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Trump Appears To Be Emboldened By House Impeachment Vote

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Impeachment is the ultimate form of censure, a permanent mark on a president. But so far, there's little sign President Trump feels worried or restrained. In fact, it's quite the opposite. He is leaning in. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Reflecting on the historic House vote, President Trump tried to project a certain nonchalance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It doesn't feel like impeachment. And you know what? It's a phony deal. And they cheapen the word impeachment. It's an ugly word, but they cheapen the word impeachment.

KEITH: Trump has always tweeted a lot. And he's always delivered insult-laden rally speeches that lurch from one topic to the next and back again. But as impeachment drew near, the sheer quantity of tweets and retweets went off the charts.

DOUGLAS HEYE: I think it's the new not normal that we're in right now.

KEITH: Doug Heye is a former House Republican leadership aide.

HEYE: He's going to do this as we go into not just an impeachment trial but also an election that guarantees that this is going to be - maybe not the biggest, most beautiful election, to use Trump's terms, but it's certainly going to be the loudest.

KEITH: On the very night the House approved articles of impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Trump gave his longest-ever rally speech in Battle Creek, Michigan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Crazy Nancy Pelosi's House Democrats...

(BOOING)

TRUMP: ...Have branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame - and it really is. It's a disgrace.

KEITH: Twenty-one years ago on the day former President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House, he held a rally of sorts of his own. He spoke in the White House Rose Garden, with Democratic members of Congress standing behind him in a show of unity.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: Thank you.

KEITH: But Clinton's message was decidedly different than the scorched approach Trump has taken.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CLINTON: I ask the American people to move with me, to go on from here, to rise above the rancor, to overcome the pain and division, to be a repairer of the breach - all of us.

KEITH: They are obviously different presidents accused of very different misdeeds. But Trump's strategy for survival has, from the start, been about maintaining total Republican fidelity. Jason Miller was the senior communications adviser on Trump's 2016 campaign and now co-hosts the Impeachment War Room (ph) podcast.

JASON MILLER: And so rather than run away from it and have himself curled up in the fetal position and try to ignore it, much in the way that Bill Clinton did, President Trump has run headlong toward it and attacked it directly.

KEITH: Assuming a Senate trial goes forward in the new year, Trump is expected to be acquitted just as Clinton was. Heye keeps thinking about a "Saturday Night Live" skit from the weekend after Clinton's acquittal.

HEYE: Darrell Hammond came out as Bill Clinton, walked up to the podium and said that he was bulletproof and then walked away.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

DARRELL HAMMOND: (As Bill Clinton) I am bulletproof.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

HAMMOND: (As Bill Clinton) Next time, you best bring kryptonite.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

HEYE: If Donald Trump is acquitted, this won't just be an acquittal. It will be the greatest exoneration in our nation's history. We saw how he reacted to the Mueller report - he's going to do that times 10.

KEITH: Emboldened, unconstrained, certainly not chastened. Again, Jason Miller.

MILLER: I think it's worth pointing out the mood of the president and his supporters. It's very much a bullish mindset. It's very much a defiant mindset that President Trump has had literally every single thing thrown at him, and he's still in office.

KEITH: In the days immediately following the impeachment vote, the Trump campaign and Republican Party reported raising a combined $10 million - Trump's defiance rewarded. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HENRY MANCINI & HIS ORCHESTRA'S "CROCODILE, GO HOME!") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.