SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
President Trump is in Florida this weekend where he'll celebrate the holidays. He left Washington, D.C., an impeached president, but he claimed he didn't feel impeached. He called the whole thing a hoax. This week, Democrats lining up to replace President Trump in the White House met on the debate stage - a leaner group of just seven who qualified. They didn't consider impeachment a hoax, but they didn't spend much time celebrating.
NPR's Tamara Keith joins us. Tam, thanks for being with us.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
SIMON: It's just the third time in U.S. history a president has been impeached. But then when the Democrats got onstage, they mostly seemed to be there to jump on Mayor Pete and his wine cave.
KEITH: That is right. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., is leading in some early state polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. And when you have a lead in those important states - guess what - some of the other candidates are going to come after you.
So this was the PBS NewsHour/Politico debate. And Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren went after him for holding big-dollar fundraisers, including one in, as you mentioned, a wine cave, which is a very memorable phrase. And then Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar took digs at him about his relative lack of experience. But one of the sharpest barbs came in the midst of an exchange about electability.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PETE BUTTIGIEG: If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80% of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence's Indiana.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: Again, I would - Mayor, if you had won in Indiana, that would be one thing. You tried, and you lost by 20 points.
KEITH: She's pointing back to his race for state treasurer in Indiana in 2010, which he did not do well in. You know, if electability is the most important thing, then you're going to have this dynamic that's existed in this Democratic race where a candidate rises up, but it's sort of like an escalator to nowhere because once they get to the top, all the other candidates start coming after them and, suddenly, they stop looking quite so electable. And then someone else goes up the escalator to the top.
SIMON: Did they have much variance of views on impeachment?
KEITH: No. I mean, it was the first question in the debate, and they dispensed with it pretty quickly because, well, they all agree they want President Trump out of office whether through impeachment or by a Democrat winning in November.
SIMON: And, of course, with just a couple of exceptions, the vote on impeachment of the House was strictly by party lines - no Republican defections. After this week, can it be said that the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan, party of balanced budgets and national security, has become the party of Donald Trump?
KEITH: Oh, absolutely, without question. President Trump kept his Republicans in the House completely in line. You know, early on, there had been some Republican Congresspeople expressing concerns or being distressed about the president's call with President Zelenskiy. By the time that vote happened, he had all the Republicans in line, and the only defections were on the Democratic side - just a couple, a handful of them. And one of those ended up jumping parties after the vote and becoming a Republican.
But it's not just that vote. You have the USMCA, the replacement for NAFTA, which passed out of the House on a very strong bipartisan vote. It had a lot of things in it that Democrats liked and some things that Republicans would have maybe not have wanted. But guess what. They voted for it. And even things like paid parental leave in the defense bill for federal employees - that has not been a top Republican priority. But there they were, Republicans falling in line and supporting this priority that was a priority of President Trump.
SIMON: Finally, Tam, does either party want impeachment trial to last through the election season?
KEITH: No. No, no, no, no, no. President Trump wants to be acquitted in the Senate as soon as humanly possible. And he's pretty frustrated that it's been held up. And it's not clear when that Senate trial is going to happen. And these Democrats, including Democrats in the Senate who are running for president, do not want to be trapped in the Senate chamber when they would rather be in Iowa campaigning. You're going to get this crazy February where it's Super Bowl Sunday, Iowa caucus Monday and the State of the Union on Tuesday.
SIMON: Tamara Keith, NPR's White House correspondent and co-host of NPR's Politics Podcast, thanks so much.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.