WASHINGTON — While congressional committees have hosted their nationally televised impeachment hearings, Republicans in the House have made sure the words of Texas Democrat Al Green were on full display.
His quote has been printed in big black and white letters on a poster board set up by the Republican staff on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees: “I’m concerned if we don’t impeach this president, he will get re-elected.”
Green said that in a July interview with NBC News after he was asked for his thoughts on the President Donald Trump's unwillingness to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over that country’s meddling in the 2016 elections.
At the time, Green was largely running a rogue campaign. He had tried and failed three times to press Congress to impeach the president. Now Republicans have latched onto the words, using them to help make their case that Democrats as a whole aren’t acting out of true concern for the country, but in order to score political points against a president they despise.
In the Republican House Intelligence Committee’s 123-page impeachment report, Green is mentioned six times — more than any other lawmaker.
When asked, U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, who sits on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, said Green’s statements are “reflective of the Democratic conference.” U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, who frequently quotes Green in press releases regarding impeachment, said Green made a “fatal mistake” when he exposed the Democrats’ true intentions for impeachment proceedings.
"He told the truth in public when he said their key purpose here is, their concern is if they don't impeach the president, he'll get reelected. I watched his full interview; that's exactly what he said and meant,” Brady said. “That reveals, pulls back the curtain on the whole purpose for this impeachment. It is to create a constitutional crisis for purely political reasons.”
Green said Republicans are taking his words out of context.
“All of these things that they are attempting to do to confuse the public that may not be as tuned in as they would like to be will not prevent this president from being impeached,” Green said.
But Green’s words have nonetheless created a political headache for his party. House leadership consistently opposed Green’s attempts to impeach. In 2017, while Republicans still controlled the House, Green laid out a resolution pushing for impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” including Trump's defense of white nationalists protesting in Charlottesville, Virginia; his criticism of NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem as a protest of police violence; and his retweeting of anti-Muslim videos from a far-right British account. Only 58 members voted in favor of the resolution.
This March, Green cited bigotry, a slew of offensive comments and controversial policy choices Trump has made over his first two years, along with his firing of former FBI Director James Comey, as the primary reasons for impeachment. In July, Green sought again to impeach after Trump tweeted that that four Democratic women of color in Congress should “go back” to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came.” By then, Green’s support had grown slightly, but his efforts still easily failed — 95 House members backed him; 332 voted to table his articles of impeachment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barely contained her annoyance at the time. Her words from March explaining why she didn’t back impeachment have also been put on Republicans’ posters.
“Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path because it divides the country," she told The Washington Post. "And he’s just not worth it.”
Both Pelosi’s and Green’s statements were made before the current impeachment inquiry and before the information related to Trump’s dealings in Ukraine was made public. Those actions were what prompted the latest inquiry, and they have been the primary focus of proceedings so far. Now that the inquiry is in full swing, Green is still not on the relevant committees and is by no means leading the impeachment proceedings.
Just this week, Green sent a memo to the House Judiciary Committee calling for it to bring on more diverse witnesses. He’s also asked the Judiciary Committee to consider including the president's “racist actions” in articles of impeachment. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said that “any information coming from members will be reviewed appropriately,” but didn’t comment further.
The impeachment trajectory is largely predictable, though. Democrats in the House will draft articles of impeachment, and they will more than likely pass. Once they’re in the Senate’s hands, it’s unlikely the upper chamber will remove him from office.
“The facts are uncontested,” Pelosi said Thursday when she announced the Judiciary Committee will begin drafting articles of impeachment. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security.”
But what happens in the nationally broadcast hearings shapes public opinion, too. Republicans have used Green’s words to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the proceedings, causing frustration for Democrats.
“I think the Republicans are doing anything possible to distract from the facts,” said U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “The facts are so damning and so indefensible that they are looking for a way to ensure that the American public doesn’t pay attention to what the president did.”