The New York Times: Black Voters Challenge House Members: Why Is Trump Still in Office?

Originally published by The New York Times on May 30, 2019

By Sharyl Gay Stolberg

Representative Dwight Evans, Democrat of Pennsylvania, meeting with constituents in Philadelphia on Wednesday. Mr. Evans has called for President Trump to be impeached. Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

PHILADELPHIA — Moments after the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, wrapped up his extraordinary news conference on Wednesday, Representative Dwight Evans stepped out of his district office in a black working-class neighborhood here to visit with local business owners. They had one question on their minds: Why is President Trump still in office?

Mr. Evans, a Democrat who began calling for Mr. Trump to be impeached long before Mr. Mueller issued his report, was not surprised: “The issue that I hear constantly here is ‘We sent you for one reason only: To get rid of the president, right? Why haven’t you gotten rid of him yet?’”

In cities around the country, black Democrats like Mr. Evans — and other House members who represent majority-black districts — are hearing much the same from their African-American constituents, as well as from white liberals who have moved into the nation’s urban core. Those views are translating into action on Capitol Hill, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi is under increasing pressure from her rank-and-file to hurry up her time frame for what many see as an inevitable impeachment inquiry.

A number of prominent African-American lawmakers, including Representative Maxine Waters of California, the powerful chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, are leading the charge to impeach the president. On Wednesday, after Mr. Mueller declined to clear Mr. Trump, three more signed on: Representatives Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Danny K. Davis and Bobby L. Rush of Illinois. All are veteran Democrats.

Others, mindful of Ms. Pelosi’s call for caution, are pushing back on their own constituents and struggling to explain House Democrats’ go-slow approach.

“It’s probably safe to say that there are no Americans more ardently opposed to Trump than African-Americans,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate to Congress from the District of Columbia, who argues that it is pointless to impeach Mr. Trump when the Republican-led Senate will not convict him. “There is such a huge dislike for this president that the first thing I get from them is to impeach him.”

Their “ardor is so great,” Ms. Holmes Norton said, that she wrote a Facebook post last month explaining the nuances of the impeachment process. She sees her Democratic colleagues getting “carried away by what their constituents are saying” and warns that impeachment could backfire: “I remind them that we impeached a Democratic president, and he was more popular than ever” — a reference to Bill Clinton’s impeachment and Senate acquittal.

The Congressional Black Caucus has taken no official position on impeachment; its chairwoman, Representative Karen Bass, Democrat of California, said she is organizing a formal “educational session” for its members once they return from Memorial Day recess next week. She takes a tack similar to Ms. Norton’s, and has “spent a lot of time” explaining the impeachment process, she said.

African-Americans are a critical component of the Democratic base; they make up slightly more than 13 percent of the population but account for nearly one-quarter of Democratic voters, according to Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. They are also an outsize force in the House Democratic caucus, which has more than 50 African-Americans; there is only one black Republican in the House, Representative Will Hurd of Texas.

Black voters turned out in droves to help elect Barack Obama, and younger African-American voters were part of “a huge surge group for Democrats” in the 2018 midterms, motivated by their antipathy toward the president, said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster and expert in the African-American vote. A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found that 87% of African Americans disapprove of Mr. Trump, compared with 63% of Hispanics and 48% of whites.

Mr. Evans’s Philadelphia district.“The issue that I hear constantly here is, ‘We sent you for one reason only: To get rid of the president, right? Why haven’t you gotten rid of him yet?’” he said.Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Mr. Evans’s Philadelphia district.“The issue that I hear constantly here is, ‘We sent you for one reason only: To get rid of the president, right? Why haven’t you gotten rid of him yet?’” he said. Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Their loathing goes far beyond his policies; they view him as a racist and an “existential threat,” Mr. Belcher said. Many still mock his 2016 plea for their support: “What the hell have you got to lose?”

And those voters’ representatives are taking up their cause — not only African-American House members like Mr. Evans but others who represent substantial black populations, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who is of Puerto Rican descent, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who is Palestinian-American, and Steve Cohen of Tennessee, who is white but whose Memphis district is two-thirds black.

But Mr. Belcher said the kitchen-table issues that Ms. Pelosi liked to talk about — jobs, health care and the high cost of prescription drugs — remained more important than impeachment.

“Among activists, the chattering class, it’s a real priority,” Mr. Belcher said. “Among Joe Blow African-American voter who does vote regularly but is not a political activist, does he want Donald Trump removed from office? Yes. Is he for impeachment? Sure he is. Is it his top priority? No.”

Yet here in Philadelphia, where African-Americans account for about 55 percent of Mr. Evans’s district, impeachment did seem to be a top priority in West Oak Lane, a leafy neighborhood of brick and stone houses in the northwest part of the city. Earlier this year, Mr. Evans brought Tom Steyer, the billionaire liberal activist who is pressing for impeachment, to the commercial strip of black-owned businesses along Ogontz Avenue. He retraced those steps on Wednesday.

“I agreed with everything he said,” exclaimed Paulette Beale-Harris, 60, who owns a florist shop, referring to Mr. Steyer. “It’s time for Congress to do something. It’s time for them to stop being afraid to do what has to be done for the country.”

Seated in the back of the shop, Ms. Beale-Harris’ mother and sister nodded in agreement. But her father, Paul Beale Jr., 91, expressed concern.

“Pelosi doesn’t think it’s a good idea and I have a lot of confidence in her,” said Mr. Beale. “If it’s going to hurt in the long run, I don’t think they should do it.”

In one conversation after the next, the story was the same. “They’ve got to get him out of the way before he destroys this country,” said James Gaines, 66, a barber.

“I don’t think he’s mentally stable, do you?” asked Sabriya Bilal, 64, a school bus driver.

So strong is the sentiment against Mr. Trump that Art Haywood, the state senator representing this area, has introduced a resolution in the Pennsylvania General Assembly calling for the president’s impeachment. Last week, he held a town hall meeting, to rally public support; in an interview, he compared House Democrats’ reticence to “the appeasement policy of Neville Chamberlain,” the British prime minister who sought to avoid war with Adolf Hitler.

“This appeasement policy of Nancy Pelosi is a tremendous mistake,” Mr. Haywood said. “The risks to our nation are bigger than the risks to the Democratic Party.”

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