has sort of famously said that she can't go get a bagel. You know, people at the bagel shop are getting into arguments about it. What are people saying to you? What are your constituents saying? What are they saying to each other? What are they saying to you?

KILDEE: Yeah. I mean, we hear it from both sides. But I would put it in three categories. There are those folks who are absolutely convinced that the president should be impeached and are encouraging you to vote in that manner. There are those folks who believe that the president should be supported, and we should walk away from the impeachment.

But there's a good number of people who voted for President Trump, who support President Trump, but trust me to use my own judgment and vote my conscience and understand that that's what they asked me to do when they elected me. And so, you know, it's not all one side versus the other. There are some people who understand they may not agree with me, but they trust my judgment.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Dan Kildee from Michigan. He's the chief deputy whip for the Democrats.

Congressman, thanks so much for talking to us once again.

KILDEE: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SALES' "OFF AND ON")

MARTIN: Tomorrow, we'll have Congressman Kim Schrier on the program to talk about the upcoming impeachment vote. She is a Democrat from Washington state who flipped her traditionally Republican district in 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF SALES' "OFF AND ON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.