In the hours before President Donald Trump was impeached Wednesday night, the atmosphere at the Trump International Hotel in Washington was nearly, but not quite, joyous.
People snapped selfies and laughed over cocktails in the hotel’s multi-story lobby lounge. Tourists trickled in from the cold, some wearing “Make American Great Again’ hats and shirts, hoping perhaps to capture a glimpse of someone in Trump’s inner circle. Their best chance came around lunch when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stopped by the hotel’s restaurant, BLT Prime.
Out in the lounge, discussions ranged from Christmas plans to the media’s unfair treatment of the President. One table ordered the Trump Tower, a soaring pile of seafood stacked high with lobster, oysters, clams, and shrimp ($120). All the while impeachment loomed uncomfortably in the background. At the bar, two of the four televisions hanging above the bar were tuned to ESPN. Another was tuned to Fox News and the last to CNN.
As the House of Representatives made its way toward a final vote, the lounge filled out with guests – and a more professional set, in sportscoats and dresses, replaced the tourists from earlier in the day. But few paid much mind to the debate on TV. Some marveled at the towering Christmas tree in the middle of the lobby. Others greeted friends for dinner, exchanging gifts and enjoying appetizers. The most popular was the candied bacon, presented as four slices hanging from individual clothespins on twine with a sprig of burning herbs ($22).
Among those at the bar was Heather Zabel, a 35-year-old nursing student in northern Virginia who considers herself a big fan of Trump’s.
“Big deal,” Zabel said sarcastically, gesturing at the TV tuned to impeachment coverage. “This is only making Republicans angry. And we’re going to vote for him again.”
A Trump supporter since 2015, Zabel said she liked his message on undocumented immigration and jobs. While she wasn’t thrilled with everything Trump says and tweets, she said that what matters is what he’s accomplished: building a strong economy, getting tough on undocumented immigrants, despite all the setbacks from his opponents in Washington.
Was she worried about what impeachment might mean for Trump and his legacy? Zabel compared it to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, which was about something “private” and “embarrassing” but ultimately had little bearing on how Americans viewed his presidency.
“There’s nothing embarrassing about this,” Zabel said of Trump’s impeachment. “It doesn’t matter.”
While Trump supporters around the bar didn’t seem to be paying close attention to the TV commentary, their general consensus echoed what Republicans were saying on the House floor: Democrats were pushing impeachment because they couldn’t stand seeing him in the White House. The “Russia collusion” gambit failed, and this Ukraine thing was just their latest effort to undo the 2016 election.
Besides, none of it mattered, they all agreed. The Senate would never convict him, they said, so why not have another drink?
By the time House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a full floor vote just before 8 p.m., crowds had gathered around both TVs showing the vote counts. As CNN’s banner announced that the first article of impeachment had enough votes to pass, one woman sitting directly below the TV threw her hands up and shook her head in exasperation. Zabel let out a small sigh.
After the House passed the second article of impeachment, Zabel’s mood soured.
What did she think, now that the inevitable had happened?
“I’m sad!” she said, seeming genuinely hurt. “It’s a bad mark on him. I feel bad for him.”
As she spoke, the crowd around the bar had already begun to thin out. Some shuffled across the lobby to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. Others headed for the doors. No one bought a round of drinks to commiserate.
By 9 p.m., Trump was in the middle of his counterprogramming rally in Michigan, but few people were watching by the time Fox News broke in to cover it.
Just after 9 outside the hotel, an older man in a black jacket walked briskly toward the entrance, shouting to no one in particular. “I want to know who stays in this hotel!” he said. “What kind of person stays in this hotel?”
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify comments by Heather Zabel about Trump’s policies toward undocumented immigrants.