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The Latest On Congressional Efforts To Remove Trump From Office

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The House plans to vote tonight on a measure recommending President Trump be removed from office. It's a symbolic move. Vice President Mike Pence has now announced that he won't support it. But it sets up a second vote, likely tomorrow, on impeachment. Both efforts stem from the president's actions in encouraging and then failing to immediately condemn last week's riots at the Capitol. Meanwhile, President Trump visited the border wall in Alamo, Texas. I'm joined now by NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell and White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez.

Kelsey, let's start with House Democrats. How are they actually planning to move forward with their plans for impeachment?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: The first step in the process right now is a vote on an official request that Vice President Pence invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Pence announced tonight in the letter to Speaker Pelosi that he did not think it was in the best interest of the nation at a time of tension. And he said he would not, and I'm quoting, "yield to efforts to play political games." He urged Congress to try to heal the country and not divide it. But Democrats will move ahead with a vote on impeachment tomorrow regardless. Debate ahead of the vote - this feels old now because we're in debate on something else. It's OK though. Debate ahead of the vote in the rules committee was passionate and sometimes really angry today. There were fights with some Republicans insisting they didn't call for the election to be overturned an Democrats insisting that extremism that led to last week's attack on the Capitol cannot be tolerated. Democrat Norma Torres of California recounted the traumatic experience of ducking behind chairs and hiding from gunshots inside the House chamber as she waited to be evacuated. And she asked if that kind of terror should just be part of the job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NORMA TORRES: Ask yourselves, is gunfire in the speaker's lobby a new normal that you're willing to accept?

SNELL: Democrats and some Republicans are all asking this same question. It's one of the central points of the impeachment effort. Democrats say the events of that day can't go unpunished, and they want to send the message that Congress will not stand by in extraordinary times like this.

CORNISH: Franco, President Trump left the White House for the first time since the riot. How did he defend himself to reporters against the widespread criticism about his role in setting off the riot?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Well, he took no responsibility for stirring up his supporters, who, of course, then stormed the Capitol. And just as he has done many times during his time in office, he said today that everything he did was perfect. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They've analyzed my speech and my words in my final paragraph, my final sentence. And everybody to the T thought it was totally appropriate.

ORDOÑEZ: You know, but let's be clear. He's been widely condemned by Democrats and Republicans for his remarks, and two members of his Cabinet resigned over it. He falsely told his supporters that he was the true winner of the election. He told them over and over again that they needed to fight, to be strong and take back the country. And then he told them to march down to the Capitol. I mean, it really reminds me of the first time he was impeached over what he said was, quote, "a perfect call" to the Ukrainian president, you know, asking him to investigate Joe Biden.

CORNISH: Kelsey, how are Republicans actually responding to the impeachment push?

SNELL: So far, we've seen three House Republicans say they're in favor of impeachment - Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, John Katko of New York and most notably, Liz Cheney. She's the No. 3 Republican in the House. You know, Cheney's statement did not mince words. She said, and I'm quoting here, "the president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled this mob and lit the flame of this attack. Everything that followed was his doing." Again, that is a direct quote from her statement.

Though, over in the Senate, we've heard much, much less. Most GOP leaders aside from Cheney have been more or less publicly silent on Trump's actions and impeachment and the 25th Amendment. We haven't heard directly from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on those issues at all since last week. He has not personally come out and said how he feels about it. You know, this is a moment of rampant distrust and anger inside the Capitol. The Republican Party is split on this. And on the House side, we're seeing just a tremendous amount of frustration and fear. They installed metal detectors at the entrances to the House floor and are now screening members who typically kind of come and go as they please. They're screening them now when they enter the chamber. They're also requiring masks and fining people who don't wear them. I have to say I have never seen anything like this anger and division in the Capitol before.

CORNISH: Franco, President Trump, as we said, was in Texas to talk about the border wall during this debate over his potential impeachment. Is this a plan to distract people from that?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it's really just a last-ditch effort to try to burnish his legacy in his final days. It's something that all presidents try to do. But Republican strategist Alex Conant says it's probably not going to rise above the backlash.

ALEX CONANT: You know, Trump's problem amongst many is that this trip will be completely overshadowed by the fallout from last week.

ORDOÑEZ: And already, we are seeing opinion polls show Trump's job approval is plunging from - because of the fallout from the riot, so there's a lot to see.

CORNISH: That's Franco Ordoñez, who covers the White House, and Kelsey Snell, who covers Congress.

Thank you to you both.

SNELL: Thanks for having us.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.