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Impeachment Today Podcast: The 14-Hour Hearing That Ended With A Bang And A Whimper

In today's episode: a look at how elected leaders are removed from office in the UK and Australia.

Posted on December 13, 2019, at 6:38 p.m. ET

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler walks away after speaking to the media on Friday.

It's Friday, December 13th, 2019, 80 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Friday, December 13th, 2019. 80 days since the House kicked off the impeachment process, and this is Impeachment Today.

Good morning, I'm Hayes Brown, a reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. 80 days. In the time it takes one man to race around the world, we've gone from an official inquiry announcement to articles of impeachment set to be debated on the floor of the House of Representatives. I can barely believe it myself. Okay. Today we're talking to BuzzFeed News UK politics and media reporter Mark Di Stefano. He'll be giving us the tea time about how removing a head of government differs across the pond and down under. But before we get to all that, let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

It was a late night, but at 11:15 p.m., the House Judiciary Committee adjourned a marathon hearing without voting on the two articles of impeachment against President Trump. And to paraphrase a great number of people inside the committee room, "LOL, what?" The decision by chairman Jerry Nadler to end for the night came after the committee argued and debated the way the articles were written and the charges against the president for 14 hours. In that time, Democrats voted down five amendments from Republicans, one proposed amendment from representative Jim Jordan would have deleted the parts of the articles that would actually remove Trump from office if he's found guilty in the Senate. So you can see why that one didn't win much support from Democrats, rinse and repeat for another four amendments, including one that would have deleted the entire first article of impeachment and one that would've deleted the entire second article of impeachment. Throwing a bunch of speeches that made the same points again and again, and that is the entirety of the 14 hours the committee spent sitting there working through and rejecting attempts to make the articles toothless.

In the end, just one amendment passed, a technical one proposed by Nadler that cleaned up some of the grammar in the articles. It almost felt like pay back for the 14 hours spent debating poison pill amendments when at the end of all that, Nadler surprised everyone by wrapping up for the day without a vote. The final vote on the articles and the committee will now be today, Friday at 10 a.m. It is expected to take far less time than yesterday's 14 freaking hours. Meanwhile, we still don't have details on the format of the impeachment trial that will start once the articles are approved by the full house next week. There's reportedly tensions between Senate Republicans who want a short trial and Trump who wants a long one with a bunch of witnesses.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone was seen on the Hill on Thursday trying to talk senators around to seeing the president's way of seeing things, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox News not to worry. He's making sure the White House is "totes cool with the way things eventually run."

Pat Cipollone: And everything I do during this I'm coordinating with White House council. 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. We don't have the kind of ball control on this that a typical issue, for example, it comes over to the House, if they don't like it, we don't take it up. We have no choice but to take it up. But we'll be working through this process hopefully in a fairly short period of time in total coordination with the White House Counsel's office and the people who are representing the president in the [inaudible].

Hayes Brown: So the Senate is supposed to be the jury in an impeachment trial and the foreman of the jury is out here assuring the defendant that the trial is going to go in a way that he'll be happy about. That sounds totally legit and not at all weird. That was the news. This was the noise. As you'd expect over 14 hours, things definitely managed to get testy at times. Like when Florida Man Rep. Matt Gaetz brought up Hunter Biden's substance abuse issues.

Rep. Hank Johnson: The pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do. I don't know... I don't know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse, been busted in DUI? I don't know. But if I did, I wouldn't raise it against anyone on this committee. I don't think it's proper.

HB: But representative Hank Johnson wasn't going to let that slide subtly reminding the folks at home that Gaetz himself had a DUI arrest in 2008.

Rep. Matt Gaetz: And I don't want to make light of anybody's substance abuse issues. I know the President's working real hard to solve those throughout the country, but it's a little hard to believe that Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz Rental Car over leaving cocaine in a crack pipe in the car.

HB: Savage? Yeah, but that's what happens when you have people in a room for 14 hours. Okay. I'm sorry to keep hammering home how long they were there, but my God, it was like sitting through a movie over four and a half times as long as the godfather. And it turns out to be a cliffhanger. Not a very suspenseful cliffhanger, but a cliffhanger nonetheless. And now we turn to your friend and mine the Nix-ometer.

On our scale, zero, normal day, normal White House. 10, Richard Nixon resigns, flies away in a helicopter. And this morning we are at a 14... Never mind, I'm sorry, kidding, just kidding. Today we are still at a 7.7. Today's the day articles of impeachment will be reported out from the House Judiciary Committee to the full house of representatives and unless things change, Democratic leadership is signaling that that vote will come on Wednesday. So expect a wild weekend of the President's Twitter fingers being extra spicy as we head into the week. After the break we talk to MD about how booting a prime minister out of office is not at all like getting rid of a president. Stick around.

All right, time for This Fucking Thing. Today we're diving into executive removal. Taking a look at how people in not America, go about removing a leader from power. Our way is pretty weird, but let's check out how weird theirs are. Joining us via phone from London is Mark Di Stefano. Mark is a BuzzFeed News UK politics and media reporter over there and a former political editor for BuzzFeed Australia. Thanks for joining us, Mark.

MD: Thank you so much, Hayes. How are you doing?

HB: I'm doing fine. I know you guys are a little busy over there right now with your elections, et cetera.

MD: Yeah, and look, it's kind of an amazing time because there's been so many prime ministers in the UK and in Australia over the last couple of years. And the topic of removing them, it's actually kind of brutally efficient now. We're now really good at getting rid of them, the ones that the parties don't want.

HB: So with your elections and Brexit and the Brexit elections and Meghan Markle and all of that, is our crazy breaking through into your crazy at all?

MD: Yeah, look, I think that it is, and one of the reasons why is that it all sort of stems from the craziness of 2016 right? There was the Brexit election that was in June, and Nigel Farage was one of the figureheads of that Brexit election. It was just such a massive shock to the system. And if you remember, like the Republican presidential candidate at the time, Donald Trump actually started telling everyone that he was like Mr. Brexit. So he was going to be the one that provided the same sort of shock to the system over in the US.

MD: So really Brexit and Trump, they're kind of two words that go together now. They roll off the tongue when you talk about politics, but a lot of the craziness really does stem from that 2016 ground zero for all the mental things that we've been seeing in politics in the UK and that we are getting so much of. You can't turn on the TV without seeing Trump.

HB: So impeachment is a pretty weird process on this end. And even though we got the idea from Britain, I know that's not how it works for you guys. So let me ask this for our listeners here in the US, how does it work if you want to get rid of a prime minister in the United Kingdom?

MD:

Well, there are these things called elections. And I know that sounds weird, but the actual process is different for each party. And one of the most important things I think that listeners to this podcast need to understand is that, the prime minister is the person who actually represents the largest party in the House of Commons. So the prime minister, the leader of the country, in the US kind of like Nancy Pelosi. It's the person who has the largest party in the chamber, in the House of Representatives. So we have this situation where, if you cannot control the confidence is what they call it, the confidence in the House, then you do get removed either by your party or the parliament itself gets dissolved and goes to an election.

HB: Ah, okay. So we had something almost similar happen a few years back. John Boehner was the speaker of the House and he could not really control his party. So rather than having to go through a vote of no confidence, he just kind of said, "I'm done, stepping down as speaker of the House." So when was the last time you guys said "Toodle-oo" to a prime minister?

MD: That actually happened last December where the conservative MPs, there was 48 of them. They said, "We no longer have confidence." It triggered a vote in her and she actually tightly won the vote, giving her a one year free ride. But what happened was is that because she was in charge of the House of Commons, which is so divided at the moment on the issue of Brexit, Theresa May actually couldn't get her Brexit deal across the line, couldn't do anything. So what she did is that she said to her party, "Look, if you vote for my Brexit deal, I promise you I will get out of the way and let a pro-Brexit MP to become prime minister." But the conservative MPs said, "Nuh uh, you've got to go." And that's what happened with this year. She left because it wasn't a trigger of any type of executive authority, she just saw the writing on the wall and there was enough conservative MPs that said, "You've got to go."

HB: That's so wild.

MD: So then there's a conservative leadership race and it was between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson and the winner of that, which is a huge vote of all the conservative activists and members across the country, the winner of that became the leader of the Conservative Party and actually the prime minister themselves. So that's actually kind of one way you replace a prime minister in the UK. It's this crazy situation where there is secret letters, votes of no confidence along the party lines, and then you have a vote amongst all these different members. But a lot of the time the important thing to remember is people jump before they get pushed.

HB: Right. Okay. So in our situation over here, we've only had one case where someone actually made that jump, Richard Nixon. So that sounds really complicated and super shady, but that still sounds easier than getting 100 senators, two-thirds of them to vote to remove a president. Let's shift gears really quickly to Australia, Tom Gara, BuzzFeed News' opinion editor, who helps us shape the show is himself an Australian and according to him, getting rid of leaders is just kind of a national pastime down there. Is that true?

MD: So there've been six prime ministers over the course of 12 years. We've had this series of, as soon as opinion polling started to turn on issues, these really weak MPs started to freak out. And instead of saying, "Let's just wait it out, let's get to the next election, it's a three year term, let's get there." They say, "No, let's replace them." And so there's these things called leadership spills and it's literally the idea of spilling the vote. We need to find out who controls the confidence of the party.

HB: Real quickly, so is that like a pressure valve or is it just too much chaos and lack of continuity to actually govern?

MD: I think that there's a bit of a chicken and egg problem here, right? Because I think that if you had a leader who actually was a strong leader, who understood the media, who understood the current moment, and that played to the public and not just worried about the next opinion poll, I think that that person would be successful. But at the same time, there are all of these ingredients that are sort of swirling around in a big cauldron. And we've seen time after time after time, parties who are in government, so they are supposed to be the ones running the country, start freaking out when they're seeing an election over the hill.

HB: So it sounds like the uncertainty of when elections will actually happen both in Australia and the UK, makes it so that politicians are just really dependent on opinion polls way more than in the US even.

MD: You see that here in the UK with Theresa May. It wasn't just that Theresa May's Brexit deal was bad per se, which a lot of the party of the conservatives thought that, they just in polling, they saw that Theresa May against Jeremy Corbyn, the Labor leader wasn't doing too well. And they thought if there was going to be an election and we needed to call the election tomorrow to get some more numbers back in the parliaments to be able to pass the Brexit deal, we wouldn't actually be able to win with such a weak leader in power. So that's the reason why they installed Boris Johnson. I think that we are in unprecedented times and the instability within parties is mostly just a reflection on weakness within political leaders and a kind of weak system that we're currently mushing our way through.

HB: So quick fire, two final questions. What do you think? Is it too easy for the UK and Australia to remove a head of government? And should you just give governing power back to the Queen?

MD: Well, I mean that's the worst part. I mean, on the latter question, the worst part as an Australian small R Republican is that I hate the fact that the Queen is still the head of state of Australia. It's a national embarrassment. I think that it is too easy. But again, at the same time, what we are I think all of us, crying out for is not strong leadership as in strong man leadership, but as in strong leadership in trying to actually forge a way through the current mess that we're in around the world and once those leaders start taking office, whether it's [inaudible] in New Zealand or anywhere else, you actually see all that mush start sort of solidifying.

HB: All right. Mark, thank you so much for joining us and I leave you to go back to figuring out what the hell is happening in the United Kingdom.

MD: And good luck to you in all the impeachment hell that you're about to enter.

HB: Okay, that's it for this week. Next week's going to be a doozy as the House marches towards a final vote on impeachment. I'm so excited, concerned, perturbed. There is a laundry list of words that could describe how I'm feeling right now. Also though, we would love to keep hearing from you, the listeners, so let us know what you think about the US impeachment process. Does it make sense? Should it be easier to remove the president or should the bar be even higher. And please tell us anything else you might be still or newly confused about. Let us know what's on your mind. Open the voice memo app on your phone, record your message, and email it to impeachment@buzzfeed.com. Or just send me a direct message on Twitter. I'm @hayesbrown and my DMS are always open.

Lastly, if you're not already, make sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows. And please, please leave a rating and review, tis the season to be giving. It's the best way to help us teach more people about this wacky thing called impeachment. Also tell your friends about the show as we all figure this out together.

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