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Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos Explains Her Decision To Back Impeachment Probe To Voters


At a middle school in Moline, Ill., this morning, the entire eighth grade gathered in the auditorium as part of a weeks-long study of the U.S. Constitution. Today's guest lecturer was the local member of Congress. She happens to be one of the Democrats who was against an impeachment inquiry before fresh events changed her mind. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Cheri Bustos is in her fourth term in Congress, a Democrat who has won reelection easily despite being in a district that was carried narrowly by Donald Trump. School visits are a common thing for her.

CHERI BUSTOS: All right. Hi, Wilson Wildcats.


BUSTOS: I loved eighth grade.

GONYEA: Bustos had been invited to come and talk about a specific topic, the Constitution. And before her appearance, it wasn't clear if she'd actually be the one to broach the topic of impeachment, or if that would be left to students asking questions. But in the very first moments, she erased any doubt about that.

BUSTOS: You are living through historic times right now as it pertains to the Constitution. And do you want to know why?

GONYEA: The audience wasn't miked, but one student said, because every day, history is made. Then another voice shouted, Donald Trump. And another said, impeachment. She quizzed her audience on the separation of powers and on the three branches of government. Then about eight minutes in...

BUSTOS: Is there anybody in our country who is above the law?


BUSTOS: Is there anybody? Is the president above the law?



GONYEA: Moments later, she was asked if anyone knows what a subpoena is. Some hands went up. The session lasted about 45 minutes. Q&A from students afterward focused on a range of things. One wanted to know if there were any laws she doesn't like, and what's her favorite sport? On the latter, she said football. On the former, she cited immigration policies that put children in cages.

Afterward, I asked her about putting the focus at this school appearance squarely on impeachment. She said it was about providing context for students.

BUSTOS: I have very vivid memories of being in eighth grade. And I have very vivid memories of people who would come in and talk with our class. I always enjoyed that part of it. And I think at this point in history, the Constitution is very, very important. And so I wanted to offer that context.

GONYEA: She also explained that for the past two years, she's resisted calls by some Democratic colleagues to get onboard with an impeachment inquiry but that the whistleblower complaint is too serious not to step forward now.


UNIDENTIFIED SERVER: What can I get for you, hon?

JIM KENNEDY: One egg, over slimy, half order of hash browns with onions.

GONYEA: At a table in the back of a downtown Rock Island, Ill., diner, you can find the difference of opinion at one table over breakfast. Seventy-six-year-old retired chiropractor Jim Kennedy (ph) voted for Trump. Though, he stresses, it was based on policy. He doesn't like the president's manner and approach to governing. On impeachment, he says this.

KENNEDY: I think impeachment has been proved to be pretty much impossible, unless someone - you know, the president actually kills somebody, or something like that. I mean, that was proved with Bill Clinton. And I think it's pretty much a waste of time because it isn't going to fly, anyway.

GONYEA: But one of his partners is 78-year-old retired Laborers Union member Tony LaMantia (ph), who answers the question that Congresswoman Bustos would ask the eighth-graders a couple hours later.

TONY LAMANTIA: I just say put everything out on the table. I mean, he's got a set of rules for himself, but everybody else has to go by the law.

GONYEA: Talk of impeachment in diners, among eighth-grade history students and with a member of Congress, in the Quad Cities region this morning.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Moline, Ill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.