Once she took the stage at Vashon Island High School on Monday, Oct. 7, Democratic U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal told constituents gathered in the auditorium it has been “a busy time” in Washington, D.C. since she last visited the island.
“I’m going to try to keep my remarks short because I have a feeling you have a lot of questions,” she said. “I have a feeling I know what they’re about.”
Jayapal was referring to the recent announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the chamber would launch an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump — and shortly after press time on Oct. 15, the Speaker announced further defied the administration by announcing there would be no House vote to approve the inquiry. Jayapal sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which has the power to investigate, hold hearings and draft articles of impeachment. Her mere mention on Monday of having a seat on that committee — and playfully seeming to forget she was part of it — drew applause from attendees.
During the town hall, Jayapal detailed initiatives she has spearheaded in Congress, including amendments to the Defense Authorization Act, the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act and Protecting the Right to Organize Act. Then, she set the stage for discussing the impeachment inquiry.
“I want to be really clear that I really do believe we’re in a constitutional crisis. It is a grave situation, it’s not something that any of us are happy about,” Jayapal said. “It is not something that any of us really know exactly how this is going to end. We are in unprecedented water in so many ways.”
Then Jayapal mentioned Russian’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, saying just as America witnessed a foreign power intervene in that race, the country is watching it again in the race for the White House next year.
“But there is a difference,” Jayapal said. “The difference is that it is unfolding right in front of us. It is being done with the president saying this is exactly what he did — publicly.”
The congresswoman was referring to details in a transcript released by the White House of a conversation that took place between Trump and Ukraine’s president this summer. During that meeting, Trump asked Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, and his connections to that country. Democrats, including Pelosi and Jayapal, have interpreted this as Trump interfering in the 2020 election, an act that would qualify as an impeachable offense.
“There’s really no way to spin this: The president used the office of the White House for political gain — and it was an abuse of power,” Jayapal said.
The Judiciary Committee was already investigating possible misconduct from Trump since he became president, the congresswoman told islanders, but if the latest inquiry moves along, the other House committees Pelosi directs will send its findings to Jayapal’s office. The committee will then decide whether impeachment should go forward, she said, adding that it is hard to imagine it not.
“The Judiciary Committee, in conjunction with those other chairs, will look at what those articles of impeachment should be —and that is a very serious process of really figuring out what the strongest things are,” Jayapal said. “It is about violations of the constitution of the highest order, and we want to make sure we look at those in the most serious, grave way because it is a big step for the country to be taking.”
Jayapal predicts House impeachment articles would be “targeted and minimal.”
“There’s not going to be 12 articles of impeachment,” she said.
A gentleman attending the town hall asked the congresswoman if the Judiciary Committee could bundle allegations against then-candidate Trump into “a package” with other allegations playing out now during an impeachment inquiry. Jayapal said the committee could.
“I don’t think we want this to be a giant litany — each one (article of impeachment) will get voted on individually — but yes, I think there will be an attempt to pull some other things in,” she said.
Impeachment was not the only topic islanders asked questions on. There were questions about job layoffs, the environment, health care, taxes, immigration and Title X, a federal law guaranteeing preventative health services.
An islander with a career in health care did not ask a direct question about health care coverage, making a comment instead, telling the congresswoman she knew about small business owners who are also working full-time jobs just to get benefits, making it hard for them to build their business.
“You raise such a critical point,” Jayapal said. “We actually have a ‘Businesses for Medicare Coalition,’ as well, for multiple reasons, but including that businesses don’t want to have to deal with having to provide insurance for their employees, either. It’s costing an enormous amount in terms of the premiums.”
Jayapal said she’s heard of people who have given up their dreams of owning a business or giving up their home to get more health care.
“It is just heartbreaking to me,” she said. “The challenge we run into is we have hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into trying to defeat Medicare of all … to me, that is a sign of success into how strong our movement is. … It should not be dependent on a job. What we’re proposing is you the same doctors or hospitals, expect you would have more because you wouldn’t have a single one out of network.”
But then the conversation turned back to Trump, when a 10-year-old islander asked Jayapal about how Trump is “looking up to dictators and acting like a dictator” and what can be done to fix that. Jayapal responded that impeachment is the answer.
“We are determined to not let Trump get away with what is happening. If we want to prevent dictators in other parts of the world and if we want to stand up for democracy, we have to start with America,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re going to have a lot of other places saying, ‘You know what? Democracy doesn’t work.’”
Islander Jeff Schnelz, who attended the town hall, told The Beachcomber he did not vote for Jayapal and probably never would. He said her views are too far left for his taste, though some Republicans don’t appeal to him, either.
“Pramila’s performance at the town hall was what I expected: She’s a good crowd-pleaser,” he wrote in an email. “Most people at the town hall meeting would probably claim to be progressives, so naturally, they love Pramila. People of other political stripes just wouldn’t attend.”
One islander who attended the town hall, Diane Emerson, who voted for Jayapal, told The Beachcomber since she doesn’t think the Senate will convict Trump if it were to hold a trial, she doesn’t want to spend a lot of her personal time on the issue.
“There’s nothing I feel I can do to help (with) that,” Emerson said. “I can work on encouraging people to vote … for progressive candidates. I’m going to play my part, (Jayapal’s) going to play her part.”
However, Emerson said she would “love” to see Trump impeached and made clear she supports Jayapal trying to make that happen through her work on the Judiciary Committee.
“But me personally, I am not going to be doing a lot of reading,” Emerson said.
She said she came to the town hall to support Jayapal.
“I want her to see that support and I want the community to see that I was here,” Emerson said.