RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Democrats had hung high hopes on Robert Mueller's testimony. Some thought it might draw a direct line to impeachment, or at least draw a straight line to a Democrat in the White House in 2020. Most agree, though, the testimony did not do either of those things. Here's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking at a press conference last night.
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NANCY PELOSI: I do believe that what we saw today was a very strong manifestation - in fact, some would even say indictment - of this administration's cone of silence in their cover-up. But some of the actions that the administration may have taken - we'll see through our investigation - may have jeopardized our national security. This is very serious. Today was very important.
MARTIN: Democrat Jackie Speier is on the line with us now. She's a member of the House Intelligence Committee and questioned former special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday afternoon in that second session. Thank you so much for being with us.
JACKIE SPEIER: It's a pleasure to be with you, Rachel.
MARTIN: So as you know, Robert Mueller wouldn't talk about anything outside the report. In fact, he didn't even want to read out loud any excerpts from the report. Do you believe his testimony changed anything?
SPEIER: I think his testimony was key to the American people starting to focus on the report. It's over 400 pages. It's not something that the average person is going to want to curl up with at night to read. And my goal was hopefully to have the American people start to focus on it and listen to his words and recognize that the Russians were here in 2016. They were here in 2014. They were here in 2018. And they will be here in 2020. And we have to redouble our efforts to prevent them from doing the kind of cyber warfare that they've engaged in.
MARTIN: After you read Robert Mueller's report, you decided to support the idea of opening impeachment proceedings. Do you believe the entire intent of bringing Robert Mueller up to Capitol Hill on the part of Democrats was to try to generate public support for impeachment?
SPEIER: It was to put in a movie setting what the words were attempting to do. And while I don't know if it captured that, it certainly set the stage for, as one person put it, painting the portrait, filling in the lines. And when he said, and I quote, it - this is the most serious challenge to our democracy that he had ever seen, in terms of the Russian government's interference in 2016, those are very poignant words, and we should heed them.
MARTIN: Words are one thing, actions another. I mean, you said last night you think the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is softening on impeachment. She has famously been very reserved on this issue, instead encouraging further investigation and letting Americans make their decision in 2020. Why do you think she's changing her mind now?
SPEIER: Well, I can't say that I know that she's changing her mind. But I think she appreciates the gravity of what has taken place - the efforts by the president to obstruct justice, his unwillingness to be interviewed. And the results, I think, suggest that you have a very corrupt person in the White House.
MARTIN: I'm sure you know, you've seen the surveys that show a majority of Americans oppose impeachment. Why continue pressing for it?
SPEIER: Well, this is not a polling point. This is about the Constitution. If these raise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, it's incumbent on us to take action, whether the American people are with us at this particular point.
If you look back at the Nixon hearings and Watergate, I mean, there wasn't support necessarily for impeachment until the tapes came out, and then it flipped literally overnight. I think in this setting we don't have tapes. But I do think the tax return is going to provide us with that kind of an aha moment.
MARTIN: Are you closer to getting that?
SPEIER: Well, it's certainly in the courts. I mean, we basically have an administration that's violating the law again because it's required it shall turn over tax returns to the Ways and Means Committee. They've come up with a, you know, absurd argument not to. And so now it's in the courts, and hopefully it'll move swiftly through that process to the extent that anything moves quickly through the judicial process.
MARTIN: The 2020 Democratic candidates for president didn't have a lot to say yesterday after Mueller's testimony. Is that disappointing to you? Would you like your colleagues to be more vocal about impeachment?
SPEIER: Well, many of them have already stepped forward. I think Elizabeth Warren has actually doubled down in saying how important it is for the House to take action. For those that thought that this was going to be a silver bullet, it clearly was not. We were trying to tamp down expectations on the Intelligence Committee because we knew that he was only going to stay within the four corners of the report.
MARTIN: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, we appreciate your time this morning.
SPEIER: Great to be with you.
MARTIN: NPR's Tim Mak was listening into that conversation and followed the hearing closely yesterday. Tim, I want to start by asking you what is an impeachment process even look like? Because we're not talking about immediately holding a floor vote - are we? - if this were to transpire.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: No, so it's a process that's first alluded to in the Constitution. Essentially, what you do is the House Judiciary Committee can open an impeachment inquiry. The committee then can vote on articles of impeachment that it puts forward. The House floor would then vote on articles of impeachment.
That would then go to the Senate, where they would hold a trial that would be presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. And a number of House lawmakers would serve as prosecutors in that trial. The Senate would need a two-thirds vote in order to convict and remove the president.
MARTIN: It would take who knows how long.
MAK: It's not actually - there's no timeline outlined in the Constitution. There's no restriction as to how long it must take or should take. It takes as long as it needs to take and could really wrap up the United States in quite a large period of time.
MARTIN: Right. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the actual election and the campaign for 2020 running in parallel.
MAK: Yeah, one of the major arguments that House leaders and other Democrats who oppose impeachment is that hey, we've got this election coming up in 2020. That's just around the corner. The American people will have an opportunity to make a decision on President Trump at that time.
MARTIN: Jackie Speier said that, you know, her Democratic colleagues who are running for president have weighed into the impeachment issue to a degree. But we really, you know, she mentioned Elizabeth Warren, but on the whole yesterday, we didn't hear a lot from them, did we?
MAK: Right. 2020 candidates mirrored House Democrats in a lot of ways in not saying a whole lot following Mueller's testimony. It didn't really seem to create a groundswell of interest among either Democrats in the House or Democrats on the campaign trail.
MARTIN: Because it's not politically salient, is that what they believe as they're on the trail?
MAK: Well, even among - you could put aside the polling numbers. Even among House Democrats, a majority oppose opening an impeachment inquiry at this particular moment.
MARTIN: We'll see if it changed any minds in the days and weeks to come. NPR political reporter Tim Mak for us. Thank you.
MAK: Thanks a lot.
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