“Are you Val Demings?” an excited teenager asked as she approached the Florida congresswoman in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building last week.
“Yes, I am,” Demings confirmed.
“Oh, my God, you did so amazing during impeachment,” said the teenager, who identified herself as Catherine from Kentucky, offering a few more compliments before running to catch up with her tour group.
That type of reception from strangers is what Demings and the other House impeachment managers say made the grueling hours they put into prosecuting President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress worth it, despite losing their case.
“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Demings told CQ Roll Call, resuming the interview that Catherine interrupted. “The managers, we would have completed the work no matter what, right. And we didn’t know what the end of the story was going to be. We didn’t know if we were going to be the most loved or the most hated. But it didn’t matter, because we were committed to our oath.”
One month ago, the Senate voted to acquit Trump of both impeachment charges. While they did not emerge victorious, the managers look back on the experience in interviews with CQ Roll Call with fondness for one another and what they said was an essential task for democracy.
“It was certainly a bonding experience, and we have talked about how we are going to be linked with this for the rest of our lives in a very positive way,” House Intelligence Chairman and lead manager Adam Schiff said.
The California Democrat had specific compliments for each of his six comrades on the manager team: Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, fellow California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Demings and freshman Reps. Jason Crow of Colorado and Sylvia R. Garcia of Texas.
“It’s an experience that we will certainly always share, cherish and appreciate having gone through the trenches of an intense impeachment trial where the stakes couldn’t be any higher, the spotlight couldn’t be any brighter and the consequences of inadequate performance any graver,” Jeffries said.
‘Joys and pains’
The trial operated on a compressed timeline, the working conditions even more intense than the lawmakers are accustomed to in their regularly hectic House roles. The managers battled toothaches and colds, barely slept and had limited access to caffeine and healthy food.
“There were a lot of joys and pains,” Demings said. “We had a lot of experiences that you normally usually share with family and friends that we got to share as House managers.”
The bond they formed over the course of the two-week trial is one that takes most people years to build, Crow said. “We came together, really very fast. I’d say it was pretty seamless.”
Some of the managers formed individual or group connections around their commonalities. For example, Crow and Garcia naturally jelled, being the only freshmen on the team.
“We would check each other’s outfits before going out for press conferences and things,” Crow said.
Garcia has not stopped scrutinizing Crow’s appearance post-trial.
“When I see Jason, you know, I still do his tie check,” she said.
Lofgren, Demings and Garcia, together frequently for media interviews to mark their history-making roles as the first women to manage a presidential impeachment case, learned they had a lot of common.
“I hadn’t really realized how similar our life stories were before the trial,” Lofgren said. “Each of us is the first in our families to go to college from working-class/poor households.”
Playlists, ‘bad snacks’ and barbecue
The managers spent nearly all of their waking hours together.
They started trial preparations around 9 a.m., working side by side at a conference table — “almost like a college study session,” Crow said — reviewing arguments they planned to make on the floor later in the day. Staff wrote initial drafts of speeches the managers would tweak to make their own, incorporating personal anecdotes and stylistic preferences.
Some of the managers would listen to music if they needed to tune out other noise. Crow relaxed with eclectic playlists of ’70s and ’80s rock: Billy Joel, Elton John, the Eagles and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
“I’ll have indelible images of Jason Crow listening to his Jason’s Chillin’ playlist,’” Schiff said.
When the court of impeachment convened at 1 p.m., the managers, like the senators, had to leave their cellphones behind and sit in the chamber for hours with access only to water or milk delivered by Senate pages. During five-minute breaks, they’d steal away to their makeshift office off the Senate floor and grab coffee or soda.
An array of “bad snacks” got brought in as well, Lofgren said, citing Skittles as one of the options she ignored. Jeffries said the snacks improved over the course of the trial as staff learned the managers’ preferences; his was a protein bar.
Dinners were catered since those breaks usually lasted only half an hour. Some of the managers tried to keep to healthy eating habits and brought in their own food. Garcia often did because of allergies and her gluten-free diet.
One catered dinner most of the managers enjoyed was Hill Country barbecue, Jeffries said. Even Schiff, who is mostly a healthy eater, decided to partake in the array of fatty meats and sides.
“I had my camera to take a picture of him in case he denied it later,” Demings said.
The trial often ran late into the night, and even when it did not, the managers rarely left the Capitol before 11 p.m.
“We basically lived together for all those hours,” Garcia said.
The staff had it even worse.
“When we did get to go home after 16-hour days, many of them were still here working,” Demings said.
Bronchitis and a root canal
Some of the managers battled illness. Demings was recovering from bronchitis as the trial began, and other managers were fighting colds. They showed up with cough drops and other remedies, creating a little medical station in their workspace.
“I did tease my grandchildren that when years and years from now, when they’re listening to the impeachment trial of 2020 and they hear coughing, that was their grandmother,” Demings said.
Schiff, who had the most speaking time of the seven managers, endured massive tooth pain during most of the trial before making time to squeeze in a root canal the weekend before closing arguments.
“I was using a lot of Advil, and I don’t recommend it,” he said. “No one ever looked forward to a root canal as I much I did.”
No one got very much sleep.
“I slept five hours or less a day,” Crow said, noting that was partly because he wanted to stay on his early-morning exercise schedule: running or hitting the gym before trial prep.
Other managers had different tactics for getting through the marathon sessions.
“My objective to start the day was to make sure I hydrated, because the last thing I wanted to do was to collapse on the Senate floor on national TV,” Jeffries said. “That would have been a total disaster.”
After the trial
Since the trial ended, Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi separately held receptions for the impeachment managers and their staffs. Schiff’s included a broader array of members and committee staff involved in the House impeachment effort, but both focused on honoring aides and staff attorneys for their hard work.
Jeffries said he’s trying to organize a dinner for just the seven managers to catch up.
If they opt to go anywhere in public, they’ll most certainly be recognized.
“I represent Hollywood, so I have a lot of people in the entertainment industry who have this kind of recognition every day,” Schiff said. “I have a new appreciation for what their lives are like, and eating dinner at a restaurant and noticing people are staring.”
Garcia has long been recognized in her district, having served in the Texas state Senate before coming to Congress, but she’s still adjusting to people approaching her in airports and other states.
“It’s all been how good of a job we did,” she said. “People were amazed with the level of the graphics, and they appreciated that we kept it simple so the public could understand rather just deal with the legal mumbo jumbo.”
But the public reaction hasn’t all been positive. The seven managers each had Capitol Police assigned to them during the trial, including when some made quick stops back home in their districts, because of the many threats made against them. Schiff still has a security detail following him around the Capitol.
The managers aren’t reflecting on the negativity coming from Trump’s supporters, although Crow took note that at his first town hall after the trial, even constituents who didn’t agree with impeachment said he conducted himself well.
But the most important reaction he got came near the end of the trial as his wife and kids listened to the managers’ closing statements on satellite radio.
“My wife texted me that my 10-year-old son broke down in tears because he was so proud of me,” Crow said, noting that moment was special because his goal as both a father and public servant is to set a good example for his children.
Whatever impeachment impact the managers face in the coming months and years, they can lean on each other for support.
“We’re all kind of joined at the hip from here forever,” Demings said.