WASHINGTON — As the U.S. House Judiciary Committee prepared to vote on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump this week, Florida Democratic Rep. Val Demings recalled her childhood.
“I grew up poor, but my parents were good, decent, honest people who taught me to be decent and respectful,” Demings said Wednesday night as committee members gave statements ahead of Thursday’s expected vote.
She was the first in her family to go to college and went on to be Orlando’s first woman chief of police. “I believe that only in America can a little black girl, the daughter of a maid and a janitor growing up in the South in the ‘60s, have such an amazing opportunity,” she told her colleagues.
As lawmakers sparred over the impeachment proceedings against the president, Demings said that those sometimes “painful political debates” couldn’t make her “give up on America.”
Despite the country’s complicated history, her faith is in the constitution, Demings said. She and her colleagues, she added, “have one option, and that’s to hold this president accountable, because you know what? Nobody is above the law.”
Demings is one of five Floridians on the House Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday, the three Florida Democrats made their case for impeachment; the two Republicans assailed the process.
Rep Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) warned that the president’s behavior had shaken his kids’ faith in the U.S. democracy.
“This is a moment that the president has forced upon us,” Deutch said. “These are the high crimes that violate the supreme law of our nation, the Constitution of the United States.”
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) spoke of immigrating to the United States with her family from Ecuador when she was a teenager. “Many of us have experienced firsthand the political corruption in our countries of birth,” she said.
“I did not come to [Congress to] impeach the president, but this president has violated the rule of law,” she said, calling Trump a “clear and present danger to the future of our democracy.”
Anyone expecting a sea change from either political party would have been sorely disappointed while watching the opening statements.
In the debate that went late into Wednesday night, lawmakers on both sides assailed their colleagues across the aisle, accusing them of overt partisanship.
Democrats implored Republicans to put politics aside and break ranks with the GOP to rebuke Trump; Republicans uniformly defended the president and accused the majority of fabricating a case in an attempt to oust an executive whose policies they have loathed since he assumed the White House.
After the public sparring, the Democratic majority on the committee is expected to approve impeachment articles this week, sending them to the full House floor for a vote. If they’re approved by the House as expected, a Senate trial will likely be held early next year.
GOP says impeachment boosts Trump in 2020
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel, set the tone for his party, accusing Democrats of pursuing a three-year vendetta against Trump.
“This is not new. We’ve been trying this for almost three years,” Collins said of the efforts to impeach Trump. “The only thing that has changed is the opportunity from last November when you became the majority,” he told Democrats.
Republicans also warned Democrats that the impeachment proceedings would help Trump keep the White House in the 2020 election and could help the GOP reclaim the House majority.
“This is the quickest, thinnest, weakest, most partisan impeachment in all of American presidential history,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). He referred to the process as a “scorched earth strategy” by the Democrats and “hot garbage impeachment.”
Gaetz added, “We’ll see you on the field in 2020.”
Rep. Greg Steube, a freshman Republican from Florida, accused Democrats of clamoring for impeachment since Trump’s election.
He warned Democrats that they’d be judged for their actions in 2020. “I guess we will see who was on the right side of history.”
‘One heck of an emergency’
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who was a staffer to the Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon in 1974, pointed to Republican lawmakers who supported impeachment following the Watergate scandal.
One of them was Rep. Lawrence J. Hogan Sr. — a Maryland Republican and the current governor’s father. “Unless Richard Nixon is removed from office and the disease of Watergate, which has sapped the vitality of our government, is purged from the body politic, government and politics will continue to be clouded by mistrust and suspicion,” Hogan said at the time, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Virginia Rep. Manley Caldwell Butler was another Republican who turned against the majority of his party to support Nixon’s impeachment, even though his own mother had warned him that a vote against the Republican president would spell political doom.
“Dear Mother, you are probably right. However, I feel that my loyalty to the Republican Party does not relieve me of the obligation which I have,” the congressman told her, according to The New York Times. He believed Nixon had lied and obstructed justice.
As the committee and the full House move toward what’s almost certain to be a highly partisan vote, Lofgren asked Wednesday, “Where are the Caldwell Butlers and Larry Hogans of today in the Republican Party?”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) disputed Republicans’ assertions that Democrats had their sights set on impeachment since Trump’s election.
“While I didn’t vote for President Trump, I respect the office that he holds,” Johnson said. But while he didn’t initially support impeachment, the Georgia congressman said, “this is one heck of an emergency.”
He supports impeachment now, Johnson said, because “President Trump’s high crimes threaten our democracy itself.”
He added, “I’m a black man representing Georgia, born when Jim Crow was alive and well. To me, the idea that elections can be undermined is not theoretical.”