With impeachment looming for President Donald Trump, Pelosi was at the center of the spotlight

By Sean Neumann and Jill Stempel
December 17, 2019 03:54 PM
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling were among a group of honorees at Thursday’s ceremony for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope award — and, with impeachment looming for President Donald Trump, Pelosi was at the center of the spotlight.

Pelosi received the Ripple of Hope for her work in Congress, along with Rowling and others.

The award is given out each year by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization to those who “demonstrated a commitment to social change and reflect Robert Kennedy’s passion for equality, justice, basic human rights, and his belief that each of us can make a difference.”

Speaker Pelosi, 79, was the focus of attention, with crowds around her table taking selfies and talk about the impeachment investigation bubbling up around the room. Even Rowling couldn’t wait to hear what Pelosi had to say, interrupting her own speech to comment on the Democratic representative’s work on the impeachment investigation into President Trump.

“I am going to try to express myself quite briefly, because no one wants to hear from Nancy Pelosi more than I do,” Rowling, 54, said in her speech.

Kerry Kennedy (left) presents House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (right) with the Robert F. Kennedy “Ripple Of Hope Award” in New York City on Thursday.
| Credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty

Speakers at the event included Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter, as well as CNN political commentator Don Lemon and former President Barack Obama, who didn’t appear in person but recorded a video tribute to Pelosi before she received her award.

“Nancy combines a set of qualities that you don’t find in many outstanding legislators, politicians or leaders generally,” Obama, 58, said. “She is tough, she knows her stuff, listens and understands. Folks in Congress are thinking and feeling about what’s important to them. She has a moral compass and knows what’s important. But she also knows what she can compromise in order to get stuff done.”

Obama credited her for her work on helping pass his signature Affordable Care Act, which he said could not have been done without her work.

Attendees and speakers at the event were primarily interested in hearing what she’d say about the impeachment vote, which is expected this week in the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights awards gala in New York City
| Credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights awards gala in New York City
| Credit: Mike Pont/Getty

Pelosi avoided mentioning impeachment head-on, but alluded to President Trump in her acceptance speech while talking about British historian Arnold Toynbee (who the elder Kennedy referenced in his “Ripple of Hope” speech in 1966).

“In the beginning of a hopeful country, (Toynbee) said, the political leadership formed a creative minority that inspired and led the flowering of civilization, but in some nations later became a dominant minority of exploiters focused on their own wealth and power,” Pelosi said Thursday. “Those competing mindsets — hopeful and exploitative — those competing mindsets and motivations create schisms in the body social and schisms in the soul of the body politic. Does that sound familiar?”

Pelosi referenced the impeachment probe one other time, saying, “We need hope in the face of all the challenges of our time. Whether it’s an assault on our Constitution … thank you Adam Schiff.”

The crowd loudly applauded the mention of California Rep. Schiff, who is also helping lead the House Democrats in the impeachment investigation. (Schiff had just come into the ballroom at the gala from taping The Colbert Show a few blocks away, arriving just before Pelosi’s speech.)

The House’s passage of the impeachment articles against Trump is expected this week. A Senate trial would then begin early next year.

Investigators say Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating Trump’s political rivals, such as Joe Biden, while withholding some $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. Trump has adamantly denied any wrongdoing, even as government officials called to testify before Congress have broadly corroborated the case against him.

Livongo Health executive Glen Tullman and social activist Wendy Abrams were also honored Thursday night. Abrams mentioned Pelosi in her acceptance speech.

“Speaker Pelosi, thank you. Thank you for fighting for the preservation of democracy, for children’s rights, for human rights, for criminal justice,” Abrams said. “Our nation is far better off because of you.”