I watched Trump's impeachment unfold in DC — then I asked representatives what they really thought

'Are there Democrats who don't consider President Trump legitimate? Yes, but I am not one of them'

Andrew Feinberg
Washington DC
Thursday 19 December 2019 21:07
Republican compares Trump's impeachment to the persecution of Jesus

The House of Representatives press gallery is located directly above the spot where Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday pronounced Donald Trump to be the third president impeached by that body.

Its three levels of seats and writing surfaces give reporters covering House proceedings a birds-eye view of the chamber, allowing them to watch members as they mill about on the floor during debates and votes, as well as observe the usual comings, goings, and endless speeches delivered to television cameras in a usually empty chamber.

And reporters like me who spent the day there on December 18 saw clear signs that this was a momentous day in history.

Both the normally empty press gallery and the office space behind it were packed to the gills, with the gallery itself accessible only to those who'd reserved a ticket beforehand. It's the sort of arrangement normally seen when the Senate joins the House and most of the federal government's leadership for the president's annual State of the Union speech.

The State of the Union is always a full house, with security concerns requiring the press — and everyone else — to be in their places before the president arrives, and to leave after he has departed. And though president wasn't in the House chamber yesterday, his pugilistic spirit was channeled into the room through the mouths of the House Republican Caucus.

For nearly 12 hours, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Doug Collins led his colleagues in a full-throated display of Trumpian grievance-airing, projection, and at times outright lying.

Collins, a Georgia Republican, lawyer and Baptist preacher, opened his party's defense of the president with largely the same sermon he used in committee proceedings, beginning with his alliterative accusation that Democrats were slaves to "the clock and the calendar”. He filled out the remainder of his remarks with a bevy of out-of-context quotes, conspiracy theories, and "alternative facts."

Sometimes those alternative facts were Russian in origin, such as those offered by Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, who claimed that Democrats were using impeachment to "stop the investigation by the US Department of Justice and Ukraine into the corruption of Ukraine's interference into the US election of 2016".

Gohmert, for good measure, also claimed that it was Ukraine — not Russia — which had invaded Georgia in 2014.

When House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) replied that he was "deeply concerned that any member of the House would spout Russian propaganda on the floor of the House," Gohmert proceeded to scream at Nadler from the back benches, and even made his way over to Democrats' side of the chamber to berate the New York Democrat up close.

It was antics such as those which led House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to remark that he'd never before witnessed "such craven rationalization of presidential actions, which have put our national security at risk, undermined the integrity of our elections, and defied the Constitutional authority of the Congress to conduct oversight".

Hoyer invoked the memory of his predecessor, Rep. Larry Hogan Sr, who in 1974 bucked his party to vote for articles of impeachment against then-president Richard Nixon.

"Who among us, many years from now, will receive such praise as a man or woman of courage? Who will regret not having earned it?" Hoyer asked, practically begging a Republican — any Republican — to stand up and condemn what the president has admitted to.

In the end, the history-making day which Speaker Pelosi called good for the Constitution but sad for the country ended with not a single member of the "party of Lincoln" willing to stand up to the president, save for Michigan's Justin Amash, a former member who left the party in July.

And while Republicans claimed over and over again that Democrats had simply never accepted that Trump is president of the United States, one member of Congress who'd seen impeachment before rejected such accusations.

"Are there Democrats who don't consider President Trump legitimate? Yes, but I am not one of them," said Rep. Donna Shalala, a Florida Democrat who was Bill Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Shalala, who famously confronted Clinton over the misdeeds which led to his own impeachment and trial in the Senate, told me that the biggest difference between the Clinton impeachment and that of President Trump is the unwillingness of both Trump and his supporters to accept that he had done anything wrong.

"We didn't argue process, we argued whether it was an impeachable offense, and many Democrats admitted he did something wrong," she said. "Here we can't get any Republican to admit it."

"President Clinton admitted he did something wrong. This president has said he did it, but he has not acknowledged that it was wrong," she continued, adding that the Trump administration's wholesale rejection of any and all congressional subpoenas is "just wrong" and something that she and her Clinton administration colleagues would never have considered.

"Of course you have to respond to subpoenas — the law requires it," she said.

And Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI), whose husband (and predecessor in office) Rep. John Dingell served in the House for longer than anyone in American history, told The Independent that her late husband "wouldn't be happy" about the way her Republican colleagues have conducted themselves during this process: ”I think he wouldn't be happy about it. He always tried bringing everyone together and he wouldn't think this partisan divide is the right thing, but he would also say we have no choice but to do what we're going."

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