It’s week two into the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, and members of Congress have spent long days and nights at the U.S. Capitol. Two Black women are front and center: Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).
Demings, a Florida Congresswoman, is the only Black woman helping to present the U.S. House of Representatives’ case against the president. Harris is the lone Black woman in the 100-member Senate.
In fact, the former presidential contender points out that she and Demings are “the only Black elected women in the room” during the Senate impeachment trial. “It’s an important moment in history.”
Indeed, as the third impeachment trial in U.S. history unfolds, African Americans have major and important supporting roles. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), an attorney and House Chairman, is working alongside Demings as the first African American impeachment managers in history.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) are the only Black men in the Senate.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) was a key decision-maker for parts of the process, as were fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).
Moreover, multiple African American staffers—from the chaplain to counsel to aides to lawmakers and committee staffers— are visible or diligently working behind the scenes.
“I’m honored to be a part of the team. I’m the only non-lawyer,” Demings said of working with fellow House Managers selected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Besides Demings and Jeffries, the team of seven includes Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) and Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX).
A former social worker and police officer, Demings was the first woman Chief of Police in Orlando, Florida. Telling Essence that “God has prepared me for a time such as this,” she delivered a speech early in the proceedings to introduce herself to the American public.
“And I come before you tonight as an African American female. I come before you tonight as a descendant of slaves. Slaves who knew they would not make it, but dreamed and prayed that one day, that I would make it.
I come before you tonight proclaiming that in spite of America’s complicated history, my faith is in the Constitution. And I say that today with perfect peace.”
“I’ve spent the majority of my adult life fighting to protect people,” she said. “We’re here to defend the Constitution and uphold the rule of law.”
The House Managers began making their case last week, while Trump’s legal team followed over the weekend and earlier this week.
On Wednesday, the Senators submitted individual questions handwritten on cards to both the prosecution and defense. The questions are being read aloud by the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, John Roberts, who is overseeing the impeachment trial with replies and rebuttals from both sides. The process, with responses and rebuttals from both sides, is expected to continue on Thursday.
What led up the impeachment trial?
The impeachment proceedings come after the House of Representatives, where Democrats hold the majority, impeached Trump back in December.
The nation’s 45th President now faces two Articles of Impeachment: Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress. Trump has repeatedly insisted that he’s done nothing wrong.
At issue is a phone call revealed by a whistleblower reportedly between the White House and the president of Ukraine. Trump allegedly pressured the Ukrainian leader to investigate former Vice-President Joe Biden, now a Democratic presidential rival, and his son, Hunter Biden.
At stake were millions in federal aid to the Eastern European nation, invaded by Russia in 2014, allegedly as quid pro quo for the political probe. Trump is further accused of obstructing Congress, as committees issued subpoenas, sought documents and records while investigating the matter to no avail.
The President’s abuse of power and violation of the law, House Managers say, threatened U.S. national security and jeopardized the integrity of free and fair elections.
“There’s a lot of fancy language and legal terms, but I think we’ve gotta break it down,” Sen. Harris told ESSENCE. “Essentially, Donald Trump was cheating. …he sensed he might lose the  election. And then he tried to cover up what he did.”
“We cannot have two systems of justice,” Harris adds of the allegations against the president. “One that says the powerful can get away with things. And another that says everyone else must face the music.”
Yet Trump’s defense team is pushing for speedy acquittal. On Tuesday, defense lawyer Jay Sekulow cried out “danger, danger, danger” and asserted the bar for impeachment “cannot be set this low.” The White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, noted that Democrats wanted to “throw out a successful president” and negate the results of the 2016 election.
The Senators, who are bound by Constitutional duty, must vote at the conclusion of all the proceedings. The outcome could determine whether the president is removed from office.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated weeks ago that the Republican-controlled Senate will not vote to convict the president, some Senators remain non-committal. Meanwhile, another major question looms as to whether witnesses will be called during the trial. The Senate is expected to debate the issue, then take a vote on Friday.
The matter of witnesses has taken on greater urgency, said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). “This weekend, a draft of the upcoming book by President Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton, was reported on by The New York Times,” he said. “In that book, Ambassador Bolton… revealed additional evidence pertinent to the impeachment trial now underway in the Senate.”
Senate Democratic Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) added: “It seems that each day that goes by, a new revelation underscores the need for relevant witnesses and documents in this trial. These reports make clear that Senate Democrats’ repeated calls for witnesses and documents is vital.” Republicans have continued to deride the process as unfair, while Trump has dubbed it “a sham.”
As millions of Americans watch and listen to the trial, African Americans working on The Hill say they’re proud of the role that members of Congress and their teams are playing in the democratic process.
“It’s been an honor to be part of the most diverse Congress ever and to be part of the fight to protect and defend our democracy,” said Shadawn Reddick-Smith, Communications Director of the House Judiciary Committee. “I think we all are very much aware of the gravity of this moment in time, how far we have come as a nation and how much further we have to go.”