MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
It has never happened before - a president of the United States impeached twice. Might Donald Trump be the first? Well, this morning, House Democrats introduced a single article of impeachment charging the president with inciting an insurrection. You'll recall it was a year ago this month that President Trump's first impeachment trial got underway. House Democrats were led then by California Congressman Adam Schiff. This time around, Schiff has again been consulting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the way forward.
Congressman Schiff, hey there. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. Good to be with you.
KELLY: What is the goal of impeaching a president who only has days left in office? Is it actually removing him from office? Is a drawing a line in the sand? Is it disqualifying him from running ever again? What?
SCHIFF: Well, the most important goal, from my point of view, is to remove this dangerous president from office with all speed. That would be best accomplished if he resigned. That would be in the best interest of the country, but he has rarely considered what's in the best interest of the country. I also have great doubts about the second-best alternative, which is Mike Pence invoking the 25th Amendment. That would require a level of courage and backbone that the vice president hasn't demonstrated.
KELLY: He's given no indication...
SCHIFF: And then it falls to Congress.
KELLY: ...That he plans to invoke the 25th Amendment.
SCHIFF: I'm sorry?
KELLY: He's given no indication - Vice President Pence - that he plans to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove...
KELLY: ...The president.
SCHIFF: No, you're absolutely right. And failing to do so - that means that Congress must use the only remedy remaining to protect the country, and that is to impeach the president and do so with all speed because every day he's in office, he presents a real and present danger, as we saw on Wednesday. We don't want another violent attack on the Capitol. We don't want other decisions by this president that threaten the peaceful transition of power. And so within our power, we can impeach the president, and I believe we should.
KELLY: You have overwhelming support for this from fellow Democrats. Do you have commitment from Republicans to join you?
SCHIFF: I don't know is the short answer. Certainly, several Republicans have expressed an openness to impeachment. Others have called on the president to resign. What they will actually do when the vote comes up and they're called to account, I can't say.
KELLY: Can you share who you're talking to, who you think might be persuadable?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think several have made public statements, like Adam Kinzinger in the Senate. You know, people like Ben Sasse have talked about their openness to an impeachment. But again, you know, I think most of the Republicans in the House, for example - even after we had this violent assault on the Capitol, they went right back to propagating the big lie about the election and seeking to disqualify the votes of millions. So I hold out little hope for them, but I do hope that it will be bipartisan.
KELLY: Well, I want to tick through and let you answer some of the arguments made by Republicans - Republicans who think impeachment is the wrong way to go. One is that this will cause more division, that this will further fracture the country. Why not, Congressman Schiff, focus on uniting the country if, in your view, the president is mortally wounded anyway?
SCHIFF: Well, first of all, you know, the argument that this will be divisive to the country is being made by people like Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader who voted against certifying the election results. He is hardly the person, I think, to be making any statements on this subject. But accountability is important. And the most important thing, frankly, at the moment is protecting the country. And, you know, there will be time for healing, and healing's going to be very important. But right now the country is at risk from this dangerous man in the Oval Office, and that has to be our most immediate priority.
KELLY: Another objection that has been raised - and this includes by some Democrats - is that another impeachment drama, another saga of impeachment risks overshadowing Biden's agenda at a moment when he's going to need the full focus of Congress to solve all kinds of problems, starting with the pandemic.
SCHIFF: Well, my feeling is that we should impeach in the House with alacrity and send the articles immediately to the Senate to be tried. And Mitch McConnell could take them up immediately. He's shown every capacity to move quickly to jam justices on the Supreme Court when he has a mind to do so. If his members object, then they will bear the responsibility for exposing the country to whatever Donald Trump does between now and the inauguration. But we could do this very quickly. I think we should do it very quickly. And that's certainly what we're going to do in the House. And it will be on the Senate how long they draw out this process.
KELLY: I wonder - we have about a minute left. But do you think it's realistic that something might happen very quickly? I'll point back to a year ago when you delivered the closing argument in the Senate impeachment trial, and you asked people, think about how much more damage President Trump might do to the country. And then you answered your own question, and you said, a lot. What did you learn from impeachment the last time that informs how you're proceeding now?
SCHIFF: Well, tragically, I learned that the oath that many members of Congress - House and Senate - have taken - they don't give content to and that when it comes time to be held accountable, they were not to be found. But now I hope that they have seen the terrible error in that and give another chance to protect the country and fulfill their oath that live up to it.
KELLY: Adam Schiff, a California congressman - he was the lead House impeachment manager when President Trump was impeached last year.
Congressman Schiff, thanks as always for your time.
SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.