Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is frustrated. The Democratic congresswoman from South Dade has watched for two days as the U.S. Senate has deliberated the fate of a president whom she voted to impeach. So far, senators have voted against calling witnesses or subpoenaing documents.
“The founders expected that a man or woman would come to the office of the presidency and do anything to keep that power,” Mucarsel-Powell told a group of about 30 Florida International University honors college students over coffee on Wednesday. “Yet, they never expected that the Senate would go along [with] the scheme.”
It reminds the only member of Congress born in Ecuador (and one of the few from South America) that the United States has become in some ways similar to its undemocratic neighbors.
“Having grown up in Latin America, you see the characteristics of someone that is taking the road of dictatorship and abusing the power of the office,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “That is why I voted for impeachment.”
The rookie congresswoman who beat Republican Carlos Curbelo, faces new opposition. Termed-out Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced his candidacy in District 26 on Thursday.
Mucarsel-Powell’s background, as well as her aggressive fight against Trump, suits her well for what is likely to be an expensive and explosive competition. She was raised in Guayaquil, Ecuador and moved to the United States when she was 14.
To the FIU students, she spoke about her experiences growing up as an immigrant in difficult conditions. She cited her working-class background — being raised by a single mother who worked long hours to pay for her education. Mucarsel-Powell worked and studied as a teenager to help pay bills and save enough money to buy herself a car.
That childhood, she said, shaped her and the policies she supports in Congress. She defended her progressive anti-gun stance, which traces back to her father being shot and killed by a criminal in Ecuador. She has also supported programs to aid Hispanics and lower-income households, like those that helped her when she was younger.
In 2018, Mucarsel-Powell ran an aggressive race against incumbent Curbelo and took office as one of a record number of women joining Congress. She claims her hard work and perseverance helped her make a name for herself and interact with the community.
“I worked so hard and I was told no every single day,” she said. “I had to make many phone calls and raise money to fund the campaign.”
During her time in Congress, Mucarsel-Powell has fought for measures such as gun reform and DACA, as well as keeping the Affordable Care Act.
Then came the move to impeach Trump.
“Here I was, an immigrant from Ecuador as a first-term congresswoman, dealing with impeachment of a sitting president,” she said. “There were hours of hearing and speaking with attorneys and experts several times.”
Mucarsel-Powell believes that it is Congress’ responsibility to enforce the Constitution and to maintain the legitimacy of checks and balances. “The Founders wanted to make sure there was a true democracy … a government elected by the people and working for the people,” she said. “The only way they could do it was by outlining the separation of powers.”
However, Mucarsel-Powell fears the power of the Constitution is at risk. On Dec. 18, 2019, she voted in favor of the two articles of impeachment.
”This is one of the most important moments in our country’s history,” she said. “We are putting to test the constitutionality of the government and whether the people have a voice or not.”
Amid tension in Washington D.C. and the importance of the elections coming up, this year will be hectic for the congresswoman. Even before Mayor Gimenez announced his run for Congress, a poll showed he has a large lead ahead of other Republican challengers. That means he will most likely compete against Mucarsel-Powell.
In the tightly contested district, which the congresswoman won by less than two percentage points in 2018, she will have to spend more time speaking with constituents and fundraising than ever before. However, Mucarsel-Powell believes that the politics of Washington D.C. have limited the effectiveness of the democratic process.
“That is one of the most concerning issues as a representative,” she said. “I am working so hard every day to make sure we expand access to healthcare … working on gun violence prevention and funding for sea level rise … but you can’t do that if the executive [branch] and Senate are blocking every attempt to bring justice to the people.”