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Politics chat: Impeachment vote in Texas; House impeachment inquiry into Biden

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Seems like everywhere you look these days, there's an impeachment. Just yesterday, the Texas state Senate acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton after the House there voted to impeach him. And coming up in Washington, a push by House Republicans to impeach President Biden. But you know who's unimpeachable? NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Welcome back, Mara. We've missed you.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Thank you, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So let's start in Texas. The FBI is still looking into Ken Paxton's involvement with a political donor. But what did you make of an overwhelming vote to impeach in the Texas House but then an acquittal in the Senate?

LIASSON: This is a giant fight inside the Republican Party of Texas. Everyone here are Republicans. Paxton was impeached on corruption charges by the Republican state House on a very overwhelming vote, 121-23. Then he was acquitted by the Republican state Senate by an equally decisive vote. Paxton is a Trump ally. Trump supported him during this whole impeachment episode. As you said, he still faces criminal charges of security fraud that could - this is a case that's been going on for eight years. There's also another federal investigation. There are civil suits against him. But Paxton was elected as attorney general last year in Texas by a very large margin. And it's possible that, like Trump, this failed impeachment could help him politically with Republicans in Texas. And Texas is a very red state.

RASCOE: And now to the U.S. House. Speaker Kevin McCarthy said this past week there will be an impeachment inquiry into President Biden. Let's first deal with the facts. Like, why is this happening?

LIASSON: McCarthy says he has to open an impeachment inquiry about President Biden so the House can have the power to subpoena documents to see if there is evidence of a crime. This mostly involves the president's son Hunter Biden's business dealings and whether Joe Biden benefited from them. We know that Hunter Biden traded on his family name. He put Joe Biden on the phone sometimes when he was trying to impress business clients. Unseemly for sure, but criminal? We don't know yet. So far, the House has not turned up any evidence that Joe Biden himself received any money. And so far, the House Republicans' investigation of Biden hasn't asked for more documents or turned up any evidence of a crime. They've mostly been accusing Biden of being a criminal.

And what's interesting about this whole proceeding is that Kevin McCarthy is going to open this inquiry by himself without a vote of the full House. This is something that he criticized Nancy Pelosi for doing. He said it's very important that the full House should vote because, remember, she opened an impeachment inquiry into Trump without a full vote of the House. But politically, Republicans are determined to level the playing field to make Biden seem the same as Trump in the eyes of voters. Trump was impeached - maybe so was Biden. And that's what they're trying to accomplish politically.

RASCOE: So where do you think this goes?

LIASSON: I think that this could go in one of two directions - maybe two directions at once. Republicans think they can tarnish Joe Biden with impeachment by tying him to Hunter Biden's recent indictment relating to false statements that Hunter Biden made on a gun permit application. The White House thinks that there could be a backlash against Republicans, just like there was after the Clinton impeachment. Impeachment used to be very rare. Now it's seen as just another partisan political weapon. And polls show that only about 30% of Americans think the impeachment is a serious investigation. Over 40% thinks it - think it's just an effort to embarrass the president. It could do both of those things.

RASCOE: So elsewhere in the program today, we hear from an economist who points out that Americans are working and spending. The numbers look good, but the vibes aren't good. The vibes are off, according to opinion polls. And now there's this big autoworker strike. What's going on here?

LIASSON: Right. Well, we've talked about this in the past, and it is a big mystery why, if the economy is better by so many metrics, people feel so bad about it. Some of it is partisanship. When there's a Republican in the White House, Democrats tend to say the economy is doing bad. When there's a Republican in the White House, Democrats don't like the economy. And - but there's another thing going on. Even though inflation is down in some areas, it hasn't fallen enough. It's still high in the energy sector. And Americans also understand that even though they're better off than they were maybe six months ago, they're not necessarily better off than they felt five, six, seven years ago. Inflation in areas like health care and education and housing is still high, and it's been high since even before COVID. So that's one of the reasons.

The other thing is that presidents' approval ratings and the economy seem to be divorced from each other. It used to be that a president's approval ratings rose and fell with the economy. But Donald Trump had a good economy before COVID. He was very unpopular. Biden has overseen a pretty strong recovery, but he's also really unpopular. And that may or may not determine his reelection. And as you said, there's a UAW strike. If that hurts the economy, that certainly will hurt the president.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.