The House's power center sat in the back of the chamber on Wednesday. His golden apple brooch, symbol of the House and the speaker's authority, glowed.
And when it came time to vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stepped into the chair and presided over President Donald Trump's impeachment, casting jubilant Democrats a prohibitive look to keep them from cheering.
Pelosi, second in the presidential line, ended the day with unusual uncertainties, repeatedly refusing to say when – or if – the House would send the articles to the Senate for trial. "Let's see" if the Senate announces terms it considers fair, she told reporters.
Like it or not, Pelosi's role in leading Trump's impeachment will dramatically shape his legacy after more than 30 years in Congress. The House voted mainly on the party line Wednesday night, making Trump only the third formally accused president in American history.
This is from Pelosi.
"Today, as mayor, I solemnly and sadly open the debate about the impeachment of the president of the United States," said Pelosi.
She spent most of the day a few steps from the locker room door, away from brighter places where managers and members were debating impeachment.
It was a show of confidence in a city where body language and proximity often transmit energy. She sat for long stretches leafing through other work, checking the phone and keeping an eye on the debate.
Being remembered for impeachment is not something she enjoys after a career of six presidents, several wars, passing the Affordable Assistance Act, and her own debut as a speaker. But she said Trump left the Democrats "with no choice" but to act.
Pelosi came to the chamber with the widely unified Democrats, thanks to a careful balance that lasted for several months. The House was impeachment of Trump, as liberals had long demanded. The articles of impeachment centered on Trump's pressure on Ukraine, as the moderates wished. And a number of other legislations have been finalized, giving all Democratic achievements to show at home.
Pelosi's grip on the caucus made it possible for her to lead only by being there, rather than openly twisting her arms, as she had during the passage of the health care law. The Democrats lost the House the following year, and with it Pelosi lost his position as president.
Back in possession of the hammer this year, Pelosi resisted impeachment until a whistleblower's report revealed Trump's pressure in Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. Said the House couldn't ignore it. But they wouldn't celebrate either.
"He gave us no choice," said Pelosi, dressed in black, from the well of the house.
Trump, a lifelong businessman now face to face with an equivalent branch of government, insists that he is a victim of Democrats who wanted to stop him from the start.
He also considered Pelosi's legacy, predicting on Twitter that she will be the "worst speaker in history." In a letter released on the eve of the vote, he said Pelosi "is behind the entire Republican Party."
Pelosi's final moment of power on Wednesday was a landmark departure from a year ago, after the 2018 elections inaugurated a new generation of lawmakers. Some newcomers, such as Virginia Representative Abigail Spanberger, did not vote for Pelosi to return to the presidency.
But many more, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, finally helped put Pelosi back on top.
What has happened since then has been a study of Pelosi's ability to play the power game against Trump. Earlier this year, she forced him to retreat and reopen the government without the border wall it required. She then invited him to give his State of the Union House speech, but during the event he threw his private shadow mark in his path with a smile and applause behind him.
She did it again during a White House meeting in October. In an image released by the White House, Pelosi can be seen standing and pointing a finger on a table at him while the president says something in response. The men on Trump's side are looking the other way. Pelosi left the meeting immediately after.
All the while, even as she ridiculed Trump's "manhood" in a private meeting, Pelosi resisted Trump's impeachment. It was very divisive and the country was already very divided, she said.
But in September, a group of new district legislators won by Trump, including Spanberger, gave Pelosi the cover to pursue an impeachment inquiry. They wrote an article published in The Washington Post supporting impeachment about Trump's conduct towards Ukraine.
"A solemn moment" was Pelosi's message to the Democrats at the next House Intelligence and Judiciary Committee hearings. He no longer boasts that "we are going to impeachment the son of a bitch," as freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan declared on her first day in office. Pelosi made it clear in public and in particular that Democrats should not celebrate when the House approves impeachment articles.
Pelosi could have spent the whole day in the speaker's chair, hammer in hand, though that was unusual, an aide said. She could have camped on the television board, closer to Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler, who was running the debate. She may have sat in the front row, like several new members.
But there was no need. When she entered the chamber on Wednesday morning, almost all Democrats were together to vote for impeachment.
At the well of the House, Pelosi said that nothing less than the future of democracy was at stake.
"If we don't act now, we would be abandoned in our duty," she said.
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