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Gleason ceremony brings unity amid tense impeachment process

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 15, 2020

Steve Gleason, an ALS advocate, former NFL player and WSU alumnus, receives a standing ovation after he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and gave his acceptance speech during a ceremony Wednesday, January 15, 2020, in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Steve Gleason, an ALS advocate, former NFL player and WSU alumnus, receives a standing ovation after he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal and gave his acceptance speech during a ceremony Wednesday, January 15, 2020, in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - For one brief hour on Wednesday afternoon, Steve Gleason brought together the leaders of two political parties embroiled in a partisan impeachment process.

Gleason was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, more than a year after President Donald Trump signed the bill bestowing the medal into law. It just so happened that the House of Representatives was voting Wednesday to send its two articles impeaching Trump to the Senate.

The vote approving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s managers who will try the case in the Senate occurred just as chairs were being set up in the adjacent Statuary Hall for Gleason’s ceremony. That meant that Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer all had to sit together for an hour before the ceremonial procession of the articles of impeachment later that afternoon.

The only signs of political unease between Pelosi and McConnell, who have publicly clashed over the rules of a Senate trial in the past few weeks, was a more than noticeable distance between the two as they entered the chamber to take their seats at the front of the hall. In their remarks to the audience, the lawmakers veered clear of the political unease on Capitol Hill.

The only reference to the contentious campaign season came from Gleason himself, who employed some of his signature wit in a moment that had some members of the audience chuckling.

“Sharing one’s weaknesses may not be common practice for people, especially for politicians in an election year – wink wink,” Gleason said.

Pelosi called Gleason “a great American whose name is synonymous with hope.” And McConnell, referencing Gleason’s upbringing in Spokane, said his unlikely story of success in the NFL was “a reminder that God has plans for each of us that we never could have imagined.”

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a cosponsor of the bill in the House of Representatives that gave Gleason the medal (one of 311 members to do so), said the show of bipartisanship was important on a day that ended with the impeachment articles being delivered.

“I think we are reminded of the impact of an individual. We are reminded of the importance of hope, of the importance of coming together to celebrate one another, to celebrate our country and people who go above and beyond” McMorris Rodgers, who has opposed the impeachment proceedings, said.

“It’s really an inspiration,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, who’s also been critical of the impeachment proceedings pressed by Democrats. “Anybody that overcame what were seemingly impossible adversities, to be able to give back to so many people.”

Once the ceremony ended, the chairs were removed and replaced with stanchions. An hour later, as dozens of cameras flashed and a crowd gathered to watch, a group of Democratic lawmakers walked across that same floor, delivering the impeachment articles to the Senate. The Senate is scheduled to hear those articles and begin preliminary trial proceedings Thursday, with the trial set to begin in earnest next week.

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