Impeachment Manager Congressman Joe Neguse—A Legal “Clean- Up Hitter” and Rising Democratic Star February 17, 2021
Sometimes, legislators know they will lose the immediate political battle. However, they are fighting for ultimate vindication—making the permanent case for history and the general public. Such is the case in the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Democrats initially knew that when they impeached Donald in the House on 1/13/2021 by a 232-197 vote for inciting a 1/06/2021 assault on the Capitol that killed five people, they faced nearly impossible odds. Democrats were dealing with a 50-50 politically tied Senate. Under the Constitution, to get Trump convicted, Democrats needed a vote of two-thirds of the Senate, or 17 more GOPers to join them (U.S. Const. Art. I, Sec. 3).
Democrats did not get those 17 GOP votes. On 2/13/2021 by a vote of 57-43, Trump again was acquitted in his second impeachment trial. Yes, a majority of Senators, all 50 Democrats and 7 GOPers voted for conviction, the most bipartisan margin for conviction in any of the four impeachments in U.S. history (nytimes.com, Fandos & Cochrane, 2/13/21). However, these 57 votes fell 10 short of the required 67 needed for conviction. Only 7 GOP Senators, Mitt Romney (UT), Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Ben Sasse (NE), Richard Burr (NC), Pat Toomey (PA), and Bill Cassidy (LA) put country over party. The remaining 43 Senate GOP cowards and opportunists put Donald over everything else (huffpost.com, Foley & Bobic, 2/13/21).
True, in 8/1974, GOPer Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency after he knew that he would be impeached overwhelmingly by the House for his role in the Watergate scandal coverup. Nixon had been told by a trio of GOP Senators, including conservative stalwart Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), that he had fewer than 20 votes for acquittal in the Senate. Had Nixon then incited a riot that led his followers to attack the Capitol to defend him over Watergate and lives were lost and property damaged, I doubt even one GOP Senator would have voted for his acquittal. However, all that occurred in 1974, ancient political history. Nixon did not have Trump’s “cult of personality.” And unlike Trump, Nixon didn’t have the constant 24-48/7 GOP propaganda barrage of Fox News and talk/hate radio in his corner that convinced millions of GOPers with lie upon lie that Donald was innocent and Biden and his Democrats had “stolen” the election. Many GOP Senators in the Nixon era were not rigidly “party over country” partisans. Today, most GOPers are 10,000% “party over country.” They fear their rabid Trump-plus base would defeat them in upcoming primaries and would even physically try to attack them if they uttered one wayward whisper criticizing Trump. Many of them even adore disgraced Trump. Present-day GOPers could, therefore, care less that Trump incited his crazed crowd of MAGA/white supremacist rioters on 1/06/2021 to overturn Biden’s Electoral College Victory. They could care less that these rioters aimed to kill many Congressmembers and Senators and were hunting down, for starters, VP Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Mitt Romney (R-UT).
To convince the public and future historians, the nine Democratic impeachment managers, the equivalent of prosecutors appointed by Speaker Pelosi to make their case at the Senate trial, put on what even Trump’s woefully inadequate lawyers saw as one stellar effort. Much discussion centered on how lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin (D-MD) coordinated the whole effort. The day before the 1/06/2021 Capitol attempted coup, Raskin had buried a son who had committed suicide. Raskin spoke of how he and his daughter and son-in-law were at the Capitol on the day of the attack and had to hide for their lives in separate areas (See cnn.com, Foran, Boschma, & Merrill, 2/09/21). He was most upset that his daughter told him she would never again visit the Capitol. Impeachment manager, David Cicilline, whom I previously wrote about in my 1/14/2021 blogpost, also did a great job. However, IMHO, one of the impeachment trial’s surprise stars was Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO).
Several Democrats repeatedly spoke of how they felt being trapped in the Capitol and hiding for their lives. On the second day of the trial, 2/10/2011, Virgin Islands’ At-Large District Delegate Stacey Plaskett showed videos that the public had never seen before. They were harrowing visuals of Senators Chuck Schumer, Mitt Romney, VP Mike Pence, other legislators, and staffers barely missing being caught by the “ready to kill them” mob as they fled for their lives (youtube.com, cnn.com). Cong. Neguse (NUH GOOSE) was designated the legal “clean-up hitter” for the impeachment managers. He kept methodically “putting the legal dots” together summarizing what Trump had done on 1/06/2021. Neguse first used a direct quotation from GOP leader Cong. Liz Cheney (R-WY), one of the 10 House GOPers to vote for Trump’s second impeachment. Neguse used Cheney’s words in an analytical tone “like an anchor to wrap around the waists of every single GOP Senator,” according to commentator Chris Cillizza. Neguse powerfully bashed GOPers with Cheney’s key words: “The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of the attack (cnn.com, Cillizza, 2/10/21).” To show that Trump was building up a case of illegal action “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and likely to incite or produce such action,” punishable under the 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio U.S. Supreme Ct. decision (395 U.S. 444, 447 ), Cong. Neguse played additional clips of Trump. In those clips, Trump asserted even before the 11/03/2020 election that “the only way we can lose is if the other side cheated.” In those pre-election clips, just like he did on the 1/06/2021 day of the attempted Capitol coup, Neguse showed that Trump egged on his MAGA people at several rallies with repeated phrases like “stop the steal” and “fight like hell (nytimes.com, Baker, P., 2/10/21).”
Speaking about how the Framers of the Constitution would feel, an analogy many conservatives use, Cong. Neguse told the Senate, “What you experienced that day (1/06/2021), what our country experienced that day is the framers’ worst nightmare come to life.” Neguse added, “Presidents can’t inflame insurrection in their final weeks and walk away like nothing happened (cnn.com, Collinson, S., 2/10/21).” Exactly. Cong. Neguse is arguing, as would a trial attorney, that Trump can’t start an insurrection or riot in his final weeks and face no consequences, what other Democratic managers repeatedly called Trump’s made up “January exception (cnn.com, Collinson).”
On the first day of the Senate trial, 2/09/2021 Cong. Neguse legally tackled head on one of the key questions before the Senate—is it unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a former president (cnn.com, Cillizza, 2/09/21)? In answering this issue, Neguse showed that textualism, a literal reading of the Constitution, employed by late conservative Supreme Justice Antonin Scalia and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett to reach legal decisions, can be skillfully used by progressives. Even textualists among GOP Senators had to be somewhat impressed with Neguse’s close reading and expert analysis (See Cillizza, cnn.com, 2/09/21). In his strong and convincing performance, Cong. Neguse hit it “out of the legal park.” He stated that the Framers of the Constitution, over 150 constitutional scholars, judges, conservatives, liberals, and everyone else have overwhelmingly reached the same conclusion—you can “try, convict, and disqualify a former president.” Neguse noted that the “text of the Constitution makes clear that ‘no January exception’ is written into the impeachment power. Trump’s view of the Constitution is wrong and dangerous. Presidents can’t commit grave offenses in their final days and escape any congressional response. That’s not how our constitution works (rev.com, 2/09/21).”
Cong. Neguse discussed two precedents from history. Neguse stated that Senators in the very same chairs where the present Senators were sitting had heard and judged these matters. He discussed the case of TN Senator William Blount. In 1797, during John Adams’ administration, Blount was caught conspiring to try to sell FL and LA to the British. The House impeached him four days later and a day after that the Senate expelled him from office. Despite being out of office, the House impeached this now former Senator and the Senate proceeded with the trial with Thomas Jefferson presiding. Even Blount himself said, “I certainly never shall contend that any officer may first commit an offense and afterwards avoid by resigning the office.” Neguse noted that “that’s the point. There was no doubt about this issue because the founders were around to confirm that that was their intent and the obvious meaning of what is in the constitution. The House went forward with its impeachment case to disqualify Blount from ever holding federal office (rev.com, 2/09/21).”
Cong. Neguse next discussed the Belknap case. In 1876, the House discovered that Sec. of War William Belknap was involved in a massive kickback scheme. Hours before the House committee released its report on Belknap, he rushed to the White House and gave his resignation to Pres. Ulysses Grant. Belknap wanted to avoid any further inquiry into his misconduct and to prevent being disqualified from holding federal office in the future. One day after Belknap’s resignation, the House unanimously impeached this former official. At his Senate trial, Belknap argued like Trump that Senators had no jurisdiction to try a former official. The Senators were outraged by this argument and its dangerous implications. They were furious that this could mean that a president could betray their country, avoid impeachment and disqualification entirely (rev.com, 2/09/21). And Neguse noted that Art. 1, Sec. 3 of the Constitution gives the Senate the sole power to try impeachments. It does not carve out, in Neguse’s words, impeachment just “for those still in office.” The text is clear and the Framers didn’t mince words. Unlike what Trump’s legal team says, the Constitution in Article I, Section 2 and in Article I Section 3 provides “express, absolute, unqualified grants of jurisdictional power to the House to impeach and the Senate to try ‘all’ impeachments. It doesn’t say impeachment of current civil officers or for those still in office (rev.com, 2/09/21).” Cong. Neguse gave uber-texualist conservatives one A+ lesson in constitutional interpretation. On the final day of the impeachment trial, Cong. Neguse mentioned how Senators must be courageous and sometimes put their convictions over those of their constituents and party. Neguse unsuccessfully tried to appeal to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) “better angels,” by mentioning GOP KY Senator John Sherman Cooper’s vote for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, unpopular with many of his constituents (@RobertTGarrett, 2/13/21). McConnell had once interned for Cooper (Heymann, “The Georgetown Ladies’ Social Club”). Meet Congressman Neguse.
Second-term Congressman Joe Neguse (36), the youngest impeachment manager in the country’s history, (nytimes.com, Cochrane, 2/15/21), currently represents Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District (CD). CO’s 2nd CD. The CO 2nd is located in that state’s north-central part and centered in Boulder. The towns of Vail, Broomfield, and Grand Lake lie in the 2nd. After the 2010 redistricting, Larimer County, including the cities Fort Collins and Loveland, were moved to the 2nd (denverpost.com, Cohen & Cook Political Almanac, 2020). Boulder is home to the 30,000 student University of Colorado. About 61% of Boulder’s adult population are college graduates, the highest in the nation. Boulder is known for its outdoor sports including mountain biking and downhill skiing. Marathoners from around the world train here. Boulder looks up at craggy Rocky Mountain peaks rising to 14,000 feet. Boulder has become a magnet for technology firms. Boulder was ranked by the Census Bureau in 2018 as the 17th wealthiest area in the U.S. The Fort Collins- Loveland area is also fairly well off. Vail remains known for its resorts.
The CO 2nd is 82.7% white, 10.6% Latino, 3.1% Asian, and .9% Black. Larimer County with Fort Collins and Loveland has 40% of the 2nd’s voters, while Boulder has about 30%. Boulder County is a partisan Democratic hub and Vail is a “Blue” area. The rest of the 2nd is more politically balanced with sparsely-populated rural counties to the west of Vail more GOP. The most recent Cook PVI (Partisan Voting Index) gives the 2nd a D+9 score. Biden won the 2nd by 30 percentage points (Pres. Election Results, Cohen & Cook 2020).
Bakersfield, CA native Cong. Joe Neguse embodies the American Dream. In 1980, Neguse’s parents separately fled East African Eritrea and were granted asylum in the U.S. When Joe was six, his family moved to Denver where his parents worked in accounting and banking and later to Boulder. Neguse received a 2005 undergraduate and 2009 law degree from Boulder’s University of Colorado. In 2008, he was elected by voters to that university’s board of regents where he represented CO’s 2nd CD (westword.com, Roberts, M., 8/31/18, Cohen & Cook 2020, “Boulder Daily Camera,” 7/30/09). After working for Dem. CO House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, Neguse co-founded New Era Colorado, a non-profit youth voter registration and mobilization group. In 2014, Neguse ran for Secretary of State and lost to the GOP nominee by just two points. Governor, now Democratic U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper, appointed Neguse as director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, the state’s consumer protection agency, where he served from 2015-2017. Neguse also practiced law in a private Denver firm where he worked on administrative law cases. When CO 2nd CD Democratic Cong. Jared Polis successfully ran for Governor in 2018, Neguse ran to succeed him in the Democratic House primary. He took progressive stands on health care and environmental issues and attacked Trump for his immigration policies. He noted that under Trump, the American Dream was “under assault.” Neguse stated that had his parents tried to seek asylum in 2018, rather than 35 years before, their lives and his would have been far different (Cohen & Cook 2020). Neguse handily won his primary and clobbered his GOP opponent in 11/2018 by 26 points. In 2020, Neguse won re-election by the identical 26% margin against another GOP rival (Cohen & Cook 2020, CQ Early 117th Cong. Guide). Neguse is the first Eritrean-American Congressmember and the first African-American to represent CO in the House (cnn.com, Foran, Boschma, & Merrill, 2/09/21).
Unlike many freshmen House members, Neguse didn’t sit silently while “paying his political dues.” In his first 100 days, Neguse chalked up some big achievements. He was appointed to the House Judiciary, Natural Resources, and Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. Since taking office, Cong. Neguse introduced ten pieces of legislation, more than any other freshman. He signed on to at least 100 other bills, including the STATES Act that seeks to end the conflict between the federal government and states that have legalized marijuana sales, as did CO. He pushed an amendment that allowed voter pre-registration for sixteen and seventeen-year-olds to House passage. Cong. Neguse saw Trump sign into law as part of the Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act two public-land provisions that help CO parks (westword.com, Roberts, M., 4/15/19). Even before he was appointed an impeachment manager, Neguse often appeared on MSNBC, CNN, and “Face the Nation (See westword. Com, Roberts).” He voted with Demagogue/insurrectionist inciter Donald only 6% of the time (fivethirtyeight.com). Cong. Neguse currently co-chairs the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (cnn.com, Foran et al, 2/09/21). He voted to impeach Trump twice and has an overall 99.26% career score on progressive issues up there with impeachment lead manager MD’s Cong. Jamie Raskin (progressivepunch.org/scores, house).
At the young political age of 36, Neguse showed the nation his star caliber. He has plenty of time to decide whether he wants to climb the House leadership ranks, run statewide for Governor, or, eventually, for the U.S. Senate. Neguse was able to take complex legal issues, explain precedent, and not dumb it down for his audience, all in a calm mannered tone.
We will, certainly, hear more from Cong. Neguse on a wide variety of issues. However, even if we forget Neguse’s brilliant legal analysis of impeachment precedents, we must remember one key comment he made in his final summation just before 43 spineless and cult-worshipping GOPers, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell acquitted Trump. Neguse declared, “The stakes could not be higher. Because the cold, hard truth is that what happened on Jan. 6 can happen again. I fear, like many of you do, that the violence we saw on that terrible day may just be the beginning (huffpost.com, Foley & Bobic, 2/13/21).” And because Trump was not convicted, he will be eligible to run for office again and provoke violence again. How do we now stop authoritarian Trump and his movement of violent anti-democratic followers? By ALWAYS being on our guard to protect democracy. We can never, as far too many of us did in 2016 and even before, take our democracy for granted. The key is to come out in droves plus in every election from 2022 on to add to our House and Senate numbers and re-elect Joe Biden. The Joe Neguses must represent the majority of our country—not the Marjorie Taylor Greene’s, Louie Gohmert’s, Lindsay Graham’s, and Mitch McConnell’s.