“More of a known quantity”: Impeachment trial gives Reps. Neguse, DeGette a national spotlight

For 138 minutes this week, two Coloradans stood on the floor of the United States Senate and claimed that, for the first and only time in American history, a president incited an insurrection against his own country.

Their arguments earned pundits’ praise and handed them a national audience. They fueled talk of future political ascensions and sent search engines looking for more. Yet, it’s highly unlikely their speeches will persuade two-thirds of the Senate to do what it has never done in its history: convict a president of a crime and prohibit him from elected office.

Thirty-six people have been a presidential impeachment manager in American history and none younger than 36-year-old Rep. Joe Neguse. The Lafayette Democrat played a prominent role this week, often speaking just after lead manager Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin.

“Neguse is really making a national name for himself through this impeachment trial,” said Michael Berry, a professor of political science at the University of Colorado – Denver.

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, spoke less than Neguse — 45 minutes compared to his 93 — and only on Thursday, when she used the words of U.S. Capitol rioters to show many believed then-President Donald Trump wanted them to come to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, march to the U.S. Capitol and stop Congress from certifying Trump’s electoral loss.

DeGette, who has been in Congress since 1997, has voted on three of the four impeachments in U.S. history.

Spokespeople for Neguse and DeGette declined interview requests, citing a no-media policy that the impeachment managers agreed to before the trial. But Rep. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat who was a prosecutor in Trump’s first Senate trial, said they made their points well.

“Diana and Joe, not surprisingly, did exactly what they needed to do and that is, take an overwhelming amount of evidence, frankly, and distill it down into a concise and clear case,” he said.

Neguse’s interest in impeachment dates back years. In 2017, Trump’s first year in office, Neguse believed there was justification for an impeachment inquiry. In November 2018, the month Neguse was elected to Congress, he said there was sufficient evidence for impeachment.

In May 2019, Neguse was one of five liberal Democrats that privately and unsuccessfully urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to begin an impeachment inquiry into the Trump administration’s refusal to comply with subpoenas. All five went on to work as impeachment managers this week.

Neguse even drew the attention of Trump’s re-election campaign in late 2019, when the campaign criticized the congressman’s early support for impeachment on social media and during a combative appearance on CNN.

This week, the congressman spoke with a calm passion, never raising his voice and sometimes lowering it to a near whisper. He acted as a summarist, bookending days of evidentiary presentation, all the while pleading with senators to convict the former president.

“We humbly — humbly — ask for you to convict President Trump for the crime which he is overwhelmingly guilty of,” he said as Thursday came to a close. “Because if you don’t — if we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered — who’s to say it won’t happen again?”

Neguse’s trial remarks have given him a national spotlight — as last year’s trial did for Crow — and bipartisan hat tips. Benjamin Wittes at the think tank Brookings Institution said Neguse’s opening remarks Tuesday were the best in any modern impeachment trial. Republican consultant Tim Miller said Neguse “absolutely eviscerated” the Trump defense’s arguments that day. E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post called him “part Columbo, part Perry Mason, part Harry Bosch and part Jerry Edgar.”

Even one of Trump’s defense attorneys, Bruce Castor, was a fan, telling senators on Tuesday: “I thought the House managers who spoke earlier were brilliant speakers … I thought they were brilliant speakers and I loved listening to them.”

Republican senators, too, appreciated the work. Roger Wicker of Mississippi called Neguse and two other prosecutors “very well prepared and well spoken.” South Dakota’s John Thune said they were “very effective” at connecting dots.

And Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said they “made a compelling argument” for the trial’s constitutionality Tuesday. So compelling, in fact, they changed his mind on constitutionality and he became the 6th Republican to vote for the trial to continue.

“Neguse is a known quantity here in Colorado but nationally I don’t think that’s the case, so this does provide a real opportunity for members of the House to take the national stage and become more of a known quantity,” said Berry, the CU Denver professor.

“Lindsey Graham is a good example of how serving as an impeachment manager and commanding that national stage can provide a springboard or launching pad for higher office,” he added, referring to when Graham was a Republican impeachment manager in the 1999 trial of President Bill Clinton and went on to be a prominent senator and presidential candidate.

But first, Neguse must finish the trial. Closing arguments and a vote on conviction or acquittal will occur this weekend, unless Neguse and the other impeachment managers call witnesses.

“They can’t let their guard down completely,” Crow said of an impeachment manager’s mindset at this late stage. “But after making the bulk of the case at this point, there is some relief. There is some weight lifted off your shoulders.”

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