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In Post-Impeachment Washington, Now What?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump ended Saturday night with his acquittal. He had been charged with inciting the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. The trial's end, of course, did not put to rest a number of tough political questions and, in fact, may have underscored how difficult they will be to answer - questions like, where does the Republican Party go from here? NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to talk about what is next.

Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey.

CHANG: All right, so let's start with the riot at the Capitol. I mean, these impeachment proceedings are over, but then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sends a letter to House Democrats calling for a bipartisan investigation into what happened on January 6. Can you just talk about how would that be different from what happened all last week?

KEITH: Well, the idea would be to establish a bipartisan commission, like was created after 9/11, to go into the security failures that led to the Capitol being overrun, as well as the causes of the riot and the response once it was going. There were a number of facts from the day of the attack that House impeachment managers talked about but were based on news reports. The idea here would be to establish a historical record of that terrible day and the events around it and, hopefully, answer some of the unanswered questions left by the impeachment trial. This would require legislation to establish the commission, and it would also take some bipartisan agreement on who should be on it or the scope of the investigation, too.

CHANG: OK, so it could be a long time coming (laughter).

KEITH: Oh, yeah.

CHANG: Well, one thing that was very clear watching these impeachment proceedings unfold is that there are huge rifts in the Republican Party right now. Can we just talk a little bit about that? How much do you think this party will try to distance itself from Trump going forward?

KEITH: That is the big question. And I think it's pretty safe to say that this trial did not solve it for them or for us trying to figure out what's going on.

CHANG: Yeah.

KEITH: Trump remains popular with Republican voters - maybe not all 74 million of them who voted for him, but a lot of them. And the debate among Republicans is really spelled out by what happened with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate, who gave a speech completely blasting Trump after voting to acquit him, and then Kevin McCarthy, who in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 attack, gave a speech on the House floor laying blame at President Trump but has since gone down to Mar-a-Lago to make peace with him. You know, they both want to be the leaders of - you know, they want to be in the majority again in 2022.

CHANG: Yeah.

KEITH: And they likely are going to need Trump, and they're definitely going to need his base to get there.

CHANG: Well, do we know at this point anything about what Trump's next move would be?

KEITH: Well, we know he's in Florida. He is laying low. His aides tell me that at this point he is not immediately planning to hold a post-acquittal event or press conference, but that could change. He hinted in the statement he put out over the weekend that he wants to continue to have a voice in politics. And if the past is a guide, he will likely try to exact revenge on those who weren't totally loyal to him 100% of the time. I'm also thinking about a year ago, when he was acquitted the last time, and he had this big rally-type event in the East Room of the White House. And there were people there, including Mitch McConnell and Senator Bill Cassidy, who were shouted out, as, you know, great guys, and now Cassidy voted against Trump.

CHANG: Yeah.

KEITH: He voted to convict him.

CHANG: Right. Well, President Biden, meanwhile, had tried to keep his distance from the impeachment process, saying it was up to Congress to deal with all that. Now that impeachment is over, Tam, where does Biden's agenda stand?

KEITH: Well, he is still pushing to get Congress to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID relief package. He'll be essentially campaigning for it this week in Wisconsin, with a town hall-style event televised tomorrow and also visiting a Pfizer facility in Michigan later in the week. Democrats in the House are working through a draft of that bill that could then be sent to the Senate. It looks like they, in all likelihood, are going it alone and will not be seeking broad bipartisan Republican support for it.

CHANG: That is NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you, Tam.

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