When Kassi Yukevich and Robert Julien first met at last November’s Arlington Young Democrats’ meeting, they quickly recognized each other as kindred political spirits. But they could only speculate about the bond they were about to share as staffers in the historic impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump.
The impeachment drama was just coming to the House Judiciary Committee (HJC). As Press secretary for HJC member Rep. Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Robert had been handling all strategic communications and press relations in both Spanish and English since August. Kassi had just arrived back in Sen. Kamala Harris’ office as Special Counsel, advising on Senate impeachment procedure and precedent. She left the office in early February, at the conclusion of the impeachment trial.
“Things began to happen quickly,” Robert told The Voice, “from the second or third week in September when the Ukrainian stuff hit and then from one day to the next, we started getting wind…that we were about to go down this road.” The House started the impeachment inquiry on September 24t. The Intelligence, Oversight, Foreign Affairs, Financial Service Committees referred their evidence to Judiciary at the beginning of December to draft the articles of impeachment.
During the exhausting House impeachment process, Robert found hope in the patriotism and dedication of Democratic elected officials that most Americans never saw. People like Rep. Jerry Nadler, he said, whose wife was sick with pancreatic cancer, “showing up every day, losing time with family and friends, not sleeping, but feeling like this was so much bigger than anything in [their] family, [their] life….”
Or like his boss, Rep. Garcia. When she was preparing her markup speech for the Judiciary Committee, she would sometimes get emotional, remembering her origins as one of 10 kids who grew up picking cotton in rural Texas to become the first Hispanic to serve as a Presidential Impeachment Manager. “She brought her community with her every step of the way, and felt proud to be a voice for Latinos,” Robert said. “When she would say in her speech that `no one is above the law’, she would also say it in Spanish, so that all people felt included.”
Kassi also found solace in the dedication she saw. “Working through this very sad time for our country, you still had a chance, even a small one, to do something to make people’s lives better.” In fact, Robert noted, “In the middle of this in the House, we passed HR3 to lower drug prices. We were continuously passing legislation to improve people’s lives.” But, he added, those bills now sit in McConnell’s legislative graveyard, while the GOP-controlled Senate continues to approve justices. “Then you realize that this party is not about helping Americans, just amassing power,” he said.
After a couple of weeks in Judiciary for markup, the full House voted on the two articles on December 18th.
Once in the U.S. Senate, the biggest break with impeachment precedent was of course that no witnesses or documents were allowed. Kassi said. “You heard over and over again from Republicans that “This is just like Clinton, this is precedent.” But that is just not true. “We have never seen an impeachment trial—of a judge or president—with no new witnesses or evidence.” President Clinton’s impeachment trial heard testimony from 3 witnesses who had not testified in the House, Andrew Johnson’s had 37. And with John Bolton’s book, she added, “we had a book publisher with more information than Congress. I couldn’t believe it.”
Another break with precedent, she said, was the way in which the schedule was manipulated to push deliberations out of the news cycle. During the Clinton impeachment, she said, no one presented the case until 11 or 12 at night. They finished at 6 or 7pm. Similarly, the restrictions on media access to Senators and to the Senate chamber were an unprecedented attempt to limit the American people’s access to the Senate.
Robert noted that his family, who came from Cuba nearly 34 years ago, would ask if impeachment was worth it. And he always told his mom, “how is this man any different from Fidel Castro or Nicholas Maduro, who have completely rigged the system for their personal gain? The question is should this man continue in office given what he has done?”
Despite the outcome of impeachment, Kassi and Robert both still believe that we can restore a Congress – and a Democracy - that works for everyone. “I would not be part of the Arlington Democrats, and I would not have gone back to the Senate if I didn’t,” said Kassi. Adds Robert, “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who we nominate. We have to put our own ideals, privileges, and preferences aside and vote as if our lives depended on it, because they literally do. We need this great American experiment to continue to work for generations to come.”