What’s Next After Impeachment, According to Maxine Waters

One of the loudest impeachment voices reckons with the president’s speech on the eve of his acquittal

Maxine Waters, Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Richard Neal, Adam Schiff, and Nancy Pelosi listen to her Press Secretary Drew Hammill following votes on articles of impeachment of President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol on December 18, 2019. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Maxine Waters might have lost the battle, but she is sure as hell not ready to call it quits on the war.

As President Donald Trump prepared to give a victorious State of the Union address knowing that the U.S. Senate would likely acquit him on Wednesday, Waters had other plans in mind. First and foremost, gathering both young journalists like myself at her annual Millennial Media Row and Capitol Hill’s finest young interns at a SOTU watch party. Second, remind everyone to own their political power and why the country needs them.

“They’ve reneged on their responsibility, and so they will not do what is necessary to oust him from the presidency,” Waters told GEN of her Republican colleagues in the Senate. “But I’m not deterred from the fight to get rid of him. And so, we’ve put our focus on the election and helping people understand that we don’t have to endure him for another four years.”

Trump had not even gotten used to the Oval Office when Waters, a longtime California congresswoman, called for his impeachment in the spring of 2017. “Auntie Maxine,” as her supporters call her, was one of the few people to use the I-word, then demanded it relentlessly over the past three years. In December, she was finally vindicated: Trump was charged with abuse of power and obstruction and impeached by the House. But the Republican-controlled Senate was never going to remove the president from office. Instead, he is poised to be acquitted.

We’ve put our focus on the election and helping people understand that we don’t have to endure him for another four years.”

Waters has refused to attend Trump’s official addresses since he took office. This year, other prominent Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ayanna Pressley boycotted the event as well. “To go in there and sit with this president who’s been impeached by the House, and be part of business as usual…” Waters trailed off. She then looked me dead in the eyes: “That’s not something I can do.”

That decisiveness seems to be what attracted dozens of Capitol Hill interns and staffers to Waters’ watch party at the Financial Services Committee Hearing Room (a committee of which she is a ranking member) in Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. Three screens broadcast the #Resistance’s cable channel of choice, MSNBC, as painted portraits of former committee chairmen (all men) looked down on us. While people waited for Trump’s address to begin, they were treated to a spread of antipasto, vegetable skewers, burgers (meat and vegetarian options), fruit, and cookies. Refreshments included water, soda, and a concoction that was clearly a virgin mojito, though it was not advertised as such — though at times throughout the evening, all of us over age 21 looked like we could have used some wine. The crowd cheered when Al Green — another voice who called for Trump’s impeachment before it went mainstream — stepped into the room. He mingled for a bit to the delight of attendees.

When Waters entered the room, she was greeted with a standing ovation. “You’re here to invigorate everything,” she told the crowd. “And to inspire us, rather than us just inspiring you.” After a short stump speech about everything that’s wrong with “45” — she refuses to say Trump’s name — and why Democrats should support whoever becomes the presidential nominee, the auntie came out in full force. “Why is it that you are looking at the food and not eating?” she said. “Help yourselves!”

At least a dozen people immediately obliged. She walked to the back of the room and sat down.

It was finally time for Trump’s address. Boos filled the room as he was shown entering the chamber. This would become a common occurrence over the next 90 minutes, as Trump’s address covered everything from trade and health care to the Southern border wall and abortion. The crowd heckled the TV screens when Republicans chanted “four more years,” when notorious racist Rush Limbaugh was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, when Trump mentioned ICE, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got a shoutout, and at least 10 more times.

Throughout it all, a young woman in the first row of the room was furiously crossing something in her notebook. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was a bingo board. She declined to be interviewed but allowed me to take a look. (Every intern I asked didn’t want to chat, sometimes citing confidentiality agreements.) When I pressed and asked why bingo, she shrugged. “No real reason,” she said, in a way that was clear this would be the end of our conversation.

A few people began slowly trickling out of the room as the clock struck 10 p.m., but those who remained were treated to another speech by Waters at the end of the SOTU. “I believe that we can do this, that we can make sure that he’s not re-elected,” she told the crowd. “Are you ready?” The crowd cheered, and then it was time for a group photo.

As I left the event, I stumbled into four interns waiting for the elevator. “I’m going to put that I touched her hand on my resume,” a young woman giggled as we rode down, clearly high on having met someone she considers a role model. It was a moment far removed from the cynicism that weighs down so many in the political arena. By making connections with youth a focus, Waters is clearly banking on how powerful idealism can be.

Earlier in the night, I had asked whether she had hope post-impeachment. Waters smiled. “I think so,” she replied. “I’m depending on it.”

Award-winning journalist covering politics, gender, race, activism, and more. Puertorriqueña.

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