But Wednesday is different. Wednesday is like the movie-version House of Representatives.
It’s that rare day where the House chamber is nearly full during debate. Lawmakers are lining up, one by one, to give one-minute speeches about why they support or oppose the question before them, whether to impeach President Trump.
They’re talking to a chamber filled with their colleagues, who themselves are waiting for their turn to debate. This is as close as we get to the fantasized version of the way Congress works: a body of people getting together to debate a consequential vote before taking that vote. The Washington Post’s Rachael Bade reports some lawmakers are just hanging out in their seats, listening to the historic moment. (There isn’t much else going on in the Capitol today.)
One example of a dramatized version of Congress comes from the 2000 movie “The Contender,” where none other than the president of the United States, played by Jeff Bridges, marches down to Congress to give all 435 House lawmakers, who just happen to be in their seats, a lecture.
Congress was more dramatic a couple centuries ago. The 2012 film “Lincoln” features a debate in a much smaller House chamber that congressional procedure expert Sarah Binder wrote “captures what historians have conveyed about the often dramatic nature of congressional floor debates in the nineteenth century.”
In the real world, most speeches Wednesday are planned and predictable, and lawmakers are often talking past each other rather than directly to each other. But Wednesday’s debate still had a dramatic flair to it that was unusual for a normal day in Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) started her opening speech by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. “It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice,” she said. When she finished, the House Democrats in attendance gave her a standing ovation.
Other lawmakers mentioned giants in American history, or their own family members, to justify their vote. All of them, Democrat or Republican, gave speeches that reflected how serious and rare this moment is.
“To paraphrase one of our founding mothers, Abigail Adams, a people may let a president fall, yet still remain a people,” said Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.). “But if a president lets his people slip from him, he is no longer a president. Just as Abigail Adams mourned, Donald Trump has let the people slip from him.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said, “I want my daughter to be able to tell her children: Grandma did the right thing, because in America, no one is above the law.”
At one point, Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia compared Trump to Jesus. Specifically the Roman who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion: “When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers during that sham trial. Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process.”
And as the day went on, some of the speeches did actually turn into a debate. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) accused Democrats of impeaching Trump because "they think Hillary Clinton should be the president, and they want to fix that.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) got the mic and addressed Stewart directly: “I would remind the gentleman that if President Trump is impeached and removed, the new president will be Mike Pence, not Hillary Clinton,” he said.
Nadler, who presided over Democrats’ side of the debate, continued to respond to Republican’ allegations. When they alleged that Trump was right not to cooperate with the House’s investigation, Nadler responded: “When can the president be held accountable for his wrongdoing? In his mind? Never. The Constitution, however, disagrees.”
“We do not hate President Trump,” he said another time, after a Republican accused Democrats of just that.
Republicans had their back-and-forth moments, too. When Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), a longtime proponent of impeachment, brought up a heart wrenching photo of a toddler crying as her mother is apprehended at the border, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) saw an opportunity to cast Democrats as trying to impeach Trump just because they disagree with his policies. “... Impeachment was not to be used in the between election cycles to defeat a president sitting president who you think will be reelected,” he said after Green finished his speech.
Collins and Nadler started debating each other directly, in between other lawmakers’ speeches.
“All we keep hearing from the other side are attacks on the process and questions on the motives,” Nadler said. “We do not hear because we cannot hear because they cannot articulate defenses of the president’s actions.”
To which Collins responded a few minutes later: “[Trump] has no conditionality in the transcript or conditionality at that,” he said.
The House chamber was filled with lawmakers before the debate to impeach Trump on two counts, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, even started. The entire morning was taken up by debate about whether to approve the rules for debate for impeachment. (Congress is like that.)
Which means we’ve got at least a full day watching a real-life movie version of the House as it debates whether to impeach a president for the third time ever.