A sold-out crowd filled the King Middle School auditorium in Berkeley yesterday afternoon, as people came to hear Rep. Barbara Lee discuss methods to take on the Trump administration — and how to possibly impeach the president.
She was joined by John Dean, President Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel, who was a key witness during the Watergate scandal; and Malcolm Nance, a U.S. intelligence expert and retired Navy senior chief, who recently published a book on Russian hacking of the 2016 election.
The town hall came on the heels of resolutions passed by lawmakers in Alameda, Berkeley, and Richmond, and one recently introduced in Oakland, calling for investigations that could result in Trump’s removal from office.
There have only been two impeachment proceedings in the history of the United States, and no president has been removed from office as a result of them — but the panel argued that Trump is a good contender to be the first.
“[The Founding Fathers] knew people who would abuse power would come into power,” Nance said at the beginning of the town hall. “They knew it. They put in the guardrails, and we are seeing the guardrails come into play. Now we need to see the emergency run-away truck lane come into play also.”
Dean, who described Trump as having an authoritarian personality, explained the simple but lengthy congressional impeachment process, which starts in the House Of Representatives, moves through the House Judiciary Committee, and then ends up in the Senate for an up-or-down vote (it requires two-thirds approval to pass).
Rep. Lee added that this is why Republican collaboration and support is so essential. “This has to be bipartisan,” she said. “The Republicans control the House and the Senate.”
But it appears unlikely, even amid what seems like endless controversy, that Republican leaders will be willing to join the effort. “I don’t think they are going to rush to hold this president accountable,” Dean said. “To the contrary, they are looking the other way, they are doing everything they can to slow the investigations that are now in process, looking at the Russian hacking, and—unless voters tell them in 2018 that they want them to be responsible — it’s not going to happen.”
While most people in attendance cheered loudly at the end of statements and asked questions about the political process, some attendees used the question period of the event to call for more action.
“I want to address an elephant in the room,”
Xocoitl Johnson, an activist with a group called Refuse Fascism, said she wanted to address “an elephant in the room,” namely that “we don’t have the kind of time” to wait for impeachment proceedings.
“People in the millions taking the streets, and fighting them, and calling them all out, is what is going to drive them out, not waiting on Congress people or any law,” Johnson shouted, adding, “Am I right Berkeley?” over the din of both clapping and boos.
Nance responded to her plea by saying that he shares her passion, but emphasized patience to let the system work. “What doesn’t work,” he explained, “is going outside and creating a process that makes the opposition of whatever you are for — left or right — apply the methodologies that have kept order for 240 years.” He recommended getting the vote out in the next election, adding, “I swear to God you will get change.”
The answer didn’t satisfy Johnson who, after the town hall, told the Express she had hoped more urgency and activism would come from the event. “I certainly didn’t think they would try to channel resistance into waiting for some kind of government Band-Aid. I thought at least there would be a call for organizing and mobilizing,” she said.
After the event, Rep. Lee echoed the need for activism and resistance, which she said would support the work she is trying to do in Congress to hold the president and his administration accountable. Calling her district the “heart and soul of the resistance,” she said she hoped people would stay vigilant.
“Street heat is really important,” she told the Express. “[T]hat resistance, these conversations, getting engaged at all levels of government, is extremely important, especially with a Trump administration that — as I say — is following Steve Bannon’s orders to deconstruct the public sector. That is what we are all dealing with.”