U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, one of the most mild-mannered members of Congress, usually speaks in the soft cadences of a preacher.
But Wednesday, Green transformed into a firebrand, the first member of Congress to call for the impeachment of President Donald Trump after Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey amid his investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials as well as subsequent reports that Trump had asked Comey to drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Outraged, Green spoke fiercely on the House floor about what he considered Trump’s self-interest in the case — before the Justice Department announced the appointment of a special counsel in the case — and became an internet sensation, with his speech breaking C-Span’s retweet record.
“I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America for obstruction of justice,” Green said. “I do not do this for political purposes, Mr. Speaker. I do this because I believe in the great ideals that this country stands for.”
The impeachment call was echoed by other members of the Congressional Black Caucus and liberal activists, even as party leaders have preferred calling for an independent commission to investigate Trump and the Trump campaign’s Russia connections. Some Democrats worry about overpromising and inviting backlash from their base if they don’t deliver on calls to oust Trump; also, they figure a more measured approach — methodically building a case — will stand a better chance of bringing along some Republicans.
Green, 69, an attorney and former head of the NAACP in Houston, has close friendships with Democrats and Republicans including House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas. He and fellow Houston Democratic Rep. Gene Green are often confused for each other despite Al Green being African-American and Gene Green being white — Gene Green’s office was deluged with phone calls and messages about impeachment yesterday.
But if Al Green’s abandoning his usual calm demeanor for intensity surprised some people, longtime friends say that is how he responds to injustice.
“I know Congressman Green comes from the era of ‘you have to speak truth to power,’” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. Al Green, who isn’t a minister but is religious, often greets people when he sees them by saying, “God is good.”
“I know Congressman Green to be a thoughtful, principled man, one who chooses his words carefully and doesn’t shoot from the hip on important issues such as the defense of our democracy. He is a dedicated, well-respected public servant who puts the best interests of our country over party politics and works hard to be a strong voice for justice,” said Democratic Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, who was a state senator.
“He’s always been a person who steps out and does something he believes in,” said James Douglas, president of NAACP-Houston who was Green’s law professor at Texas Southern University. “He spent a long time as a justice of the peace before he went to Congress. He has an ethical expectation — he’s a very high moral individual.”
Some of his congressional colleagues were still surprised.
“Al is typically lower key, kind of like I am,” said Gene Green, who has known his fellow Green since 1974. “By Al doing that, it shows me it’s really personal to him. He’s got strong feelings but he’s not normally out on that kind of limb.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who was first elected at the same time as Al Green in 2004, said, “He’s very calm and thoughtful and thought ‘enough is enough.’ I still want an independent commission. I like to look at the facts.”
And Hensarling said, “I disagree with partisan suggestions that we should somehow skip the investigation and just move on to punitive measures. I join with numerous voices – Republican and Democrat alike – who are welcoming a thorough and independent investigation based on the facts.”