As lawmakers debate whether to impeach Trump, Democrats at Atlantas I Will Vote gala held voting rights and reproductive rights above other issues
A fierce debate over whether or not to try and impeach Donald Trump is roiling the Democratic party in Washington, pitting scores of lawmakers in favor of impeaching Trump against the partys leadership, led by the House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The hotly contested argument has divided the 2020 campaign trail too, as a slew of Democratic candidates, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have joined the impeachment movement, while frontrunner Joe Biden has resisted the push.
But at a key pit stop on the 2020 trail where a number of top candidates, including Biden and former Texas congressman Beto ORourke were pitching Democratic activists for their support the impeachment debate was far from the surface. Instead, among the hundreds of mostly African American Democrats at the I Will Vote gala fundraiser in Atlanta, the talk was about far more conventional topics than impeaching the president.
For the most part, the attendees who spoke to the Guardian said they wanted to discuss getting out the vote and the issues they saw as the most important: healthcare rights, voting rights and reproductive rights.
Loretta Perry said she didnt even want to speak about impeachment. She paused before saying: If you look at impeachment, its like, what is the next option after impeachment? She was referring to the socially conservative vice-president, Mike Pence. Thats not good, either.
She emphasized that the candidates words on impeachment were not shaping her decision on the Democratic nominee, 17 months before election day. For Perry, the single most important issue was the conversation around abortion rights, especially in Georgia.
Robyn Donaldson, another attendee from Atlanta, saw Biden as one of her top choices, even though she supports impeachment and he does not. The impeachment issue was simply not the dominant factor for her, she said. [Bidens] been in the White House, hes been [vice-president] and hes connected to the everyday voter, she explained. Her support for him had nothing to do with Bidens stance on impeachment, she said, pointing out he has called the conversation around it a distraction.
Donaldson said she worried about whether the conversation around impeachment will end up being used as a political tool, just as Biden as warned. Her friend, Kemi Hawkins, walked up to the table and interjected: Oh, Im a Joey B fan! when she heard Bidens name. But she made a face when catching up to the impeachment conversation. Im a little on the eh side. Im just like: Get [Trump] out of here! she added.
When discussing who they might back to be the nominee in 2020, many attendees were undecided. Almeta Cooper sipped red wine in the reception area and voiced a common refrain among her fellow attendees.
I think its too early to say who you want to be for, she said.
Cooper, a lawyer focusing on healthcare in Georgia, said her ideal candidate has to align with her beliefs on reproductive rights for women, especially women of color, in light of the six-week abortion ban law endorsed by Georgias Republican governor Brian Kemp.
Cooper did not mention Biden but emphasized: It has to be a candidate who can be successful. She added: And that candidate has to align with my beliefs.
That sentiment was repeated among a number of attendees, many of whom who had paid at least $1,000 a plate at the high-powered gathering to hear from the likes of Biden.
Biden too did not mention impeachment nor did any other speaker. Instead it was abortion rights that made headlines. Biden had voiced his support for the Hyde amendment, a 40-year-old provision banning the federal government from paying for abortion care through Medicaid. That had earned himself a wave of negative headlines, and criticism from his rivals.
Moments after Cooper took her seat, Biden took the stage to Aretha Franklins Respect, announcing he had something important to tell the gathered crowd. Womens rights and womens health are under assault like we havent seen in the last 50 years, he began before saying he could no longer support the amendment.
A loud cheer went up through the crowd.
When Biden mentioned voting rights and promised to deal with voter suppression it got an even louder cheer from the crowd. What he did not mention once in his 30-minute speech was impeachment. Instead, Biden focused on economic inequality for black people, lack of access to education, criminal justice, healthcare and voter suppression in the south. One of the only direct references he made to Trump, like many of the attendees, was to say Beat Donald Trump! towards the end of his speech.
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