Maxine Waters Talks Impeaching Trump, and Why She Has Hope

Americans should be "expecting more from us" in Congress, the anti-Trump Democratic House member says

Democratic Representative from California Maxine Waters asks if any Senator would sign her formal protest of the counting of electoral ballots for the presidency in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress in the US Capitol in Washington, DC on 01.06.2017 Credit: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Redux

Democrats can't just be against Trump, the pundits have said since Hillary Clinton lost in November – they need to be for something. The Center for American Progress' underwhelmingly named Ideas Conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday was supposed to showcase the ideas of some of the prospective candidates for the party's 2020 nomination: Kamala Harris on criminal justice reform, Kirsten Gillibrand on paid family leave and Elizabeth Warren on rooting out corruption in Washington.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters has a lot of ideas about financial reform – she wants to protect Dodd-Frank and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, both of which Trump has proposed gutting, and defeat the odious CHOICE Act ("We call it the Bad CHOICE Act!"). But the idea that she’s most passionate about is that of pushing Donald Trump out of office as soon as possible.

And for all the punditry to the contrary, that's the idea that seems to most animate the progressives who've gathered in the windowless hotel ballroom where the Ideas Conference is taking place. Waters receives one of the conference's most raucous receptions as she delivers the blistering indictment of Trump she's become known for since the president's inauguration – which she skipped. No one has sounded the alarm louder or more consistently since.

On stage Tuesday, on the heels of the president's biggest unforced error to date, Waters mocks her prudish colleagues for their reluctance to speak more forcefully about Trump: "Oh my god, she said the word 'impeachment'! Oh my goodness, it's too soon to say that! We can't focus on it because we have members in districts he won and they can't afford to talk about impeachment!"

Quite the opposite, Waters says, Democrats as a party can't afford not to talk about impeachment. They cannot wait for another election. "We can't wait that long. We don't need to wait that long. He will have destroyed this country by then. We cannot wake up every morning to another crisis, to another scandal. We cannot have the uncertainty," she declares.

Shortly before taking the stage, she tells Rolling Stone she's encouraged by the incremental progress she sees toward that goal. The news that broke Monday evening, that Trump had shared classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office, "is beyond the pale,” she says. “So many people are stunned by it today … and it adds to all of the other mishaps and misinformation and firing of people who are getting close to the Russia investigation. I can't help but wonder why the American people are not expecting more from us in dealing with this issue."

Waters is finding hope in the unlikeliest of places: Republicans in Congress, and in particular, Sen. Mitch McConnell. The Senate majority leader told Bloomberg Tuesday morning, "I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda."

Reading between the lines of McConnell's remarks, Waters says, she hears the longtime senator signaling that his patience with Trump is wearing thin. "What [McConnell] said was, in so many words, 'These crises are interfering with our ability to get on with our agenda, which includes tax reform.' … He didn't talk about Russia per se, but what he did was he gave you the absolute feeling that enough is enough: I'm getting sick of this too. We've got to do something," Waters says. "That's the feeling he left."

Waters says she's also heartened by Sen. Susan Collins' strong words; Collins suggested in a statement Tuesday morning that Trump may have put U.S. allies' lives at risk by revealing classified information to the Russian government. McConnell and Collins weren’t the only Republicans signaling their discomfort on Tuesday, either – Sen. Bob Corker said the White House was in a "downward spiral" and Richard Burr, chair of the Senate committee leading an investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, reportedly requested additional information about the meeting from the White House.

Republicans may not be saying it yet, but Waters feels confident they are slowly but surely coming around to her point of view – which is now also held by the majority of Americans. According to a new PPP poll, more Americans would like to see Trump impeached than would like to see him remain in office – 48 percent to 41 percent – including 12 percent of the voters who cast ballots for him in November.

From the stage Tuesday, Waters directs a message to those Republicans, as well as to her Democratic colleagues: "You've got to do what you know should be done: You've got to identify and lay out for the American public everything that he has done, these firings, this obstruction of justice. … And in the final analysis – Maxine Waters was right: You gotta impeach him."