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Sunday Politics

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

President Trump was impeached this past week. But the process hasn't yet moved to the Senate amid a standoff that doesn't look like it will be resolved simply with holiday cheer. But we are always cheered by having national political correspondent Mara Liasson with us on the show. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Happy holidays.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Happy holidays. So we have some news that broke overnight about the issue that Trump was impeached over.

LIASSON: Yes. Just before midnight on Friday, the administration turned over some documents because a federal court ordered them to. It turns out that an outside nonprofit watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity, had brought a Freedom of Information Act suit to get some of those documents that had been subpoenaed by Congress but the White House had been refusing to turn over. And among other things, one of them was a memo from an OMB official - written just a couple hours after the conversation between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president - saying that the military aid should be frozen and that the information about the freeze should be closely held. In other words, very few people should know about it.

And it turns out that that official is also one of the witnesses that Senate minority leader - Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has been asking Mitch McConnell to agree to call during a Senate trial. So it puts the delay that Nancy Pelosi imposed on sending those articles of impeachment over to the Senate in a different light. Maybe the delay is going to end up turning over some more information because there are other documents that are scheduled to be released in January.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So that might help the case in the Senate. But where do we...

LIASSON: Might or might not.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Might or might not, depending on what those documents say. But what are we going to see in the Senate trial? And what's happening with that?

LIASSON: Well, we don't know yet. What we know is that Nancy Pelosi has not yet sent over the articles - and her management team, who are going to be the impeachment managers for a Senate trial. She said she's waiting to find out what a trial will look like.

And right now Majority Leader McConnell and Democratic Leader Schumer are going back and forth about that. As I said, Schumer wants witnesses. He's given a list of them - people like John Bolton, the former national security adviser, the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney and this OMB official.

The president originally had said he wanted witnesses, too. He wanted the whistleblower. He wanted the Bidens. He wanted Adam Schiff.

But he has also said that he'll let McConnell make those decisions. So McConnell doesn't want witnesses. He said witnesses would be mutually assured destruction. He wants a pretty quick trial. So they're negotiating. And we don't know yet exactly what the trial is going to look like.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. So in the days after the impeachment, everyone wanted the narrative to say one thing or another, right? But what do we know about the politics of impeachment? Who did it help or hurt?

LIASSON: We don't know what the political end game of impeachment will be. We have not seen any evidence of a big groundswell for impeachment or a big backlash to impeachment. Big majorities of Americans tell pollsters that they think what the president did was wrong when he asked a foreign leader to help him dig up dirt on a political rival. But when it comes to whether the president should be impeached and removed by the Senate because of that, the public is split right down the middle.

There has been a small uptick in the president's approval ratings - could be his base is getting more enthusiastic, maybe because of impeachment, maybe also because he's done some other things that are popular, like stopping the trade war with China and getting the new NAFTA agreement, USMCA, agreed to with Democrats in the House. He made some concessions to them to get it.

We do know that when it comes to being removed from the Senate, removal is less popular in the battleground states than it is nationally. But the bottom line is public opinion is stuck, hasn't moved much at all. And it's split down the middle. So Democrats and Republicans really can't say who is going to win politically from this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think it says about the president's numbers - that we really haven't seen that much movement on impeachment?

LIASSON: Well, we haven't seen much movement in the president's approval ratings at all. It's a very narrow trading range, you could say. He has a high floor and a low ceiling. He kind of bounces around in the low to mid 40s. Remember, he got 46.1% of the vote in 2016. And he's never really gone much beyond that in approval ratings. And just as a reminder, at this time in 2011, Barack Obama was at 43%. So very similar to President Trump, except Obama did not have these super high negative approval ratings that Donald Trump has.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent. Thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.