How Joe Neguse and Stacey Plaskett plan to wield their influence after impeachment

WASHINGTON — From a corner of the Senate chamber last week, Delegate Stacey Plaskett, the congressional representative from the Virgin Islands, was struck by the poignancy of the scene in front of her.

Next to her, seated at a narrow wooden table, was Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, the son of Eritrean immigrants and the first African American to represent his state in Congress. Across from them at his new desk was Sen. Raphael Warnock, the first Black Democrat to represent the South in the Senate. Plaskett was the lone elected Black woman in the room.

“I turned to Joe, and I was like: ‘Look at this — isn’t this awesome? This is something,’” Plaskett recalled in an interview. “It made me kind of tear up at that moment.”

After historic turns as House impeachment managers for the Senate trial of President Donald Trump, both Plaskett and Neguse emerged from the proceedings with national platforms and as high-profile faces of a Democratic coalition that is younger and more diverse than its leaders.

Even though their prosecution failed to deliver a conviction, both lawmakers said they hope to turn their newfound prominence into gains for their constituents as President Joe Biden barrels forward with an ambitious agenda for economic stimulus and other overhauls. And in interviews after the trial’s conclusion, both said they were conscious of their roles as among the few Black lawmakers who took part in an impeachment of a former president whose race-baiting and anti-immigration stances helped create deep divisions in the country.

“It certainly was not lost on me that in moments during the trial, as I stood there, or as Stacey, my friend, stood there in the well of the Senate, there are only four or less — depending on whether the senators were in the room — Black elected officials in the room,” Neguse said in an interview. “That is certainly unique. I think Stacey and I both worked really hard to do justice in terms of honoring the experiences of so many people of color that day.”

Both of their careers were already marked with notations for the history books: Neguse, 36, is the youngest impeachment manager in the country’s history, while Plaskett, 54, is the first delegate from a U.S. territory to hold the role. They are just the second pair of Black lawmakers to hold the role.

“There’s always a different level of pressure on Black members of Congress to make sure that we’re carrying ourselves in a way that represents the district, the community and the struggles of those who have come before us,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., one of the first two Black impeachment managers, along with Rep. Val B. Demings, D-Fla., during Trump’s first impeachment trial. “Joe Neguse and Stacey Plaskett shouldered that burden in an extraordinary way.”

Neguse, a graduate from the University of Colorado Law School, worked at a law firm before seeking political office. Plaskett was a student of Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead impeachment manager, at American University’s Washington College of Law. A political appointee at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, she also served as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx, New York, and counsel to the House ethics committee before running for Congress.

On a team of nine that had a shared century of legal experience, Neguse and Plaskett delivered some of the most powerful moments of the trial. Neguse helped burnish the argument in favor of the constitutionality of trying a former president and contributed to closing remarks. Plaskett steered senators through a detailed recounting of the violence and how close it came to them, and she offered a powerful rebuke of the Trump defense team’s use of footage of women of color to equate Trump’s remarks ahead of the Capitol attack with statements from Democrats.(BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM.)The swift nature of the trial also intensified the pair’s juggling act of parenthood and their work, still a rarity in Congress. Neguse’s infant daughter made an appearance on at least one Zoom call with the managers, while at one point Plaskett had her sixth-grade daughter working on a literature assignment in a back room during the trial when her husband had a meeting.

“‘My sitting here is the combination of so many sacrifices,’” Plaskett said, reading from a note to herself and her family during the last day of the trial. “‘Always remember that to whom much is given, much is required.’ I didn’t want to forget that.”

Just three dozen lawmakers have served as prosecutors of a president in an impeachment trial, a role that helped vault several to higher office. With impeachment trials historically serving as inherently partisan proceedings, their roles as managers could also open Plaskett and Neguse to increasing partisan attacks.

Their political futures are murkier, in part because of the unique circumstances of their respective districts, even as they drew acclaim for their work on impeachment.

While senators in both parties privately predicted that Neguse would one day join their ranks, it is unlikely that he would mount a primary challenge to either Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a Democrat who is up for reelection in 2022, or Sen. John Hickenlooper, who just began his six-year term after defeating Cory Gardner in November.

Because the Virgin Islands constitute a U.S. territory, Plaskett has no vote on the House floor, let alone Senate counterparts.

“I’m hoping to use this position and whatever that means to benefit the people who brought me to that table and to that podium for that impeachment trial,” Plaskett said. “At the end of the day, that’s the people of the Virgin Islands.”

Even before the pair took on the prosecutorial mantle, Neguse and Plaskett had parlayed their experience into more prominent roles within the House Democratic caucus. Neguse, in his second term, is part of the formal leadership circle of Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. And just before she was tapped for the role of manager, Plaskett said, she was still reveling in the news that she would be the first territory representative to sit on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

“I’m going to work hard to try to, you know, to talk to folks that have a different worldview than I do and to try to find common ground,” Neguse said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to work with each other.”

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