Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are proving central to efforts to impeach President Trump.
Black lawmakers say that’s the result of Trump repeatedly stirring racial controversies, from personally attacking two members of the caucus to casting equal blame on white supremacists and counterprotesters for fatal violence in Charlottesville, Va., last summer.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former head of the CBC, said the bitter feelings originated well before Trump arrived in office, when the real estate mogul began raising doubts about former President Obama’s birthplace — and, by extension, his authority to be president.
“I don’t know if the people around the country understand that he has launched … an assault against African-American people starting with his refusal to accept the first African-American president, by continuing to declare that he was from Kenya,” Cleaver said. “No other president in history has had to face that kind of criticism.
“We’ve come to conclude that this is a part of his belief system.”
Just under two-thirds of the 48-member CBC has backed impeachment in House floor votes forced by Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), himself a CBC member. The CBC includes two senators, two nonvoting delegates and one Republican, Rep. Mia Love (Utah), who does not support impeaching Trump.
The votes forced by Green were procedural and not actual up-or-down votes on forcing Trump out of the Oval Office, but served as the only referendums in Congress to date on impeachment.
CBC spokeswoman Kamara Jones reiterated that members specifically voted in support of starting debate on impeachment.
“Members voted in support of debating impeachment of the president,” Jones said, while acknowledging that “some of the members who voted against tabling that motion might ultimately support impeachment itself.”
CBC members made their disgust for Trump clear at Tuesday night’s State of the Union, where many pointedly refrained from clapping or shaking his hand — or skipped the event altogether.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) was positioned along the center aisle, but kept his distance as GOP colleagues nearby enthusiastically jostled to shake Trump’s hand on national television. Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett (D) stood with her arms crossed as Trump walked past.
Most CBC members, including the group’s leader, Rep. Cedric Richmond(D-La.), sat down well before Trump reached the dais and refrained from joining the raucous applause emanating from the GOP side of the chamber.
And that’s just the reaction from CBC members who attended Trump’s State of the Union. More than half of the 14 House Democrats who boycotted the speech were members of the caucus.
The articles of impeachment put forth by Green don’t allege Trump has committed a crime; instead, they assert that Trump has “brought the high office of president of the United States in contempt, ridicule, disgrace and disrepute” and “has sown discord among the people of the United States.”
Green’s articles cite Trump’s reported comments in an Oval Office meeting about immigration policy describing Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries”; the president’s equivocating response to the Charlottesville violence; and Trump’s attacks on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality.
Green argued that Trump is “legitimizing bigotry” by aggravating such controversies.
“Saying that certain countries of color are s-hole countries … and then saying it as you’re discussing a ‘merit-based’ immigration policy. Is it really a merit-based policy, or a race-based policy masquerading as merit-based?” Green said. “This bigotry is being evinced in policy.”
The “shithole” controversy led the CBC to stage another protest at Tuesday’s State of the Union: Almost all members of the group in attendance that evening donned ties or shawls made of kente cloth — a colorful fabric originating in Ghana.
Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat and a veteran of the civil rights movement, said Wednesday that the message was one of “solidarity with Haiti, El Salvador and those countries on the continent of Africa that were referred to by our president in very derogatory terms.”
“We thought that it was necessary for us to demonstrate, as members of the Congress, our displeasure with the president,” he said.
Clyburn is the highest-ranking House Democrat to vote in support of Green’s articles of impeachment. Another black lawmaker and member of Democratic leadership, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), has also voted in favor of impeachment.
A total of 58 Democrats first voted in support of Green’s articles of impeachment last month. But the number grew to 66 when Green forced another vote on Jan. 19 following Trump’s profane remarks.
Nearly all of the Democrats on the record in support of impeachment represent deep-blue districts where their constituents want their lawmakers to show resistance to Trump. Indeed, most CBC members hail from districts that are a lock for Democrats.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), a former CBC chairman, originally voted to table the articles of impeachment in December. But he had a change of heart in the ensuing month after hearing his constituents’ outrage over the Trump administration.
“I had hoped to see improvements at the White House, but every day brings another scandal. Enough is enough. The time has come to have an open and transparent debate on the issue of impeachment on the floor of the House of Representatives,” Butterfield said in a statement provided by his office.
The fiery debate over race and ethnicity has been at the center of the current fight over the fate of so-called Dreamers, immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
As part of legislation to salvage the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Trump and GOP leaders are pressing for new restrictions on the ability of U.S. citizens and permanent legal residents to bring relatives into the country. The Democrats refer to the program as one encouraging “family reunification,” while the Republicans label the process “chain migration.”
The reference to chains has stirred no lack of antipathy from CBC members, who have long accused Trump of advancing white nationalist sentiments and who think the president is blowing dog whistles to his white, conservative base.
“My great, great, great grandfather wouldn’t call [how] he came over here anything but chained migration. And he was brought here from Cameroon,” said Cleaver.
“Donald Trump has never insulted any group accidentally. He knows what he’s doing, and it hurts.”
Still, Cleaver has declined to join the impeachment push, expressing concerns that it could lend ammunition to critics of the ongoing probe by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“One of the worst mistakes we could make is to create the image to his base that our goal is first and foremost the impeachment of Donald Trump,” Cleaver said.“Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying that he’s a good [person],” he quickly added. “But in spite of how he has treated my people, my race, I’m not going to allow him to influence me to be like him.”
Trump’s relationship with the CBC hasn’t been helped by his personal attacks on two of its members.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), the civil rights icon, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” shortly before the inauguration last year that he didn’t see Trump as a “legitimate” president. Trump drew bipartisan criticism when he tweeted in retaliation that Lewis is “all talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”
Trump later lashed out at Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), whom he called “wacky” on Twitter after she offered a critical account of his phone call to the wife of a fallen soldier.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, both Lewis and Wilson voted in favor of impeachment and boycotted the State of the Union.
“I’ve got to be moved by my conscience,” Lewis said.
This article was published on thehill.com