WASHINGTON ― House lawmakers on Wednesday spent hours giving speeches, arguing and wading through procedural arcana before voting to impeach President Donald Trump. Two floors below, hundreds of tourists spent hours waiting in line for a chance to get a seat in the House gallery to watch the historic debate play out.
The line in the Capitol Visitor Center ― which continued outside the House chamber, two floors up ― wound around corners and down a long hallway well before the House was scheduled to vote on two articles of impeachment against Trump.
Here’s a video clip of the scene:
Michael Rich, 64, stood at the front of the line. He had been waiting an hour-and-a-half before he was about to be let in. He happened to be in town from McKinney, Texas, and was thrilled to catch the House impeachment debate.
“It’s historical,” he said. “I think it’s terrible. Trump is being railroaded.”
Rich, a retired school district interpreter for deaf children, pulled back his shirt to reveal a MAGA hat tucked in his pocket. He said that on Tuesday, Capitol Police had made him hand it over along with his cell phone when he went into the House gallery because they said it was “incendiary.” He expected he’d have to hand it over again Wednesday evening.
“They’re saying I can’t wear my hat,” he whispered, leaning in close, “but the guy behind me is wearing an ‘Impeach Trump’ shirt.”
Some people were on a Capitol tour when they noticed the long line for the House gallery. Even if they weren’t prepared to wait in it, they had plenty of thoughts on House Democrats voting to impeach the president.
“They should have done it years ago, man,” said Nathan, a 23-year-old software engineer from Alabama. “He’s done like 10 crimes a day since he’s been in office. They should have impeached him the day he got into office.”
Nathan, who stood with his friend Amelia, a college student, said it matters that the House take action against the president, even if the Senate doesn’t vote to convict him and oust him from the White House.
“Because if you don’t, it sets a precedent,” said Nathan.
Josh, who had also just finished a Capitol tour and was in town from North Carolina for a work meeting, agreed that the House is doing the right thing.
“I think you need to take a stand and hold people accountable,” he said, declining to give his last name. “Even if the politics of it suck.”
Josh was with three colleagues from out of town and they had already decided not to talk politics. They had briefly stood in line for the House gallery until they learned the wait would be two hours ― and that they had very different opinions about impeaching Trump.
“I’m outnumbered,” John, one of Josh’s colleagues, said with a laugh as he also declined to give his last name.
“It’s is a big waste of time generally, in my view, when the election is coming up next year,” continued John, who is from Chicago. “I’d rather let the people vote and respond because I don’t believe the evidence suggests that there were crimes committed or anything that is related to an impeachable offense to the point where it makes sense to go through this entire process and take the entire American population through it.”
Instead of talking about it much more or sticking around the Capitol, they opted to leave for a bar. “We want to have a good night,” added Josh.
Most of those waiting seemed willing to stand in line for as long as it took to get in ― even if getting in wasn’t guaranteed. Each was waiting for someone to leave the gallery in order to take their seat.
“You can just watch this on TV,” muttered a nearby Capitol Police officer, when asked what he thought of the wait.
But for Will Johnson of Round Rock, Texas, who stood near the front of the line with a MAGA hat in his pocket, the wait was worth it. He flew to Washington specifically to try to get a seat as the House took up the impeachment, and he said he wanted one day to tell his children and grandchildren that he was present for the vote.
“It’s history,” he said, beaming. “I think they’re doing the wrong thing, personally, because it’s dividing the country. They should be concentrating on more issues.”
Johnson, 48, said other presidents have “always done deals with other countries” and that just because some presidents, like Trump, may have made deals “in a certain way that people don’t like” doesn’t mean he should be impeached. (Democrats are impeaching Trump because he used the power of the U.S. presidency to pressure a foreign country to investigate a political rival, which is illegal.)
Of course, some people in the Capitol Visitor Center weren’t paying attention to any of this. They had far happier things going on in their lives.
“Oh! That is happening today? Oh okay!” said a young woman from Italy who didn’t share her name before she darted off. “I don’t speak English very well. I don’t know very well these arguments because we are now on our honeymoon.”
She smiled, linked arms with her new husband and left the Capitol.