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Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Reflects On Trump's 2nd Impeachment

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Sixty-seven votes - that is what will be needed to convict Donald Trump in the impeachment trial that got underway today in the Senate. And with the Senate evenly divided, the question remains - will enough Republicans joined Democrats to find the former president guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors? Well, a month ago, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois told me he thought there was a significant chance it could happen. And he's back now.

Congressman, welcome back.

ADAM KINGZINGER: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

KELLY: So you and I last spoke on January 13, the day that the House voted to impeach Trump a second time. You were only - you were one of only 10 Republicans voting to impeach. Do you still believe there is a significant chance the Senate will vote to convict?

KINZINGER: Well, boy, it just reminds me of how it hasn't been that long, but it feels like an eternity. And I'll tell you, I think less and less likely that they're going to vote to convict. I think the question is how many Republican senators, you know, end up voting that way. But it really has been kind of disturbing to see how what happened on January 6, the next day, we were clear eyed - and then it's kind of faded. And it's faded to the desire of politics and political victories. And so I don't know the number. I think it's less likely...

KELLY: What do you think explains that when you say it's faded?

KINZINGER: Yeah. Well, look. I think what's happened is, again, you wake up with the emotion of the moment and then, you know, the politics comes into play. And Donald Trump tries to reassert his power. Of course, if you're a Republican, the Republican base is still with Donald Trump generally, even though that's starting to crumble a little. And I think politics just comes into play. And it clouds what I think is really a constitutional oath-keeping decision about whether or not this was an impeachable offense, and I think there's no doubt it was. If this isn't, I really can't think of what an impeachable and removable offense would be.

KELLY: It's funny listening to you. That's almost verbatim the line that Democrat Jamie Raskin, who's leading the House - impeachment managers made on the floor of the Senate today, which, you know, prompts me to ask this. I know you were watching the trial today and the Senate, as many of us were. I wonder if you were struck, as I was, that unlike the first impeachment, which was about Ukraine and things happening far away, this is such a deeply personal trial for every member of Congress sitting there listening.

KINZINGER: Yeah, it really is. And, you know, every member of Congress lived this firsthand. And so I think some of the people that kind of rely on the crutch of process in this and, you know, time and we don't have enough, you know, lived it, you know, you saw it. And the words that led to this weren't just on January 6. It was really a foundation for the last four years of setting up to a stolen election. And, you know, I've become friends with some of the officers, one in particular that was involved and really is known now for his defense in the Capitol.

And I'll tell you, I realized - it's one thing in the military to fight a foreign enemy on behalf of your country. It's another thing to face down fellow American speaking the same language you do, sounding like you do, saying the things that were being said. And it's just a whole new level of sad. And it's one that if there is no accountability for, I can't imagine after one police officer is dead, two took their own lives, how in the world is this going to get better without people taking a stand and saying this is wrong?

KELLY: I read your op-ed in The Washington Post this morning, which was titled "My Fellow Republicans, Convicting Trump Is Necessary To Save America." You're pleading in it with others in your party to choose a path away from Trump. And as I read it, I thought, I wonder what kind of conversations he's having with other Republicans. When you make this case to them, what do they tell you?

KINZINGER: Well, for colleagues, they're receptive. They - you know, there's obviously political pressure and public pressure. But I'll tell you, when I launched the Country First movement, the one thing that I started noticing is there are a lot of people that came out of the woodwork that were or are Republicans, some thinking of leaving, some have left, some are fine being Republicans but are concerned that just we're saying thank you for giving us a voice and a place to go. I've heard from a lot of independents. I even heard from some Democrats that are saying things like we recognize the need for a functional Republican Party. So I think there's a real desire out there for getting back to doing politics professionally and starting to lead by inspiration instead of fear.

KELLY: Are you thinking of leaving? Five years from now, do you think you will still be a Republican?

KINZINGER: I think the answer to that question will be evident when it's evident. If this party continues to go down the track of, you know, authoritarianism and pledging loyalty to a man above the Constitution, then certainly I wouldn't be a Republican. But my hope is that as people wake up and take inventory of what happened, they'll realize how wrong this path is. And that's what I'm going to try to lead people to understand.

KELLY: I wonder if you're thinking about it, though. I mean, you know, people like to talk about big tents in American politics. Is the Republican tent big enough to hold Donald Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene and you?

KINZINGER: I don't think it is big enough to hold all of us as they are now. And I think that's where you can't just leave. I think, you know, there's going to be these two major parties. I think the Republican Party will be around for a long time. The key is to fight for it and to do battle for it. If we lose this battle, the battle for sanity, the Republican Party will eventually recognize its folly because it's going to lose elections everywhere. My hope is to get the Republican Party there sooner than in 10 or 15 years.

KELLY: I want to follow on something you just said when you were talking about hearing from thousands of your constituents, most of whom have been overwhelmingly supportive and telling you that they appreciate your efforts to try to return the GOP to a foundation of principle, not personality. I'm citing a line from your piece in the Post. Do you see a disconnect between ordinary - let's say civilian Republicans and the party leaders who they elect to office?

KINZINGER: I think to an extent. I think part of it is - look. There - as a Republican, there's been no real competing voices to Donald Trump for the last 4 1/2 years, at least. And so that's all you hear. That's all you think exists. And so they need to hear otherwise. But the other thing is I think we make a mistake in Congress - I know we do - where we sometimes just think of our base as our constituents. So is the base mad at me? Probably more so than not. But I also don't represent just my base. I represent 750,000 people, of which a lot of them don't consider themselves Republican or even if they just lean Republican. And we have to, again, see that we're representatives of our district and not our party.

KELLY: Are you still getting threats?

KINZINGER: Yeah, they're out there. But, you know, the reality is I can't live in fear of that if I'm telling people not to live in fear either - and so I don't. But, yeah, unfortunately, politics has devolved into, you know, instead of - look. Politics was created to prevent violence. And we have violence now in politics, which means politics is failing. And we need to fix the whole system.

KELLY: We just have a few seconds left. But whether Trump is ultimately convicted or not, what do you hope Americans will take away from this trial?

KINZINGER: I hope Americans will take away how important their country is, how high of esteem we hold the presidency and how a president needs to act above board and not try to turn people's darkest fears against them but instead show them their greatest hopes and aspirations.

KELLY: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, thanks for talking to us today.

KINZINGER: Anytime. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.