Democrats cite civil rights in impeachment fight

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said of President Trump's impeachment, "We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history."
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said, “We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”
(Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times)

When the House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to impeach President Trump, the arguments in favor included voices never heard in previous impeachment debates.

Nadie está por encima de la ley,” declared Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat, speaking in the Spanish that is a dominant language in his Harlem district of New York. “No one is above the law.”

Born in the Dominican Republic, Espaillat is among the large crop of House Democrats who represent minority populations whose views were long ignored in Congress. Some said the question of whether Trump sought to undermine a U.S. election reminded them of the civil rights struggle.


“If you think I exaggerate in warning our elections can be undermined, I urge you to come down to Georgia, find a black man or woman of a certain age, and they’ll tell you the danger is real,” declared Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).

“And they’ll tell you of brave Americans, patriots willing to risk far more than a political career who marched and struggled and sometimes died so that we could have fair and free elections,” he added. “We are not asked to possess even a fraction of their courage. We are simply called upon today to do what’s right.”

Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement who has represented Georgia in Congress for three decades, also cast the impeachment vote in the context of fighting for rights.

He noted the years — 1961, 1963 and 1965 — when he helped lead marches to Washington to press demands for civil rights, and ultimately to witness President Lyndon Johnson sign a landmark bill expanding voting rights.

Calling the Trump impeachment “a sad day,” Lewis called it a “moral obligation” to stop a law-breaking president.

“Our nation is founded on principles that we do not have kings, we have presidents, and the Constitution is our compass,” he said.


“Our children and their children will ask us, what did you do?” Lewis said. “For some, this vote may be hard. But we have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”

The impeachment of President Clinton in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice involved his attempts to cover up a sexual affair with an intern, not efforts to enlist a foreign power to help him win reelection, the focus of Trump’s impeachment.