Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, didn’t expect to be at the center of presidential impeachment proceedings when she won her U.S. House seat in 2016.
“It’s just kind of unbelievable,” she told the Florida Phoenix in a recent interview. “When I decided to run for Congress, I certainly did not say, ‘So I can impeach the president.’ It was not on my list.”
Three years later, the Florida lawmaker and former chief of the Orlando Police Department has a front-row seat to inquiry against President Donald Trump. She’s one of just four lawmakers in the entire House who serves on both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which are likely to be the two most influential panels in the impeachment efforts.
Demings has been attending the closed-door sessions as witnesses have detailed Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine’s president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. Next up, she’ll be able to pose questions at the public impeachment hearings slated to kick off in the Intelligence Committee later this week. She’ll also be on the Judiciary panel as it weighs whether to draft articles of impeachment.
The other lawmakers on both committees are Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). Republican leadership added Jordan to the Intelligence Committee last week in an effort to bolster GOP defenses on that panel.
Demings lives in the same building as Ratcliffe when Congress is in session and occasionally runs into him in the gym, she said. She tries to appeal to him on impeachment proceedings, she added, but he and other House Republicans have publicly maintained a united front opposing the investigations.
The Orlando Democrat began pushing for an impeachment inquiry in April, months before many of her fellow House Democrats echoed those calls. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced a formal impeachment inquiry in September, Demings said in a written statement that Trump had “abused the powers of his office” and that he had “broken the law by engaging in yet another criminal cover-up.”
Demings called it an “honor” to serve on both committees, but she said she doesn’t see the impeachment proceedings as a political victory.
“I know a lot of people think that we’re just high-fiving,” she said. “There is nothing to celebrate about this. … It’s a tough time for our nation and for members of Congress.”
Demings spoke to the Phoenix from Washington, D.C., at a time when most of her colleagues had left the city to head back to their districts. She’s been spending more time on Capitol Hill lately as the House has plowed through depositions of key witnesses. Sometimes she hasn’t found out about the following day’s schedule until the night before.
“I look at the impeachment as overtime,” she said, noting that her work on the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees hasn’t slowed down as the impeachment process has gotten underway.
She’s committed to doing the work, she said, “whether it’s popular or not, whether it’s hard or not, whether it’s stressful or not.”
‘None of this is personal’
Demings, 62, was the youngest of seven kids in a poor family in a rural part of Jacksonville, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Her father was an orange-grove worker and her mother was a housekeeper.
Demings started her law enforcement career in the 1980s, patrolling Orlando’s west side; she became the city’s first female police chief in 2007.
She brings that law enforcement background to the impeachment inquiry.
“For me, you’re presented with a situation, you look at the facts. On the street, the elements of the crime were either there or not there and if they were there, you took action.”
She’s been frustrated by the politics surrounding the impeachment inquiry, she said, as Republican lawmakers continue to rally around the president “when the evidence is in plain sight or is as clear as day.”
The Florida delegation — like the rest of the House — split along party lines in a vote last month over whether to launch impeachment proceedings against the president.
“None of this is personal,” Demings said of the investigations. “Just like people in our communities have to be held accountable, no one is above the law.”
When she does get back to her district, Demings talks to constituents from both sides of the aisle about the state of politics in Washington. Floridians are “exhausted,” she said. “They’re tired. Every day it’s something.” Those who have been trying to stick with Trump are “tired of having to defend him,” she added.
House lawmakers are certain to have an uphill battle convincing a GOP-controlled U.S. Senate to remove Trump from office if the House does indeed impeach the president.
Florida Republican Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio would vote on whether to remove Trump from office if the impeachment articles are referred to the Senate, which could happen this year or early next year.
Rubio said in September of Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine, “Bottom line is, I don’t think he should have done it.”
Scott told the Phoenix in October that lawmakers should withhold judgment on the matter until more information surfaces from the investigations underway in Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters earlier this month that if an impeachment trial were held then, “I don’t think there’s any question — it would not lead to a removal.”
But Demings hopes senators won’t have a choice if it comes to that. “I am hoping that if we do write articles of impeachment, that we will be able to send those articles over to the Senate that are so overwhelmed with evidence … that they won’t have a choice but to vote in favor of those articles,” she said.