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Q&A with Sen. Lankford: Democratic members of House will try to 'find a way' to impeach Trump

James Lankford
Posted at 3:20 PM, Jan 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-22 16:33:11-05

TULSA — Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford sat down with 2 Works for You anchor Scott Thompson on Tuesday, and talked about a wide range of topics, from the government shutdown to the ongoing Russian investigation.

Lankford said he expects Democrats to try to impeach President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives and he says a trial in the Senate will hinge on what each senator believes qualifies as an impeachable offense.

Lankford stopped by 2 Works for You on his way back to Washington D.C. He told Thompson that he can't imagine Democrats not attempting to impeach the president, whether it's based on the results of the Mueller investigation or something else. If that happens, a trial would then be held in the Senate.

What would it take for Lankford to vote for conviction?

"I have to hear facts and information that it's an impeachable offense, that's the clear information for me, more than anything else. So again, I don't doubt the Democrats are going to bring something up in the House, we'll see of they pass it, at that point and try to send it to the Senate."

It would take two-thirds of the Senate to vote for conviction and removal of the president from office.

That means if Democrats and two independents vote as a block, twenty Republicans would have to join them in impeaching the president.

Read the full interview below:

Q: Where and when does (the government shutdown) end?

A: It ends when we can actually get everyone to the table negotiating. All of December, Senator Schumer said, "Hey I don't wanna negotiate in December, I want to wait until Nancy Pelosi's speaker, we'll negotiate in January" -- so that added 10 days. And then once Speaker Pelosi's in place, then it's, "now we're going to start negotiations all over again and most of the time it's been just trading barbs through Twitter or through random press conferences rather than actually sitting down. So the push that I have and several other Democrat and Republican colleagues have is "let's get everyone to the table, let's actually negotiate." For the first time this week there is actually a proposal on the table to say "let's start the negotiations." Democrats may not like everything that's in the proposal, there are aspects of it that are their designs. Let's put those things on the table and then negotiate it, amend it, and let's try to get this solved.

Q: Speaking of press conferences, there was the infamous press conference where the President said he would take full responsibility for the shutdown and wouldn't blame the Democrats and then a couple days later blamed the Democrats. That boxed you in to a corner immediately.

A: Well it doesn't box me in to the corner. Obviously the President, his statement was he'll be glad to shut down the government over national security. That's the part that everyone leaves out. If they want to have a fight over national security, he's glad to be able to step up and be able to argue about the issue of national security even if it leads to a shutdown. Now I know that's been portrayed over and over as the President took credit for it, but if you go back to the beginning of 2018, Chuck Schumer did a government shutdown during the beginning of 2018 that we forget about that was over DACA. Shutdowns are not unusual, fearfully so for our government. I wish we could make them extinct, and there is a way to do that. I've actually made two different proposals to be able to solve this. But people try to get leverage and they do a government shutdown to try to get leverage. Sometimes it works, but most of the time, people just get frustrated and say "solve this."

Q: If you believe the polling, it shows the President has taken a hit on this, as are Congressional Republicans.

A: Right, well everyone has quite frankly. The polling I've seen most recently, President Trump receives a lot of it. Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats receive a lot of it. We really see a fight between Trump and Pelosi which dominantly it has been on this one. I think if we're allowed to get everyone in the same room and to resolve it, we could get this resolved. Quite frankly, I've had very productive conversations with Democrat members and Republican members of the Senate to be able to work out what are the parameters of how to actually get this solved. We could've had this solved a long time ago, it's been a fight among leadership.

Q: The Republicans unanimously passed, as did the Democrats in early December, a bill to fund the government. There was no mention of the wall, the President said he would sign on to it. And then Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh spoke up and then it was off. Lisa Murkowski, as I just saw yesterda,y said there are a lot of people in the Senate in her caucus who are afraid of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Are you one of them?

A: No, I'm not. I represent the people of Oklahoma. Obviously, everyone has opinions here in our state and pundits and national talk show hosts, they all have their own opinions. My focus is representing our values and what we do.

Q: Why should those two though, are they standing in the way of an agreement? I mean talk show hosts and...

A: No, no, no, no, no. I don't think so at all. Again they have a voice, they're speaking out to their voice. The President is going to listen to who he chooses to listen to. The President makes his own decisions as do I as do other members of the House and Senate. You make your own decisions on where you're going to listen and how you're going to respond.

Q: Republicans had complete control of the levers in 2017, 2018 and the wall didn't get passed. Why not?

A: That's actually not true. In the Senate, you have to have 60 votes to be able to move anything, we had 50. It was a 50 to 49 most of the time because John McCain was very ill and then passed away. So sometimes we had 51, sometimes we had 50. You still have to get 10 Democrats on board, that's why we had a shutdown earlier in the year when Senator Schumer wouldn't allow any kind of funding, because he wanted legalization of DACA, and so we had this big shutdown, though, technically Republicans had the lead in each one, but when you have to have 60 in the Senate, you will always have to have bipartisan support.

Q: We're seeing all these stories of the government workers who are struggling, trying to figure out, "Do I make the car payment, am I going to lose my house?" 10 percent of the TSA staff called in sick on Sunday, and the optics look really bad. Congressional salaries continue to be paid, staff salaries continue to be paid, cabinet officers got a $10,000 pay raise and yet these people are on television talking about "Do i make a car payment" or "Do I send my child to preschool, you know, pay the school enrollment fee?" things like that. What would, and they're having to cut their family budgets and figure out "what do we do, what do we pay for." Have you put yourself in that position? How would a loss of a paycheck affect the Lankford household? What would be cut first?

A: It affects all of us. 75 percent of the government is fully funded, that's why you see some parts like the United States military, healthcare, Congressional, all of those things are all funded already, 75 percent of it. It was the last 25 percent of the government funding that was still the ongoing fight once we got to the end of the year and tripped over into this shutdown, and so yes, this is a horrible thing to have. I have two different bills out there, two different proposals, here's how to be able to stop government shutdowns permanently. Myself, Joni Ernst, David Purdue in the Senate, all worked on this last year actually after the shutdown in early January of 2018 to say there's a better way to do this. I've had folks just cut member pay and then they'll get that solved. The problem is I work with a lot of these members, most of the members of Congress are millionaires and it doesn't hurt them at all to have a loss of a paycheck, that's not their concern. The biggest concern is stay in town. If you can not actually leave Washington D.C. until you get this resolved, members will work it out, they want to be able to see their families, they have responsibilities back in their state, there are other things that need to be done as well. The best thing we can do is have mandatory work on the floor of the House on the floor of the Senate, the cabinet members. House and Senate members and their staff cannot travel with any official travel, no trips anywhere, you have to be able to stay and work, that forces everyone to stay in town until it's done. That's the best thing we can actually do to try and get the leverage to try to move this, hold the American people and certainly the federal workers harmless in this. We can have ongoing paychecks for them, but ongoing pressure for members of Congress and the cabinet.

Q: So what do you cut out of the Lankford budget?

A: What would I cut out of the Lankford budget?

Q: If a paycheck wasn't coming in, would it affect your family?

A: Absolutely it would. We'd have to do the same thing. 22 years in ministry before I was in Congress, so I didn't come into Congress as a wealthy person to say the least. So we live like most Americans live in this. So we would have to do the same thing everyone of these federal workers is doing, try to figure out how do we spend less, what do we have to do on food, what do we have to do on everything else, making sure lights are off, I mean all the standard things everyone's going to do and then start making the phone calls to say "Can I pay this later?" Those are real challenges for real families.

Q: You obviously don't agree with shutdowns, you've got two bills you authored to do away with them. So what do you think of the one going on now and how do you get around this thing. A Democratic President in the future may say 'I want climate change funding' or something like that, I'm going to shut down the government. Chuck Schumer says we're being held hostage by this, you know all the charges coming back and forth. So how do you end shutdowns forever?

A: You end shutdowns by forcing members of Congress to stay in town, they can't leave, they have to be able to remain. You have what's called a continuing resolution, if you get to the end of the budget time period and the budget work is not complete at that point, then you just basically continue funding at last year's level all the different agencies, but at the same time, all members of Congress, all their staff are prohibited from traveling, for any official travel, including back to their home state or district. You do the same thing for the cabinet, you do the same thing for the White House, that everyone has to stay in town. You have what's called mandatory quorum calls, forces everyone to be on the floor, actually debating. Things slow down when everyone leaves. Now I spent hours and hours on the phone working with different members, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, on in through this week, that's a common thing for me to be able to work this through when people are scattered. But if people were forced to be there, it would put more pressure on everyone to actually get this resolved. The biggest challenge we've had in this particular shutdown is people walked away from the table, people stopped talking, people stopped debating, there's not any proposal on the table to really be able to debate out any issues and be able to say what are we going to resolve. The President's proposal is a proposal to say 'here's something in writing that would actually resolve it, that he would vote for, if you don't like it, then let's do amendments, that's how law is done. The House, The Senate, put proposals on the table, they debate it, when they come to a resolution The President signs it. We've got to get back to that process again.

Q: And that's what you're going to vote on this week, sometime in the Senate. This is a bill the President talked about on Saturday afternoon, I think you had some role in it, right? You had some communication with the White House in coming up with that and then the Democrats said it's dead on arrival because it doesn't have what we want in it. So that's going to be voted on (Thursday) this week and is already going to be not considered. The House, meantime, is passing its own bills to open the government, sending them to the Senate and they're not considered as well. So where do you stand then?

A: At the end of the day I think the Senate is going to be the one to resolve this. That is the bipartisan body, that's the one that has to be able to do things in a bipartisan way. The White House putting out a proposal saying we would support this is a good first step. Put that on the table and let's actually open up debate. The first vote on Thursday is not to pass it, the first vote is can we even debate this and amend it, can we make changes. Then it's the encouragement for Democrats to bring proposals and to say how would you change it, what would you do to try and get us back to open again. I think there is a way to get this resolved, clearly.

Q: Is Mitch McConnell going to have to be the key? There are many who say he has given up the Senate's... The founders first wrote about the Legislative branch, that it was a coequal branch. Has he given up that coequal thing to the White House?

A: He has not. If you go back to December, Chuck Schumer said he doesn't want to do any negotiations until Nancy Pelosi is in the seat as the Speaker of the House and because there were a lot of options that Schumer and McConnell were trying to be able to work out, at the same time McConnell said I'm not doing to try to bring something up unless the White House says they agree. This is going to be a fool's errand to be able to continue to say we're going to debate things without having the House, the Senate, and the White House agree, at least two of the three of them have to have some kind of agreement on this. So we're trying to work through this process now, again the Senate is the place where you can work these things out because it's a bipartisan body, it has to be.

Q: Away from the shutdown and to the ongoing Russia investigation, Mueller probe. What's the talk in the cloak room, and I know you won't tell me, but when the 53 of you gather, is President Trump going to serve out this term, this four year term?

A: I can't even begin to guess that. I can't imagine the House of Representatives is not going to try to bring up impeachment for something. To me, the folks that ran as Democrats to be able to take over the House of Representatives campaigned on impeaching the President and finding a reason to be able to oppose him in that. So I would assume that as soon as the Mueller report comes out, regardless of what it says, there will be individuals who bring up impeachment immediately. They're already letters and articles of impeachment that have already been drawn up by some of the Democratic members of the House, so they will find a way to be able to impeach him and then it will come to the Senate and we'll actually have the trial to be able to process. I served for four years on the intel committee going through all the documents and the facts about Russia and to be able to see what was happening behind the scenes through the process. The Mueller investigation seems to have strayed far from talking about Russia to talking about everything else but Russia, and I get that, that's the nature of the special counsel, they can go look at whatever they want to look at, but we'll see what their final indictments come out.

Q: A trial would be in the Senate. What would it take for you to vote to convict?

A: Well you've got to have evidence, clearly. The trial is no different than any other trial, except it's a much larger body that it's in front of, you have to have two-thirds majority in the Senate to be able to impeach a President.

Q: What do you have to hear, though?

A: I have to hear facts and information that it's actually an impeachable offense. That's the clear information for me, more than anything else. Again, I don't doubt the Democrats are going to try to bring something up, to be able to pass it in the House. We'll see if they actually pass it, at that point, to try to be able to send it to the Senate.

Q: I can keep you here for another half hour, but one more question. The last Oklahoman to run for President in a serious way, 1976 Senator Fred Harris, unsuccessful. 2024 Senator James Lankford? You want the job?

A: No, no I'm not trying to chase the job at all, I'm trying to be able to serve Oklahomans and do what I'm called to do right here, so I have a task and responsibility. For those folks who are running for President, they spend four years away from their state and away from their responsibility just focused on that, I need to do my job.

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