Hundreds of pro-Trump protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to show support for President Trump and demand that Congress stop the impeachment inquiry that's moving at breakneck speed through the House of Representatives.
The "March for Trump" rally, organized by the pro-Trump group Women for America First, started at Freedom Plaza before marching to the Capitol Building's West Lawn. On a brisk fall day with a gusty wind that lifted dozens of pro-Trump flags held by protesters dressed in red, white and blue, speakers and attendees extolled Trump's successes and railed against impeachment depositions that have been taking place at the Capitol all week.
"There's so much negative news about Trump and the great and wonderful things he's done for the American people," Linda Morris, who had driven from Delaware to show her opposition to impeachment, told Fox News. "We want our voices heard."
There might have been more pro-Trump voices on hand, had the charter company being used to bus protesters in from around the Northeast not canceled at the last minute, organizers claimed.
"Last night, less than two hours before our first chartered buses were supposed to leave for D.C., we were informed that the bus company was canceling all of our buses – including ones that were fully paid for," said Amy Kremer, the chairwoman of Women for American First.
Anti-impeachment leaders including Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and author and former Navy SEAL Jonathan Gilliam spoke to rallygoers, echoing Republicans' recent messaging: that the process Democrats are using is unfair, Trump's contacts with Ukranian President Voldomyr Zelensky in a July phone call were not impeachable offenses; and House Democrats should not try to overturn the results of the 2016 election.
To raucous cheering, Scalise called the impeachment inquiry a "kangaroo court" and lambasted House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for not bringing a vote on the impeachment process to the floor of the House. This echoes rhetoric from a letter the White House sent to Pelosi explaining that it would not comply with impeachment-related subpoenas or interview requests until the House took such a vote.
"We ought to have the right to choose our president," he said. "Not Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff behind closed doors."
While past impeachment efforts have involved a vote of the full House to authorize proceedings, there is no such requirement in the Constitution or House rules.
"We are witnessing a coup," former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka said later in the event.
A common theme among the speakers and activists was a belief that Democrats are pushing impeachment investigations because they are worried their standard-bearer won't be able to beat Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
"They cannot win. They cannot beat Donald Trump," Schlapp said. "This is about everyday Americans looking at the last three years, at this disgraceful waste of your money," he said, regarding investigations into Trump.
Some speakers acknowledged the death Thursday of Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who died due to complications from long-term health issues. As the leader of that committee, Cummings' signature was on every subpoena sent in relation to impeachment, even though some said he had not been seen in the Capitol Building in weeks.
Rallygoers also didn't have a high tolerance for Republicans who are wishy-washy on Trump. Andy Meehan, a Republican mounting a primary challenge to Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., said that the current representative's support for Trump was insufficient.
For those Republicans whose flag is not a Trump flag but is a white flag, we want nothing to do with you ... This is the time to fight."
"He's a Trump-hating RINO," Meehan said, using the acronym for "Republican in Name Only." Fitzpatrick has sharply criticized Trump on the decision to remove American troops from Syria and has voted with Trump just under 70 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Schlapp similarly admonished Republicans who weren't all in on Trump.
"For those Republicans whose flag is not a Trump flag but is a white flag, we want nothing to do with you," he said. "This is the time to fight."
After the speeches concluded, the marchers planned to go to Congressional Members' offices to plead their case against impeachment. The official March for Trump website specifically mentioned Pelosi, Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. It also encouraged marchers to visit their own representatives.
The current push for impeachment began with a whistleblower complaint from an anonymous CIA officer who reported that "more than half a dozen U.S. officials" had spoken to him regarding Trump allegedly using the power of his office to pressure foreign governments to help him in the 2020 election.
Trump withheld $400 million worth of military aid to Ukraine shortly before a July 25 phone call with Ukranian President Zelensky, in which he asked his counterpart to investigate 2020 rival Joe Biden's son, Hunter, and his involvement with Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company. Burisma was under investigation while the younger Biden was on the board.
While a later-released readout of the call between the heads of state does not explicitly mention a quid pro quo -- an investigation into the Bidens in exchange for the withheld military funds -- Democrats have said the pressure to have a foreign government interfere in U.S. politics and go after the Bidens -- with Joe Biden considered a leading contender to challenge Trump in the 2-2- general election -- was implicit. Trump has called the interaction a "perfect call."
Democrats in the House have moved quickly to speak with witnesses and subpoena documents, interviewing individuals including European Union Ambassador Gordan Sondland, former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security Council advisor on Russia Fiona Hill this week. They aim to hold an impeachment vote before Thanksgiving. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has told his members that the upper body would sit for an impeachment trial six days per week if the House does indeed vote to impeach Trump and that they would try to finish the trial before members leave for Christmas break.
Jessica Cecil, who brought her children along to the rally, wanted to attend March for Trump to show that conservatives aren't "lunatic and fringe" as they are often portrayed by Democrats or in the media, she said.
"We're just normal men and women who've taken off work to support our president against these politicians who've wasted our money and time," she said.
Cecil said that showing her children the nation's capital, and setting an example for civic engagement, were also on her mind.
"They'll remember this," she said.