LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The House of Representatives voted this week to set the rules for the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Trump. The vote shifts the process into a new, more public phase. But according to the president, the inquiry remains nothing more than an attack by what he calls radical Democrats against him and his supporters.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The radical left is determined to transform America into a country you would not recognize. We are the ones standing in their way, and we will never get out of their way. It will be easy.
FADEL: That was President Trump speaking to supporters last night at a rally in Tupelo, Miss. His words underscore how divisive and political the impeachment process is likely to remain as it goes forward. We're going to begin this hour by taking a close look at where the inquiry stands right now and what we know about where it's headed next. Joining me for that is NPR's congressional correspondent, Susan Davis.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hi there.
FADEL: So, first, I feel like a lot of our listeners probably think this is all a blur now. What exactly did the House vote on this week?
DAVIS: It does three simple things. The first thing it does is it calls for the House to have public hearings. It also directs the House Intelligence Committee to release publicly all of those private depositions of interviews they've been taking. And it directs the judiciary committee to essentially begin and prepare for possible impeachment proceedings.
FADEL: So the vote was split straight down party lines, all but two House Democrats voting in favor, all the Republicans voting against. What was their argument?
DAVIS: It's a good lesson that going forward, this is probably going to be a strict party-line fight in the house. You have Democrats. You lost just two of them. I should note, though, that 29 of the 31 Democrats who represent districts that Donald Trump won voted for this resolution, which I think tells you that Democrats in the most competitive districts think the politics are on their side in impeachment.
But then you have Republicans, who have also stood directly behind the president on this question, no defections. And the sources that I talked to say there's just a simple calculation here for a lot of Republicans, all of which in the House that are running for reelection are also on the ballot in 2020. And there's just no political oxygen right now to be a Republican who could take a vote as seen as against this president and hope to run and win in a competitive Republican primary.
FADEL: So do the president and his lawyers get a say in the process now?
DAVIS: They will get a say in the process, although they've indicated they're not going to participate in the process. Even prior to this resolution vote, the White House's lawyers had sent a letter to Congress saying, we see this process as illegitimate, and we won't participate. And, in fact, they've stonewalled the investigation happening behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee. If and when it goes to the Judiciary Committee, the president and his counsel will be given rights. They'll be able to question witnesses. They'll be able to offer up evidence of their own.
Whether or not they will participate is a question that remains open. But the White House has indicated that their strategy here has just been a blockade - to not participate and argue against the process to the public and make it look like it's an illegitimate investigation of the president.
FADEL: But wasn't the argument that this was all being done in closed hearings? So if it's opening up now, what's the argument now?
DAVIS: Well, that's the key question, right? I mean, we look at the country right now, and it's incredibly divided on the question of impeachment. And I think that the White House thinks if those numbers hold, if the country remains divided, Democrats are the one taking the risk. What we don't know is how public hearings might shift that sentiment.
The country has absorbed this largely through secondhand information, through news reports. It's different if you see and hear people testifying in public under oath about what they saw and heard. We don't know it will move the needle. But if it does, that might again shift the calculus at the White House that maybe they might need to step up and engage in a more active defense on the substance of these allegations.
FADEL: Does a move from closed hearings to open hearings advance the inquiry in a really significant way? Are we going to see public testimony like you talked about from these major players?
DAVIS: Well, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday that she expected those public hearings would begin this month. The house is in recess next week, so that's over a two-week period, we should start to see these public hearings. Democrats still say they'd like to wrap this impeachment investigation on the House side by the end of the year. They're only scheduled to be in session something like 16 more days, so they really are facing a time crunch to sort of make up their mind here. They still have to consider public hearings, impeachment proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee and still a vote in the full House.
FADEL: So it'll be a little while before the House votes again. But if it does reach that point, it would actually be a vote on whether to impeach the president. Is that correct?
DAVIS: The next reasonable assumption is that if they are moving forward down this path, the next vote would be in the House Judiciary Committee. The committees are directed to transfer all of their evidence to judiciary, and judiciary will ultimately make the decision on whether there are articles of impeachment and what they should be.
So, first, it would have to come out of the Judiciary Committee. And assuming articles of impeachment are approved, they would then go to the House floor. It's a privilege matter. There's not that much debate on it. And if any article of impeachment is approved, any one - there can be more than one - the president is considered impeached, and a trial begins in the Senate almost immediately.
FADEL: And have Senate leaders said anything about their plans in response to the House vote this week?
DAVIS: Well, they don't have a choice. The Constitution requires that they have a trial, although it does give some flexibility to how that will go. Senators on both sides have said they do anticipate a trial similar to how the Clinton impeachment went in 1998 and 1999. That one lasted about five weeks.
FADEL: That's NPR's congressional correspondent, Sue Davis.
DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.