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Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

Latest Trump indictment could lead to even more disruption in the House

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We had planned an interview about how extreme and disruptive the far-right members of the House of Representatives have become. I recorded that interview with New York Times congressional correspondent Annie Karni yesterday morning. Later in the day, special counsel Jack Smith indicted former President Donald Trump on three counts of conspiracy - to defraud the U.S., to obstruct an official government proceeding and to deprive people of civil rights provided by federal law or the Constitution. There's also a fourth count of obstructing an official proceeding. On January 6, the day of the attack on the Capitol, Annie Karni was a New York Times White House correspondent. She came back to the studio this morning to discuss the new charges against Trump. A little later, we'll hear the interview I recorded with her yesterday.

Annie Karni, thank you for coming back to the studio.

ANNIE KARNI: Thanks for having me.

GROSS: So you had already reported some of what's in this new charging document. And a lot of what's in this document was also in the January 6 House select committee. What did you learn that was new?

KARNI: First of all, this looked like a 45-page, kind of slimmed-down version of the 845-page January 6 report that the House Investigative Committee put out last year. And the narrative overall was pretty much identical. It's a narrative that anyone who tuned into those hearings that were carried in primetime is familiar with, that Trump was out of control at the time, refusing to leave office, lying and harming the country's democracy as he tried to cling to power. And to me, the most compelling part of the narrative both times, in reading the indictment last night and in watching those committee hearings, is the pressure on Pence and him just continuing to insist that he didn't have the power to overturn the election and how that rose to, you know, his life being in jeopardy and him having to hide in the Capitol while Trump was in the White House doing nothing to stop the violence for hours.

So it's dramatic to see this as charges - a lot of the charges brought by the Justice Department were actually charges that the January 6 committee recommended last year. So mostly, it's overlap and familiar, but it's kind of an incredibly historic and dramatic moment to see him indicted on charges like this.

GROSS: What do you know about how House Republicans on the far right who are still supporting Trump - reacting to these new indictments?

KARNI: There weren't a lot of surprises in the statements we saw last night. This is Trump's third indictment. It's by far the most serious. And it also is different for House Republicans 'cause a lot of them are implicated in trying to further this big lie. But in terms of the statements, I mean, it's almost paint by numbers by now with some of these ardent defenders, you could - like, Elise Stefanik was up first saying Trump will be sworn in in 2025. Kevin McCarthy defended him and said the whole thing was an attempt to distract from what they're finding out about Hunter Biden. Marjorie Taylor Greene threatened that she wouldn't vote to fund, you know, the DOJ and the special counsel's office.

A lot of the - oh, I saw it - not - she's not a member of Congress, but Kari Lake, the failed gubernatorial candidate in Arizona, called on all the Republican candidates in the 2024 race to immediately drop out and support Trump. So a lot of this is what you could expect from these defenders whose entire political identities are completely tied to Trump. With Kevin McCarthy, he owes his speakership to Donald Trump. He would not have been able to pass that debt ceiling deal without Trump agreeing to stay silent and not criticize the deal. His whole speakership depends on not alienating Donald Trump. So you could call it lame, the statement he put out, but it's not surprising and it makes political sense for him.

This is just slightly different for these House Republicans because many of these ardent defenders voted to decertify the election. They repeated his big lie. They continue to do so. And their role in this is going to have to be kind of relitigated as this story works its way through the courts.

GROSS: I keep wondering if by defending Trump, the members of Congress who voted to decertify the Electoral College vote, if they're defending themselves because they are implicated. They did try to overturn the results of the election. Eight senators and 139 representatives voted to decertify the Electoral College vote. So I don't know how many of them are still left in Congress now, but do you think that by defending Trump, those people who voted to decertify the Electoral College results are also defending themselves?

KARNI: I think they are. And a lot of them still are in Congress. And a lot of the base - you know, this big lie that, you know, the election was stolen is a big part of what a lot of the hardcore base believes now. It's definitional. So they are defending themselves. They're defending their appeal with their constituents. And they're so far in at this point on this narrative - this false narrative. I mean, they tried to discredit the work of the January 6 committee the entire way through. So, I mean, this is a historic, dramatic moment, but they've been repeating this false narrative for, you know, years now. It's no surprise that they would stick with it at this point.

GROSS: Congress returns from the August recess in September. To avoid a government shutdown, they have to fund 11 more spending bills before October 1. What are the implications for a government shutdown now that we have this new set of charges against Trump?

KARNI: Well, yeah. I mean, these charging documents have great big-picture implications for democracy and the future of our country, but granularly for Congress, we saw some statements put out last night that, you know, raise real questions about funding the government. In September, for instance, Marjorie Taylor Greene said that the indictment was a line in the sand and that she will not vote to fund a weaponized government while it politically persecutes not only President Trump but all conservative Americans. She said the DOJ has gone rogue, and she will not vote to fund these Communist organizations that are doing the bidding of Joe Biden. So if we see more Republicans adopt that - I mean, that's pretty extreme - but adopt a line that if this is what the government's going to be doing, they can't vote for funding the government, that could be the nail in the coffin for appropriations bills this fall if this is the way Republicans choose to retaliate and seek revenge for Trump.

GROSS: Annie, thank you for coming back for this update.

KARNI: Thank you so much.

GROSS: I spoke to Annie Karni this morning. She's a congressional correspondent for The New York Times and a former Times White House correspondent. OK. Let's get to the interview I recorded with her yesterday about the far right in Congress. Congress is out on recess and won't return until mid-September. It will have only until October 1 to avert a government shutdown. Eleven more spending bills would first have to pass, but the far-right wing of the House has added amendments to spending bills, including measures that would further restrict abortion and transgender medical care. And those bills with those amendments would be very unlikely to pass in the Senate, and President Biden would likely veto them if they did.

Annie Karni has written about how the hard right in the House has been expanding and fracturing as its members struggle to figure out how to exert their power and how they're also divided over how disruptive they want to be. She's covered the recent fights among Republicans in the House, as well as fights between House Democrats and Republicans. Annie Karni, welcome to FRESH AIR. So the hard-right faction in the House keeps moving further to the right. Now you've got not only the House Freedom Caucus, but another group that's moved even further to the right called the 20. How would you compare the 20 to the Freedom Caucus?

KARNI: The 20 has a lot of overlap with the Freedom Caucus. A lot of those members are both in the 20 and in the Freedom Caucus. But the 20 also includes some of the most extreme voices in the House, the most anti-McCarthy voices in the House, like Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, who is not in the Freedom Caucus. And the 20 sort of formed during the speakers fight as the holdouts to McCarthy's speakership. They are the most populist members of the House Republican Conference who want to be more disruptive to McCarthy's control of the House than the Freedom Caucus overall, which is a larger group that are there for many different reasons.

GROSS: So 11 more spending bills have to pass to avoid a government shutdown. And Republicans have put what's considered culture war issues into some of the spending bills. So give us a couple of examples of how, like, abortion and transgender care now figure into spending bills.

KARNI: Well, the biggest bill that we saw become laden with these culture war social issues was the defense bill, where the House passed a deeply partisan defense bill that would limit abortion access and transgender care and diversity training for military personnel. These are things that were added to the bill through amendments, that have no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, but were a huge win for the hard right in the House for forcing McCarthy to pass the bill with these additions. And they are...

GROSS: Could I stop for a second? What's the point of that? Like, if they know that it can't possibly pass, what's the point?

KARNI: It's a way of flexing their muscles and saying, we want these socially conservative policies governmentwide, and we are willing to shut down the government and have complete dysfunction if you - if we don't get our way. But also part of it is they want to show their base and their voters that they're fighting, that they're getting amendments to major bills because they're fighting for their priorities. So I think it's a huge victory for them that the House couldn't pass a bill without their priorities included in it. It's also a strategy that is complicated for Republicans because McCarthy is giving these concessions to the hard right because they could block him from even having a vote on this bill if they don't get these amendments they want. But there are a lot of Republicans in competitive districts who have to take these votes on limiting abortion access or transgender care that are going to make their reelections much more difficult and put McCarthy in the position of potentially losing control of the House.

GROSS: So in the defense spending bill, you have amendments to end a policy guaranteeing access to abortion to service members, allowing them to travel to a state where abortion is legal if they're based in a state where it's not, to eliminate the Pentagon's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and to prevent the military health plan from covering gender transition surgeries. It kind of sounds like a Ron DeSantis agenda, especially with the diversity-equity-inclusion, since that's such a big thing for him, isn't it?

KARNI: Yes, it's pretty hard right. And it's a questionable strategy when a lot of these Republicans who ended up supporting it ran in elections where abortion was on the ballot, and it hurt them significantly. One way that they got around this was arguing that this wasn't a bill about abortion. It was about taxpayers paying for travel for military members for elective procedures. So they tried to say it was just about taxpayers paying for the travel and that it wasn't another anti-abortion vote. But a lot of Republicans from moderate districts are very concerned that it looks like the party is just being very cruel to women voters and doubling down, tripling down, after the overturning of Roe v. Wade on abortion specifically.

GROSS: So also in this defense spending bill is defunding the war in Ukraine. Can you explain why the right wing of the House wants to defund the war?

KARNI: Yes. I mean, this is one place where the amendments that wanted to strip programs to train and equip Ukrainian soldiers failed dramatically. So this is still an issue where a lot of Republicans agree with Democrats that the United States should continue to fund the war in Ukraine. The hard right - Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz - offered these amendments that we should stop funding wars abroad. But this is a split in the party. And we've seen Donald Trump over the weekend siding with this far right, saying we shouldn't be sending more money over there. For now, those were the two amendments that failed spectacularly. And Democrats are very relieved that the majority of Republicans are with them on Ukraine.

GROSS: Bob Good, who is a House member, a Republican from Virginia, said we should not fear a shutdown. Most of what we do up here is bad anyway. Is that representative of what a lot of right-wing Republicans think?

KARNI: It is. We've seen them talk about how silly Congress is at many points. That is indicative of what a lot of the hard-right members think. They've been sent here to disrupt Washington, and they think government mostly is bad. We saw them when a faction of the hard right shut down the House floor. They argued, what does it really matter? We're only passing stupid messaging bills anyway. We've seen them kind of make fun of their own agenda when they're in control of the House while shutting down the government. So I think that is the view of the 20 and a lot more of those Freedom Caucus members, that government is really bad anyway. What's the big deal if it shuts down?

GROSS: So what is McCarthy trying to do to prevent a shutdown?

KARNI: One thing we don't know is how much these hard-right members will flex their muscles and try to stop the government from running this fall. One thing McCarthy could do is a stopgap funding bill that would keep the government running temporarily. And a big question that we don't know the answer to yet is, would the Freedom Caucus block something like that from coming to the floor? And they haven't really answered that. We asked them that last week at a press conference. And Andy Biggs, who's a Republican from Arizona and a Freedom Caucus member, said, we'll strategize on that later on. That's sort of what we were talking about earlier, that it's not clear how hardcore they want to be about shutting down the government. They could. We don't know yet. But McCarthy could try a stopgap funding bill to keep the government running. But the consensus as they left for their August recess was that a shutdown is very likely.

GROSS: All right. On that note, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Annie Karni, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE CURE SONG, "IN BETWEEN DAYS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Annie Karni, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We're talking about the far-right wing of the House of Representatives and how they're preventing Speaker Kevin McCarthy from controlling his conference and how the far right might force a government shutdown starting in October.

So now we have two far-right groups within the House. There's the Freedom Caucus, which was founded in 2015, and the much newer group, the 20. They're both disruptive groups. The 20 is further to the right and perhaps more about disruption than even the Freedom Caucus. What are some of the techniques they've used in addition to what we've been talking about, putting amendments that are very unlikely to pass in spending bills? What are some of their disruptive tactics?

KARNI: Probably their most disruptive moment was in June when they staged a blockade of the House floor to express their anger over the debt limit deal that McCarthy forged with President Biden. And they did something that hasn't been done for decades in the House, which is literally freeze the House floor so McCarthy could not bring legislation to a vote. They view themselves as this more efficient fighting force than the Freedom Caucus overall, which is populated by a lot of people who are actually McCarthy allies at this point and would not have stood in his way like that.

GROSS: Remind us how they blocked the House floor.

KARNI: So this is a little procedural, but it was quite interesting. Before a bill comes to the floor for a vote, the House has to pass a rule that allows the bill to come to the floor. And typically, how Congress works is the rule is a party-line vote. You're supposed to vote your conscience on the bill and vote party on the rule. So even if you plan to vote no on the bill, you vote yes on the rule if your party is in power. And what the hard right did in June is they voted with Democrats to take down a rule, essentially meaning that McCarthy couldn't get his bill on the floor.

At the time, it was a - it - the stakes could not have been lower. The bill in question was about banning gas stoves. It was a messaging bill that had no chance of passage in the Senate, but it was a sign that they can do this whenever they want to stage a hissy fit and just completely freeze the government from functioning by taking down a rule. So that was kind of a hard-line tactic. And they did that to show, we're livid at the debt ceiling deal. And you must remember that we view this as a power-sharing agreement here, and we will block you from your agenda if you pass policies that we don't agree with.

GROSS: And the far right sees this as a power-sharing agreement with McCarthy because they made a deal with McCarthy - we'll vote for you if, and if included kind of power sharing, right?

KARNI: Yes. They voted for him saying we'll vote for you if you give us all of these concessions that give us great power, like three seats on the Rules Committee, which is the committee that decides what legislation comes to the floor, agreeing to a new rule that allows a snap vote, that allows any member to call a vote to oust the speaker at any time, some agreements on these government spending bills. So they feel like they own him. He made these agreements with them, and that's the only reason he's speaker. And that June moment when they shut down the floor was a reminder - hey, you can't function without us.

GROSS: Well, let's take another break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Annie Karni, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We'll talk more after a break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF TAYLOR HASKINS' "ALBERTO BALSALM")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Annie Karni, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We're talking about the far-right wing of the House of Representatives and how they're preventing Speaker Kevin McCarthy from controlling his conference. We're also talking about how the hard right may force the government to shut down in October.

You know, one thing I often wonder is one of the concessions that McCarthy made to get elected House speaker is that only one member of the House is needed to remove him as speaker. So I wonder, like, since some of them hate him so much, why hasn't anyone stepped forward to remove him?

KARNI: That's the million-dollar question that's always hanging over him. And could it happen in the fall? When will it happen? I think part of why it hasn't happened yet is the same reason that he emerged victorious in January, which is that there's no clear alternative, and no clear alternative has really emerged. And arguably, this - what they're doing, where they can freeze the House floor - and that week in June where they stopped legislature from coming to the floor, McCarthy had to send everyone home for a week and start again the next week. The fact that they can kind of do this to him at any moment arguably is worse. It's like torturing him constantly rather than one fell swoop.

GROSS: But having a weak speaker, in a way, gives the hard right power since they can control him or manipulate him.

KARNI: It does. In some ways, this is great for them. I mean, he's giving them concessions on, first of all, in becoming speaker and then on each of these bills, as we discussed on the defense bill. He caves to them at every turn. And in some ways, McCarthy is the perfect speaker for this Republican conference, which doesn't want to be led. It is a group of people who don't want top-down leadership. That doesn't work for them anymore. So in some sense, he's the perfect man for the job for a conference that doesn't want to be led.

GROSS: So there are some people who have - from the hard right - who have aligned with Speaker McCarthy. One of them is Jim Jordan, who is now head of the House Judiciary Committee. So was that part of a deal that Jordan made with McCarthy in order to get Jordan's vote for McCarthy as speaker?

KARNI: Absolutely. That was a deal made long ago. McCarthy's strategy for rising to become speaker was to ameliorate some of these threats from the right, and Jim Jordan was one of them. He promised him one of the most powerful committee chairmanships, judiciary, and brought him into the fold and essentially defanged him. Jordan is a McCarthy ally now and actually doesn't get a lot of anger from the hard right for that because in part, they want to see their people in real leadership positions. And there is some understanding that as a committee chair, you can't be a bomb thrower. But there's other ones, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who have also been kind of co-opted by McCarthy, who have gotten a lot of anger for that move from the hard right.

GROSS: How did she become aligned with McCarthy?

KARNI: She made a very strategic decision during the speaker's race that she was going to be with him. And judging by the Marjorie Taylor Greene that we witnessed in the last Congress, that was sort of a shocking pairing. She was this outsider who had been stripped of her committees by Democrats and was probably the most famous person in Congress for spreading conspiracy theories and just being really far-out fringe character. She came back this Congress wanting to be seen as a more serious player, and she forged this alliance with McCarthy that has served her well.

He - she was loyal to him during the moments when it really looked like he was going to fail yet again at rising to become a speaker. And he has repaid her with treating her like a top policy adviser, standing up for her, fundraising for her, like, treating her like a serious member of Congress, which is what she's become now in McCarthy - in the McCarthy-led House.

GROSS: Yeah. And as you pointed out, she believes in conspiracy theories. She's the one who said that Jewish space lasers were responsible for wildfires; 9/11 was an inside job. She believes some of the QAnon conspiracy theories. She said that Parkland and Sandy Hook shootings were staged. So she's really out there.

KARNI: She's really out there. And she's sort of apologized for some of those previous statements and says she doesn't believe some of that stuff anymore. But what's interesting is that none of that was the reason that she alienated the Freedom Caucus. They were fine to have her as a member when that was her, what she was known for. The thing that really broke the group with her was that she became a McCarthy ally. That was the unthinkable breach that got her kicked out of the Freedom Caucus.

GROSS: But the more official reason was that she got into a fight with Lauren Boebert, and Greene called Boebert a little b****.

KARNI: Yes, but that was kind of the...

GROSS: Pretext?

KARNI: ...The pretext, the actual event that happened to force a vote. But what has really been happening for the past few months is just complete anger at her for standing with McCarthy during the speaker's race, standing with him and supporting his debt-ceiling deal. That fight was about - these two have never liked each other. In the public consciousness, they're sort of - we think of them together because there's this famous image of them both heckling the president at the State of the Union. And they're both these far-right women who are definitely the show horses, not the workhorses of Congress. I mean, they love attention - social media, Fox News hits, et cetera. But they have long disliked each other personally.

But the fight on the House floor was about Lauren Boebert moving ahead, introducing an article of impeachment against Biden that Greene claimed had been her idea first. So they're fighting over, like, who gets credit for being the first to come out with impeachment articles against Biden on the House floor.

GROSS: So what do they each stand for, Greene and Boebert? Is there a difference between what they stand for in terms of, you know, policy or tactics?

KARNI: Oh, gosh. I don't think that policy is what's driving Lauren Boebert or Marjorie Taylor Greene. I think tactics is a better question. These are members who want attention. Lauren Boebert is now beloved on the far right. So the tactic here is looking like you're pushing Trump's agenda, being anti-Biden, pushing McCarthy - McCarthy didn't want her article of impeachment to get a vote on the House floor. It was not going through regular order. So she - this was, like, a triple whammy for Lauren Boebert. It's looking like you're leading the charge on an impeachment article against Biden. It's causing McCarthy a headache, and it's getting a lot of attention and getting you on, you know, cable news. So that's, I think, a lot of what she's about in Congress. She's really not liked by a lot of her colleagues who don't trust her, who see her as just not there for the right reasons.

Marjorie Taylor Greene has taken a completely different tactical approach where she's trying this inside game this Congress. She's trying to have a seat at the table with leadership, and I can sense it in the halls of Congress. She will stop and talk to a reporter from The New York Times and have a pleasant back and forth that used to be all videotaped and aggressive. And she's just changing the way she operates in Congress to elevate herself a little bit.

GROSS: Now, does that describe you, that she's having actual interviews with you?

KARNI: I mean, I just remember a moment during the speaker's race where I tried to grab her as she was leaving the chamber, and she was perfectly polite. She said, I'm just running to the bathroom. Can you wait here for me? And she came back and sat and listened to my questions and answered them. And, you know, from my understanding of my colleagues, that did not used to be how she used to interact with, quote-unquote, "the mainstream media." She would have an aide taping it. It would be a thing where it looked like she was trying to create some viral moment where she took on, you know, the press. But that's not how she's behaving anymore.

GROSS: I guess. But calling Boebert the B-word on the House floor isn't an example of Marjorie Taylor Greene elevating herself.

KARNI: No, I mean, I also think that the fact that they're arguing about, you stole my impeachment article, is, you know, high school or just complete silliness. And I think that there's just a longtime lack of respect and frustration and probably competition among these women who are playing this fame game through elected office.

GROSS: Well, let's take another break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Annie Karni, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOKER ERVIN'S "THE BLUE BOOK")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Annie Karni, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We're talking about the far-right wing of the House and how they're preventing Speaker McCarthy from controlling his conference and how the far right may force the government to shut down shortly after Congress resumes. They resume in mid-September. The shutdown might happen October 1.

KARNI: Yeah, it's likely to happen October 1. And they left Washington last week with 11 appropriations bills to pass when they come back and no real confidence that this is doable.

GROSS: Let's talk about impeachment. Republicans wanted to impeach Biden before he even entered the White House. And, you know, we've talked about how Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert were fighting about who introduced the impeachment bill in Congress. Where does Congress stand now in terms of trying to impeach President Biden?

KARNI: It's complicated. The article of impeachment that Lauren Boebert introduced was immigration-related. I don't even want to get into the details because it was very clear to most Republicans that the bar of high crimes and misdemeanors when it comes to Biden's immigration policies isn't really there. Everyone agrees that the border is a crisis, but what crimes has Biden committed? No Republicans I talked to thought this was, like, a really great path to go down. And they didn't want to do that impeachment article. And then what they managed to kind of shunt it off to two powerful committees where they can study it. But also shunting off to committees is a lot of the times what you do to legislation that you just want to never hear about again.

So they didn't want to do that. But then a few weeks later, Kevin McCarthy starts talking about a Biden impeachment and talking more seriously about looking at these business deals and the Hunter Biden stuff and raising the specter of impeachment on these other issues and talking more seriously about the possibility of starting an impeachment inquiry. To back up, they've called for his impeachment and introduced a dozen resolutions accusing him of high crimes and misdemeanors last year. But then during the campaign, McCarthy tried to kind of tone down the possibility of impeachment, saying the country doesn't like political impeachments. And it's true, they're, like, wildly unpopular.

So the question of what is he actually going to do, I think it depends a lot on what Trump wants, because in a lot of ways, McCarthy's House, as the only branch of government that is controlled by Republicans right now, oftentimes acts as Trump's instrument of political revenge and retaliation. It's another way to give to the hard right and to give to Trump while trying to pass the debt ceiling, pass the appropriations bills. This is a way to kind of give a little bit of carrot to the far right to look like, I'm serious about impeachment. And I think that there's a chance that Republicans think that by starting an impeachment inquiry, it could also help them with their investigation into the Biden family finances, help them uncover more. It's a way of getting more information on this investigation where there hasn't really been a big finding yet that they have been hoping for.

GROSS: So if Republicans in the House decide to move forward with trying to impeach President Biden, what would the charges likely be, do you know?

KARNI: The area they want to look at is the Biden family finances that they think need to be investigated. And they think that there is corruption at the bottom of this that implicates the president and that an impeachment inquiry, according to Kevin McCarthy, would allow Congress to get the information to reveal this corruption scheme. And he has floated the possibility of starting an impeachment inquiry, which would be the first step to bringing articles of impeachment. This has come up at the same time that the issue of expunging Trump's impeachments has come up, and it's coming up at the same time that Trump is dealing with multiple indictments on his own. So I really do think that this is a moment where they're looking at ways for the House to retaliate politically.

GROSS: What does expunge mean in this context? Saying...

KARNI: It means...

GROSS: ...That it was illegitimate or saying, like, oh, it never really happened or it doesn't count?

KARNI: ...That it was illegitimate and that it - that he wasn't really - like, taking it away, pretending - yeah, wiping his record clean that it was illegitimate and politically motivated. These efforts are being led by Elise Stefanik of New York, who is probably Trump's No. 1 ally in the House, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who also is a Trump ally. Also, Stefanik and Greene are McCarthy allies who would not be pushing this without his consent. So this is something that McCarthy has said he's OK with. It doesn't have the votes right now, so they're not going anywhere right now. But it's something to give to Trump to show that they - you know, they're fighting for him. McCarthy is unlikely to bring these expungements to a vote if it doesn't have the votes to pass. So right now, they're just talking to more members about them and trying to get the votes. But it's something that McCarthy has said he backs, and it's just a matter of getting enough support.

GROSS: All right. Let's take another break here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Annie Karni, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF QUADRO NUEVO'S "TU VUO")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded with Annie Karni, a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. We're talking about the far-right wing of the House and how they're preventing Speaker McCarthy from controlling his conference and how the hard right may force the government to shut down come October.

So another really big fight in the House was when Republicans voted to censure Adam Schiff. This was on June 21. And it was for, quote, "misleading the American public and for conduct unbecoming a member of the House of Representatives" and for his, quote, "falsehoods, misrepresentations and abuse of sensitive information." What happened while Speaker McCarthy was trying to read the censure?

KARNI: It was sort of a dramatic moment on the floor. Democrats started to chant, shame, shame, shame. Just two members of the House have been censured in four decades before the Schiff censure. And, you know, this was also just another moment of the right hijacking the floor. Originally, the congresswoman who brought this to the floor, Anna Paulina Luna, she's a Republican from Florida, a hard-right member of the Freedom Caucus - McCarthy didn't want her to bring this up, and her first attempt failed miserably. He privately wanted her to do this through committee and through regular order.

But again, he couldn't control it. She brought it up through a privileged resolution which allows her to just bring something to the floor. So it was another example of McCarthy's loss of control of the floor, a hard-right member just pushing forward with her own agenda and this, like, really personalized politics where, again, it seems like House Republicans are acting as taking out revenge for Trump, where Adam Schiff was a - you know, one of his political opponents during the impeachment, and now they're kind of trying to get him back. Political retribution.

GROSS: So do all of these charges stem from his actions during the impeachment - the first impeachment of Donald Trump?

KARNI: Yes. And, in fact, the first...

GROSS: Which was led by Adam Schiff?

KARNI: Yes. And the first attempt at censuring him, which failed, include a $16 million fine, which Luna said she came up with because it was half the cost of that impeachment proceeding. It eventually did pass when she altered the language to remove that fine because even some Republicans thought that was unconstitutional to personally fine him $16 Million. But it was completely about his role in the Trump impeachment. The whole thing frustrated a lot of Republicans because they don't like Adam Schiff and, you know, they viewed this as an in-kind contribution to his Senate campaign. He's running for Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat right now. And this was a - kind of a political fundraising boon for him. I mean, I got tons of fundraising emails from Adam Schiff saying, I'm the Republicans No. 1 bogeyman. Give me $5. And it elevated him as they were attacking him.

GROSS: So this larger fight over the censure of Adam Schiff between Democrats and Republicans ends up in a kind of personal fight between Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California who was an impeachment manager for the second impeachment of President Trump - between Swalwell and Speaker McCarthy. So this starts on the House floor. Describe what you know about this fight.

KARNI: This started in this kind of heated moment on the House floor after the Schiff censure, where Democrats were really enraged that this was happening and shouting shame. And Swalwell, who, along with Schiff, has already been kicked off of the intel committee by McCarthy, runs into him and just says to him, you're a weak man, on the House floor. And McCarthy, according to this report in The Daily Beast, was visibly upset by this confrontation. It kind of kept going into the next day, where they run to each other again just outside the chamber and are basically, according to the report, getting into each other's faces. And McCarthy's really livid and says, you know, if you ever say something like that to me again, I'm - you know, threatens to get physically violent.

GROSS: Well, I think what he was reacting to...

KARNI: Doesn't actually happen.

GROSS: I think what he was reacting to, what McCarthy was reacting to, was that it was reported that Swalwell called him the P-word.

KARNI: Yes.

GROSS: And McCarthy said, if you ever call me that again, I will kick your - I'll use the clean word - behind. I will kick your behind.

KARNI: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, it's - first of all, this was reported by The Daily Beast, but no one involved denied the exchange. But it's interesting to me to - you rarely see Kevin McCarthy show anger like that. I think his superpower is this sunny disposition. And when we've watched him be mortified in public on multiple occasions this Congress, starting with the speaker's fight, where, I mean, it's just total embarrassment live on television, and he smiles and says, it's not how you start; it's how you finish. He has, like, a bromide from his dad, and he's always smiling. It's, like, kind of remarkable how he doesn't usually show a lot of anger. So this is - clearly, the insult cut to something inside of him, and the bad blood with Swalwell, another young Californian - obviously, there's some, like, real personal animus there 'cause it's an unusual moment for McCarthy.

GROSS: Can you imagine the possibility of a fistfight actually erupting in the House? We seem to be just, like, inches away from that.

KARNI: You know, I can. I mean, we saw - we basically saw that during the speaker's fight. At the very end, you know...

GROSS: Right.

KARNI: ...A member lunged at Matt Gaetz and had to be held back. So, yes, absolutely. We see it all the time.

GROSS: And those were two Republicans.

KARNI: Yeah. And, you know, there's been shouting matches. The other day, coming out of the House, Jamaal Bowman, who's a progressive Democrat from New York, got into a screaming match with Marjorie Taylor Greene, and AOC had to pull him away saying, she ain't worth it, bro. So it's bubbling all the time. These - you know, whether it's Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene or cross-party fights, things look like it wouldn't take that far to get to, like, a punch thrown, I don't think. Absolutely.

GROSS: So one more question. Is it especially exciting to - or depressing - to cover Congress at times like this when it might shut down, when there's fights breaking out between Democrats and Republicans and even within the Republican Party itself? I mean, it's your government. At the same time...

KARNI: It's kind of both.

GROSS: ...There's a lot of action. Yeah.

KARNI: It's kind of - it's a little bit of both. I mean, it's not boring. There's a million stories. There's never a quiet week. You think it's a quiet week, and something inevitably happens. So that's exciting to be there. But there is, like, a - one question that I've been keeping in the back of my mind covering this Congress is, you know, everyone always hates Congress, and everyone always thinks this is the worst Congress ever. But things really do feel different now.

And I am not a long-time congress reporter, but I've been really trying to figure out, is this just the latest version of Congress is broken; government is dysfunctional; everyone always hates government? Or is something different going on here with Trump running and McCarthy being controlled by the hard right? And I do think that it's sort of a historical moment in a changing political landscape. So I think it's interesting, and I like it.

GROSS: You like covering it?

KARNI: Yeah. I don't like the dysfunction, but I like covering it.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I just wanted to clarify that. You're not rooting for a government shutdown.

KARNI: Yeah.

GROSS: But it's interesting to cover it.

KARNI: No.

GROSS: OK.

KARNI: Yeah.

GROSS: Annie Karni, thank you so much for talking with us.

KARNI: Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Annie Karni is a congressional correspondent for The New York Times. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk about how an accident that causes a severe injury and disability changes a life in an instant. The chronic pain can last for the rest of your life. So how do you carry on? That's the central question in the new novel, "Such Kindness." My guest will be the author Andre Dubus III. He also wrote "House Of Sand And Fog," which was adapted into a film. I hope you'll join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF TERENCE BLANCHARD'S "AIN'T YO STUFF SAFE HERE")

GROSS: To keep up with what's on the show and get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram - @nprfreshair. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. FRESH AIR's co-host is Tonya Mosley. I'm Terry Gross.

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