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‘Very bold move:’ NAACP votes to support Trump impeachment

Several 2020 presidential candidates attended the NAACP's annual convention in Detroit on July 24, and weighed in on how to address racial inequalities. (Video: The Washington Post)

Members of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization voted unanimously Tuesday for the impeachment of President Trump, increasing pressure on a Democratic leadership reluctant to do so.

“Trump’s misconduct is unmistakable and has proven time and time again, that he is unfit to serve as the president of this country,” tweeted NAACP President Derrick Johnson after the vote.

The vote at the NAACP’s annual convention came a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addressed the group’s meeting in Detroit and a day before many 2020 presidential candidates are scheduled to speak.

Pelosi, who has tried to tamp down the growing fervor for impeachment in the House Democratic caucus, did not mention Trump in her remarks. But Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who is among four congresswomen of color under attack by Trump, began her NAACP address: “Y’all, I’m not going nowhere, not until I impeach this president.”

In the House, the Congressional Black Caucus is also divided over whether to open an impeachment inquiry: Many of the highest-ranking black lawmakers are loyal to Pelosi and don’t want to undercut her.

But the NAACP voting delegates in Detroit were united in their call for Trump’s impeachment.

“President Trump should definitely be impeached for bringing out the worst in America,” said Ollie Johnson, the chairman of the African American studies department at Wayne State University in Detroit. He said that the NAACP resolution could provide political cover for members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have thus far been hesitant to endorse moving forward with impeachment.

“The Democratic Party is divided on impeachment, but I don’t think it should be,” Johnson said. “This should encourage them to make a move.”

Cornell Brooks, who was the NAACP’s president from 2014 to 2017, noted that the voting delegates are chosen to represent chapters from around the country and include “real people” such as schoolteachers, ministers and firefighters, as well as full-time activists.

“This is an assessment of grass-roots leaders from around the country of the Trump’s moral standing and his standing with regards to the Constitution,” Brooks said. “And he’s come up wanting.”

Last week, the president pulled out of an appearance at the NAACP convention, claiming the organization changed the date and the format for his appearance. Trump said he was prepared to give a speech, but the NAACP offered the same question-and-answer-style format as for the other presidential candidates.

Trump’s decision not to attend the organization’s event came as he was embroiled in an ongoing clash with the four freshman Democrats — Tlaib and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) — beginning with a racist tweet saying they should “go back” to the countries they were from originally. All four are U.S. citizens, and all but Omar were born in the United States.

Johnson, addressing the NAACP convention after Tlaib spoke on Monday, called Trump a “corrupt individual” and condemned his comments about the congresswomen.

“The narrative we must tell is that we are American,” he said. “No one can be more America than we are.”

Trump has continued to tweet every day for more than a week about the four congresswomen. On Tuesday morning, he tweeted that “AOC plus 3 are a Nightmare for America!” Then later, in a speech to a conservative youth summit, he went on an extended riff about them, calling Tlaib “vicious” and “a crazed lunatic.”

As is true of black Americans generally, the NAACP national membership has long been Democratic-leaning. Yet the organization is seen as among the more establishment-friendly of racial justice groups, often eager to work with elected officials of both parties.

The group has been sharply critical of policies it disagrees with, such as President George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and decision to go to war in Iraq, but outside observers note that the vote to support Trump’s impeachment is a significant step for a group typically inclined to work with elected officials.

“They’ve been critical of presidents before but still tried to find ways to bridge gaps,” said Karin Stanford, an African American studies professor at California State University at Northridge and co-author of a book on the NAACP and other post-civil rights movement racial justice groups. “This is them saying that they’re drawing a line in the sand with this president, that the NAACP is not interested in bridging any gaps with Donald Trump.”

Stanford noted that given Trump’s near-constant racial controversies, it would have been hard for the organization to completely avoid weighing in on the current president, especially given his prolonged fight with four minority congresswomen. Still, she said she was surprised that the group went so far as to unanimously call for impeachment.

“It’s a very, very bold move,” Stanford said. “I’m curious to see if the president will acknowledge them and if it will get any traction. . . . If President Trump is who I think he is, it seems likely he’ll send tweets about this.”

JM Rieger contributed to this story.