Politics

The Impeachment Party

Democrats had the facts and the votes. Republicans had their feelings.

Nancy Pelosi at a podium in the House of Representative holding a gavel, with an American flag behind her.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presides over the impeachment of Donald Trump in Washington on Wednesday.
Saul Loeb/Getty Images

After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, dressed in funereal black, gaveled closed the vote approving the first article of impeachment against President Donald Trump, a few Democrats—strictly against the speaker’s orders—had the audacity to cheer. Their fellow Democrats immediately shushed them. The speaker, herself, shot them a zip-it glare fierce enough to strip someone of a committee assignment on the spot.

Republicans, sensing a classmate was being sent to the principal, gloated with an extended, sarcastic, Oooohhh. There was the mood in the chamber as the House inscribed its impeachment decision on history: The rude high spirits were on the losing side; the winners were determined to be somber about it.

When Pelosi was gaveling shut the second vote, only one Democrat yielded to temptation. “Yaaa! … aayy …” he said, recognizing halfway through the very short word that he had blown it. He was in shock, and looked like he might die. Members had to console him on the way out.

Democrats had just had the great pleasure of impeaching Donald Trump as president of the United States, and they weren’t even allowed to enjoy it.

As nearly 11 hours of procedural votes, debate, and final votes on the two articles of impeachment drew down Wednesday, Republicans, whose leader was the one being impeached, were having the time of their lives. They were loose. It was, in their minds, that moment that makes being in the minority almost worth it: the opportunity, as their worldview declared it must be, to watch the majority piss away seats by defying the will of the people, in service of the leftist base.

Buoyed by that belief, the minority caucus, which is 90 percent white men, summoned its fraternity animal spirits. When House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer spoke to deliver the first of the closing speeches of the debate, free of the time constraints that had bound the previous discussion, the Republicans would barely let him finish a sentence. Hoyer tried to deliver not a partisan stemwinder but a slow, serious, statesmanlike speech, about how unfortunate the situation had become, and how Trump’s actions “forced this constitutional republic to protect itself.” Each time—and there were many—that Hoyer spoke of how rigidly he had rejected impeachment efforts prior to the Ukraine scandal, the GOP laughed. They laughed, or catcalled, when he said that Democrats rejected previous impeachment articles, or that they had never wanted to be here. When he spoke about the bravery of Rep. Justin Amash, whose impeachment stance prompted him to represent his Republican district as an independent, one of Amash’s former Republican colleague said aloud, “Not for long.”

House Republicans’ behavior, and their prevailing argument over the course of the day, showed them stripped to their id. There was no challenging Democratic members on the ins-and-outs of witness testimony, or acknowledgment that the president had done something wrong, if not impeachable. Their counterstory was about wounded feelings: Democrats were doing this because they hated Donald Trump. They are elites who hate the way he conducts himself, and they hate how popular he is with his supporters, who they also hate. They hate the booming economy he’s created. The Democrats are the enemies of everything that’s good, so their impeachment of Trump would only demonstrate his goodness.

“I am about to say something my Democrat colleagues hate to hear: Donald J. Trump is president of the United States,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy—who introduced himself not as a leader or a congressman, but “Kevin McCarthy, citizen”— said at the outset of his closing remarks.

“He is president today. He will be president tomorrow. And he will be president when this impeachment is over.” It was one of the most popular Republican lines of the night.

The Democrats countered by summoning their superego. It wasn’t Pelosi who gave Democrats’ closing remarks. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff did, working with no notes and without skipping a beat. He implored Republicans to think of the institution of Congress. Over their interruptions, he told them that eventually they, too, may be back in the majority, though “you may not act like it.” And they might not like that majority to exist in a neutered Congress servile to the executive branch.

Republican members seemed indifferent to Schiff’s plea to consider larger consequences. When he finished and the presiding chairwoman, Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette, announced that debate time had expired, the Republican side of the aisle cheered. The previous day, and earlier that morning, they had argued that there would not be enough debate time, that it was a travesty that Democrats wouldn’t provide at least double the debate time they were offering.

As the votes began, hundreds of members flooded the well of the House, choosing to vote by submitting paper cards, as historical keepsakes, instead of with their usual electronic voting cards. Every vote was known in advance, except for one: that of Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate who hadn’t shown up for procedural votes earlier in the morning and whose staff wasn’t responding to inquiries about her whereabouts. She rolled in, WWE style, near the very end of the vote on the first article, and voted “present.” She would vote the same on the second article.

Republicans chanted “FOUR MORE YEARS!” at the start of the vote on the second article, while Democrats remained under strict orders to avoid demonstrations of joy at any cost. They were assigned to be in mourning for democracy.

In the gallery above the chamber, liberal filmmaker and activist Michael Moore appeared to be enjoying himself: He was seated just above the screen displaying the vote tallies, so close that he could rest his arms on it. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of the members who had to work the hardest to suppress any outward indication of fun-having, saw him and signaled that she would take his photo with the screen beneath him. She surreptitiously snapped a couple of pictures with her cellphone, before turning to talk with her fellow Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Right around this time, the president was at a rally in Michigan, making a joke about how Dingell’s recently passed husband, John, might be in hell. Speaking to a crowd of his supporters Wednesday night, Trump suggested that John Dingell—the longest-serving member of Congress in history—might have been watching.

“Maybe he’s looking up, I don’t know,” Trump said. Even his rallygoers seemed taken aback.

That was the person that Democrats had just voted to impeach. They should have been popping champagne bottles on the floor.