“It’s Hilarious. It Looks Ridiculous.”

An interview with the woman who strongly needed her coffee during a live impeachment hearing.

A woman drinks her coffee with great enthusiasm in the background of a Congressional impeachment hearing.
Photo illustration by Slate. Image via White House Pool.

Tuesday’s award for the most amusing diversion from the minutia of the impeachment hearings goes to McClatchy congressional reporter Emma Dumain, who went minorly viral for chugging coffee with great enthusiasm in the background as Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified. It really was some chug! Slate called Dumain to discuss her coffee preferences, the importance of drinking those last few drops, and the perhaps larger symbolic meaning of housing coffee through a media spectacle. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

What were you doing at the impeachment hearings today?

McClatchy reporters have been cycling through the hearings over the past week now. Even though it’s being broadcast all over the place and we could watch it from our desks, we always want to make sure that we have someone in the room in case all hell breaks loose. And I was that body in the room today.

Did you know that you were on camera when you took those big gulps from your cup?

The funny thing is that I had been getting emails with screengrabs and texts even before the start of the hearing saying, “Oh, wow, you’re on TV. Look, I see your head peeking out over there behind the witnesses.” So I knew that I was in the lens of the live shot. You’re not conscious of it the whole time, so I was not conscious in that moment that I was in the live shot. I also didn’t figure that the camera was going to be trained on the witnesses for the entirety of the hearing. The bottom line is I had no idea in the moment that that was being captured in real time. Zero.

Was the coffee really that good? It was coffee, right?  

It was Pret a Manger coffee that I picked up at Union Station on my walk to the Capitol for the hearing. Someone was joking that I was going to get an endorsement deal out of this, but then I was going to come clean: I don’t happen to think that Pret a Manger has great coffee. I really like their oatmeal, and I wanted to have a hearty breakfast because I didn’t know how long I would be there without food, so I stopped to get the oatmeal that I like from Pret. I didn’t want to make an extra stop, so I got a large coffee. It’s serviceable.

I think I would rather be drinking coffee on TV than eating oatmeal on TV. Seems more dignified.

Of all of the embarrassing things that could happen on live TV that I may have done, this was definitely far from the worst thing that I can imagine. Luckily, I didn’t make a mess or miss my mouth or spill all over myself, which is certainly within the realm of possibility given how clumsy and sloppy I can be.

When did you realize you were, for a moment, a minor impeachment celebrity?

I think within minutes. I got a text from a colleague who said, “Are you at the hearing? That was some intense coffee-drinking.” Then I saw a tweet from a congressional reporter colleague who said, “Emma Dumain mainlining coffee on live TV right now is all of us.” I saw that somebody had captured the video, and then I saw that someone had captured a photo of it, and then it became a GIF. It all kind of spiraled from there.

What do you think of the actual clip?

It’s hilarious. It looks ridiculous. The thing that I actually am finding gratifying about the whole thing is I really do think my colleagues are laughing with me and not at me. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but this actually has been a pretty funny day and kind of a hilarious experience. I’ve gotten some ribbing from colleagues around here like, “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” or “Where’s your coffee?” or, I was at a press conference later in the day after the hearing and a colleague said, “If I give you a cup of coffee, will you go stand and drink it in front of a camera right now?”

In the clip, you down some coffee, then you look toward the camera, and you do it again. That wasn’t on purpose?

Yeah, my husband, actually, when he saw the clip he emailed me, “I love that glance you give to the camera, and then you just go in for a second gulp like you didn’t even give a … ” I actually, again, had no clue in that moment that the camera was on me. I really was totally out of it in that moment. I think I was just staring into space. But I’ve seen that narrative perpetuating, like, “She looked at that camera, and she just doesn’t care.” I wish that I was that much of a badass.

Do you always drink your coffee … like that?

No. It was a really tall, narrow cup, and I was really trying to get the very last drops. It was my first coffee of the day—I didn’t have time to make coffee at home in the morning. I had dropped my toddler off at day care, I was rushing to get to the Capitol on time so they wouldn’t give away my seat, so I was still in the process of caffeinating and I really wanted to get every last drop. It necessitated a dramatic tilt of the tall narrow cup. But no, I don’t typically drink coffee in a dramatic fashion like that.

Did you wake up really early this morning?

Yeah, we have a 19-month-old, and she got up a little bit before 6. While my husband was getting ready for work, I went into her room and tried to get her back to sleep on me. We kind of went in and out of sleep for another 45 minutes. Then at around 6:45, my husband came in to tell me it was my turn to get ready to go to work, so then I was rushing to get ready. It was a very disorienting morning where I didn’t have my coffee at home. Usually by 9 a.m. on a weekday, I’m onto my second cup, and there’s a lot less urgency to gulp it down. That’s kind of the story I want to put out there: I’m just a tired workin’ mom trying to do it all.

An inspiration for women everywhere!

There were a lot of women who wrote, “I feel seen.” Even in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, people telling me that they felt a catharsis in seeing that clip, I was like, “Oh yeah, I kind of get it, we’re all trying to get by.” Not that I think that I inspired anyone.

Do you know when it will next be your turn to cover the hearings in the room again?

Hopefully not for a while, or at least they’ll give me a different spot. Not in front of the cameras again.