On Verge Of Impeachment Vote, First-Term, Moderate Democrats Weigh A Political Risk

18 hours ago
Originally published on December 14, 2019 4:28 pm

Last month, Democratic freshman Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia took a giant, political risk.

The veteran Navy commander released a dramatic, 2-minute video declaring her support for the formal House impeachment inquiry.

The move expanded the Republican target on her back, as the GOP vies to take back the seat she flipped to Democrats last year.

Now, she has taken another risk, confirming she will vote yes to impeach President Trump next week.

"I have always said this was not a political decision," Luria said. "It was about what was wrong and what was right, and if I don't get re-elected in 2020 because of it, I'll know that I did right thing. I was on the right side of history, and I'll be able to look at myself in the mirror."

Luria and other moderates in the freshman class of the House of Representatives will find out in the coming year whether their vote on impeaching the president will cost them their seats in the 2020 elections.

Other moderates have already joined Luria in stepping forward to announce their plans to vote yes to impeach the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Among those joining Luria are Reps. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, Colin Allred of Texas and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania.

"It's very, very important for everyone to understand that nobody in this country, especially those of us in government and the president, are not above the law," Wild said moments before announcing her decision.

Other freshman moderates say they are taking additional time to deliberate, revisit the evidence from the House inquiry before releasing a decision on their vote.

"I'm still in the process of reading all the testimony," said Pennsylvania Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, "and I will make a decision over the weekend."

New York Rep. Anthony Brindisi was part of conversations earlier this week with a small group of Democratic members considering an alternative to impeachment in the form of censure of the president.

Now, he says he'll also weigh the impeachment decision in the coming days.

"It's huge," Brindisi said of the vote. "That's why I need this weekend to really sit down and kind of digest all the stuff that is before us with impeachment."

Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey says she's also reviewing impeachment arguments through the lens of her current and previous roles, including that as a veteran Navy helicopter pilot.

"I think what people expect from me is to use my experience as a veteran, as a federal prosecutor, even as a mother and someone who cares deeply about our Democracy, is to make decisions that I think will be in the best interest of our country and New Jersey and that's what I've tried to do," Sherrill said.

These representatives will be closely watched on the House floor on Wednesday, when the lower chamber is expected to take its historic vote. The moderates, despite all the pressure, are expected to join the Democrat-controlled House to approve the articles.

And they'll let the vote's impact and the rest of history play out — reelections or not — come next year.

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The inspector general's report on the FBI's Russia investigation may be the deepest public look into how the FBI investigates U.S. citizens on U.S. soil using FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA outlines the process for obtaining and renewing surveillance warrants in the name of national security.

The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized many Trump administration policies, but the organization says the inspector general's report illuminates many abuses in the FISA process, including in the case of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.

Hina Shamsi directs the ACLU's National Security Project and joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

HINA SHAMSI: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: What did you note that was wrong, as far as you're concerned, in the surveillance of Carter Page?

SHAMSI: Well, for us, this comprehensive, first ever investigation essentially into the government's FISA system was confirmation of something that we have long been concerned about, that the one-sided, secretive nature of the surveillance approval process breeds abuse.

SIMON: And do you believe that they omitted material that might have been in Mr. Page's favor?

SHAMSI: Certainly. There was information that was selectively provided. There was information that essentially supported the FBI side of the story but didn't present information to the court that undercut that side of the story.

In a regular process, criminal defendants, for example, will get information disclosed to them about why the government suspects them of wrongdoing. And in a regular process, people would then be able to say, actually no, you got that wrong. That ability simply does not exist in the FISA approval process. So you're unable to correct the government's errors, omissions, and potential falsehoods if they exist.

SIMON: What about the argument that surveillance requests under FISA, as I don't have to tell you, are almost never rejected by courts. And therefore, that shows that great care is taken in preparing these requests and that they meet a very tough standard?

SHAMSI: You know, in many ways, it's an argument that is disproven by the inspector general report. So some of the reforms that we have been proposing to Congress are to say, for example, that individuals who are prosecuted with the aid of FISA surveillance should have the opportunity to access and review the government's applications and orders. And people who've been targeted by surveillance - and right now people targeted never find out that people are provided even notice after the surveillance in order to be able to challenge or correct the record.

SIMON: Is it your feeling, Ms. Shamsi, that if something like this can be done in the case of a former Trump campaign adviser, it means it can be done to a lot of people that don't have the resources to defend themselves or the public platform?

SHAMSI: That's exactly the thing. What's so striking here is that this surveillance application, the Carter Page surveillance application, was subjected to far greater internal scrutiny than most applications usually are by the FBI. And if that still overlooks these serious omissions and errors, then you have to ask, as we have long done, what kinds of errors occur in less scrutinized cases that never actually receive the benefit of an inspector general's review.

SIMON: There are a lot of Americans who are concerned now about foreign influence on U.S. elections. Are you concerned about changing FISA restrictions at a time when they might be most needed?

SHAMSI: So, Scott, our concern is that national security policies and programs be both effective and have basic safeguards to protect people's civil liberties and rights. The kinds of harms and errors that the inspector general identifies are, you know, concerns that equally apply to very intrusive investigations of others on a regular basis, especially Muslims, racial and religious minorities, those who dissent. And our system needs reform because we need far better safeguards against government abuse that is aided by government secrecy.

SIMON: Hina Shamsi is director of the ACLU's National Security Project. Thanks so much for being with us.

SHAMSI: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.