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Impeachment Proceedings Against Brazil's President Speed Up

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has suffered a political blow from which she may not recover. The lower house of Brazil's Congress voted to impeach her yesterday on crimes related to public accounting. Today, Rousseff vowed to fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Speaking Portuguese).

SIEGEL: She called the impeachment process an attempt at an indirect election by her opponents, who would not have the votes to seize power in a normal election. Rousseff is immensely unpopular. Many Brazilians have blamed her for sinking the country into a recession. Catherine Osborn reports from Rio de Janeiro.

CATHERINE OSBORN, BYLINE: Yesterday's vote was a brutal defeat for President Dilma Rousseff, and many Brazilians were celebrating. The crowd at one pro-impeachment rally erupted into cheers when it became clear Brazil's Congress was overwhelmingly in support of her ouster.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Portuguese).

(CHEERING)

OSBORN: Still, the very people that cheered the results are also deeply worried about the future.

MARIA ALBERQUERQUE: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: Real estate agent Maria Alberquerque says we're making a bet that removing Dilma will make things better. She says if the vice president, Michel Temer, is found to be corrupt as well, maybe he should fall, too.

Temer is from an opposing party and has been instrumental in getting Rousseff removed from office. His unpopularity almost rivals Rousseff's. A poll this month found 58 percent of Brazilians support impeaching Temer, too. Civil engineer Marcio Destre, also with the protest, says Temer should go.

MARCIO DESTRE: (Speaking Portuguese).

OSBORN: Temer is not the solution, says Destre, adding that he thinks the vice president has zero credibility. If Temer goes, next in line for the presidency would be Brazil's speaker of the house, Eduardo Cunha. Cunha is widely considered one of the most corrupt members of Congress. He's being investigated for having secret accounts where he allegedly hid millions of dollars in bribes as part of a graft scandal at the state oil company. That investigation is called Lava Jato.

MAURICIO SANTORO: Three-fourths of the politicians investigated in Lava Jato who are also part of the Chamber of the Deputies voted yesterday for impeachment.

OSBORN: That's State University of Rio political science professor Mauricio Santoro.

SANTORO: I fear that they are trying to negotiate some kind of deal in the backstage to stop the investigations.

OSBORN: His concern is that the push to kick out Rousseff has more to do with stopping the corruption investigation and saving some people's political futures than actually helping Brazil. Already two congressmen who supported impeachment have begun publicly discussing how to block an ethics committee attempt to remove Cunha from his position. The drive to impeach Rousseff was carried out in the name of fighting corruption, and in their oral arguments during voting last night, lawmakers both for and against impeachment claimed they were on the right side of the issue. But Santoro says at this point, everyone is tainted.

SANTORO: I believe that only the next presidential elections are going to produce a candidate, a government that has enough popular support and enough legitimacy to run the country.

OSBORN: In the short term, Rousseff's ultimate fate is still unclear. The impeachment proceedings move to the Senate and it's only after it votes that Vice President Temer can take over. He's promised to act decisively to turn the country around. But not many people are convinced he'll have the legitimacy to do that. For NPR News, I'm Catherine Osborn in Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.