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Congress is back with an impeachment trial and threats to Speaker Johnson's job

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

House Republican leaders promised, after an almost two-month delay, to launch the impeachment trial of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this week. But now that is on hold in a last-minute reversal from Republicans. It's a reminder of the chaos in Congress on that front and more in the coming weeks. And joining us now to talk about all of it is NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so for days, House speaker Mike Johnson has been reiterating plans to finally start this trial, right? But now it's on hold, at least until next week. So what happened here?

GRISALES: Right. There was a lot of whiplash on the Hill today. I spoke to Johnson just earlier this afternoon, and he was pretty firm when he told me of plans to send the articles of impeachment for Secretary Mayorkas tomorrow. And then just two hours later, Republican senators told reporters that would not be the case. These senators said Democrats planned to cut the trial short, and they needed more time to come up with a plan to refute that. Here's Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED CRUZ: Under the Constitution, the responsibilities of the Senate are simple and straightforward. They are to try this impeachment.

GRISALES: And Johnson's office soon after confirmed they would be delaying, in fact, to next week. But as you mentioned, they've had two months to prepare for this, and it is not clear what difference another delay will make.

CHANG: OK. How are Senate Democrats responding to the change in plans?

GRISALES: Well, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Democrats are ready to go whenever Republicans are. And Democrats are sticking with their plan, and that is to move as expeditiously as possible on this. Here's Schumer earlier today.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: We're going to try and resolve this issue as quickly as possible. Impeachment should never be used to settle policy disagreements.

GRISALES: And so Democrats have dismissed impeachment - this impeachment as a political ploy without evidence. And Republicans are worried that Schumer and other Democrats are going to move, as a result, to quickly dismiss this impeachment trial. And Democrats haven't ruled that out. They've signaled that's a possibility, even if it's moved to next week.

CHANG: Hmm. Well, Speaker Johnson - I mean, he was gearing up for a pretty tough week beyond these impeachment plans, right? Like, one House Republican is pushing to oust him - Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia - who, I understand, re-upped her effort today to force him out of office, right?

GRISALES: Yeah, exactly. Greene sent a letter to members of the Republican conference to say that she believes Johnson has breached his duty to the party. And we should note, before the House left for an extended recess a few weeks ago, Greene took the initial steps for a so-called motion to vacate but has yet to actually force a vote on the plan, which is allowed under Republican conference rules. Now she may take those additional steps this week, but we should note there is not much of an appetite for another speaker fight in the Republican conference. After the removal of Johnson's predecessor - this is former Speaker Kevin McCarthy - last year, many do not want to revisit this level of turmoil in an election year just six months...

CHANG: I can only imagine.

GRISALES: ...Into Johnson's term. Yeah.

CHANG: But we have been hearing Johnson talk recently about holding a vote on some aid for Ukraine. Isn't that kind of a red line for Greene and other members who oppose funding for the war, and do you think her ouster threat could change plans to even consider the Ukraine money?

GRISALES: That is possible. We're waiting to see what Johnson will do. He declined to comment when other reporters asked him about this earlier today. But Johnson, as far as we know, is planning to present some sort of alternate plan at some point to provide aid for Ukraine, Israel and others. He had refused to take up a $95 billion aid package that passed in the Senate earlier. But again, this could trigger another step in this motion-to-vacate effort if he does, so he's in a very difficult position on this and a number of more issues for his conference right now.

CHANG: That is NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you so much, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LANA DEL REY SONG, "ART DECO") 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.

Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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