Impeachment day somber for state’s 4 congressmen
Written by: Frank E. Lockwood
Published by: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
While his colleagues debated the merits of impeaching President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. Steve Womack sat in the Speaker’s Lobby in the Capitol on Wednesday morning, quietly pondering the significance of the moment.
Scores of speeches, including his own, were yet to be delivered. A raft of roll call votes lay ahead.
“It is, by anyone’s estimation, a very historic day,” the Republican from Rogers said. “Our kids and our grandkids and their kids and grandkids will read about this day.”
If historians adopt Womack’s viewpoint, it will be remembered as a day of division.
“It’s kind of hard to be upbeat and proud of this moment because I’m not,” he said.
Womack, like the other three House members from Arkansas, had never wavered in his opposition to impeachment.
His vote was not in doubt Wednesday. Neither was the outcome.
“It’s sad for me as an American to see the country continue to unravel to the party extremes and become so filled with disdain for each other, to allow ideological polarization to divide the body and divide the country. And that’s where we are at this moment in time,” he said.
“I believe in my country. As divided as we are, I believe we will land on our feet. We will overcome this,” he said.
Back in Arkansas, as the final vote neared, Womack’s Democratic opponent was also striking a somber tone.
“Today I grieve for our country; I find no joy in this vote,” Celeste Williams said in a written statement.
Nonetheless, the Bella Vista-area nurse practitioner was unwavering in her support for removing the president.
“As a public servant, one must make hard choices, but the choice between blind partisanship and defending our democracy and constitution is clear,” she said. “I believe using the power of the Presidency for one’s own personal gain — and trying to cover that up — is an impeachable offense. No one is above the law.”
On Capitol Hill, there was no suspense about the end result. Only the precise timing of the vote was uncertain.
“I think it’s, unfortunately, a foregone conclusion,” said U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Hot Springs.
He’d stayed up late Tuesday reading a copy of Federalist 65, he said.
“I’ve tried to get as educated as I can on the issue,” Westerman said.
Written by Alexander Hamilton in 1788, it had warned that impeachment proceedings “will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused.”
“In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt,” Hamilton had written, lines that Westerman had pondered and later paraphrased.
After sleeping briefly, he’d risen early, arriving at the House gym at 5:30 a.m., a half-hour or so before Womack.
As the vote approached, “I’m getting a lot of encouraging texts and emails and things like that from friends and constituents back home,” Westerman said.
Family had also weighed in, he said.
“One of my kids sent me a text and said ‘People are going to be mad no matter how you vote today, but I still love you,'” he added.
While he waited for the final vote, Westerman said he was staying busy, meeting with staff members, going over next year’s priorities and working on new health care legislation he hopes to introduce soon.
The impeachment campaign had been harmful to the president and the nation he leads, Westerman said.
“I don’t think that the country deserves this and I don’t think he’s being treated fairly in the process,” he said.
U.S. Rep. French Hill also arrived early.
“It’s been a pretty busy day,” the Little Rock Republican said, with the impeachment vote still more than three hours away.
In addition to voting, without success, to table impeachment, he had also met with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. The chairman and Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee had discussed cryptocurrency, digital dollars and the repo market, Hill said.
The schedule also included a visit with the Albanian ambassador to the United States. Floreta Falber and Hill talked about the two nations’ economic relationship as well as a “horrific earthquake” that recently did devastating damage there.
Hill had sent Faber a note of concern after learning of the disaster.
Unlike scores of his colleagues, Hill had no intention of delivering a speech Wednesday.
He’d already delivered a floor speech, in October, denouncing the impeachment inquiry. In it, he accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of turning “a blind eye and a deaf ear to fairness and precedent.” He had also called on the Democratic majority “to put aside partisanship and pointless attacks and get back to work.”
Rather than reiterating what he’d already said, Hill said he would release a written statement laying out his concerns.
Released Wednesday evening, it said, among other things, that the case for impeachment “is not overwhelming and not supported by even the selected leaks and one-sided testimony” orchestrated by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.
Hill’s Democratic opponent, state Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, issued a statement saying she expected “every person in Congress to do their job. I expect them to live up to the oath they swore, to protect our country and to ensure that no one is above the law.”
It didn’t say, however, whether she wanted Trump to be impeached and removed from office.
Reached by phone, Elliott expressed confidence in those who serve to make the right decision, but didn’t take a firm position for or against impeachment.
“I assume, you know, if I were there, I think with the information that I have seen, I would most likely be on the side of supporting it. But what I’m careful to say is I’m not there. I’m not hearing all the information. I want to be fair to people because that is how I conduct myself in Arkansas and I’ve got to respect the people who are there and get all the information and make that decision,” she said.
The fourth member from Arkansas, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford watched much of Wednesday’s debate from his House office. A cinnamon-scented candle, sitting on his desk, slowly melted away as the speeches dragged on for hours.
Feedback, from northeast Arkansas, continued to be pro-Trump, he said.
“I’m getting text messages from home and phone calls, predominantly opposing impeachment. Certainly the text messages I receive reflect that. This just is not playing very well at home,” he said.
The Republican from Jonesboro portrayed the entire proceeding as an attempt to undo the results of the 2016 presidential election.
The day’s speeches weren’t causing him to reconsider, he said.
“Where is the underlying crime? Where is the high crime, misdemeanor, bribery, treason? It doesn’t exist,” he said. “The arguments that the Democrats are making, they’re just not valid.”
“I mean, it’s clear that they dislike the president and I get that,” Crawford said.
But there’s an obligation, he said, to respect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
“This is not about a blind loyalty to the president,” he said. “This is about a loyalty to the Constitution.”
Trump beat the Democrats in 2016 and he’s going to beat them again in 2020, Crawford predicted.
“He’s very well liked. He’s going to get reelected in a landslide,” Crawford added.