Americans treat Comey’s testimony against Trump like the Superbowl
If resistance is the new brunch, then Shaw’s Tavern is centre of the movement.
Hundreds gathered at the local brunch spot in north-west Washington DC to watch James Comey testify that Donald Trump attempted to interfere with the FBI investigation into the president’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“To see this you’d think it’s the Super Bowl,” said Jonah Wolff of the assembled masses.
Wolff, who had just graduated from American University, was clearly a politics aficionado, but interest in Thursday’s testimony extended well beyond the realm of wonkery. After the tavern announced it would be screening Comey’s “drama”, the event went viral, trending on DC Twitter earlier this week.
As Comey started his testimony, the indoor space was packed to its 148-person capacity, with people eating skillet nachos and eggs on toast at overflow tables outside. Around the corner, a long line of people wound along the north side of the tavern.
Among those waiting were Orlando Lopez, a 32-year-old Lyft driver from Reston, Virginia, who said he only took rides in the direction of DC this morning so that he could get to Shaw’s Tavern in time to hear the testimony.
His arrival apparently wasn’t early enough – an hour into the testimony, the line still stretched most of the way down the block. But Lopez was all smiles as he watched through an open window.
“I feel like this is the crescendo of everything we’ve been waiting for,” he said. “I think there’s been obstruction of justice, and I want to get a White Russian at the bar and be there to celebrate with people when it comes to light.”
Cosette Audi, 23, who moved here from Ohio a year ago to pursue a master’s in public health said: “This is something 20-30 years down the road in American history we can talk about the way my parents talk about Watergate. I didn’t want to miss it by sleeping in or staying home.”
Others outside were giving up and turning back. “It’s nuts here,” a sandy-haired guy muttered into his cell phone.
On the TV inside Comey was solemnly swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but it as people ate fried chicken and waffles and watched the screen. Some brought friends and dogs and computers. A few, like Heather Whitford, even brought babies.
Being on maternity leave made it possible for her to show up with her three-month-old this morning, she said. But she also relished the opportunity to help her kids get an early start on civic involvement in a safe, fun environment. When the supreme court made same-sex marriage a law nationwide in 2015, for instance, she took her son down to the National Mall to celebrate.
Whitford was here with her friend Jasmine Sante, a longtime DC resident who posted about the event on Facebook earlier this week. Both women voted for Clinton but say they came out on Thursday not out of any partisan allegiance so much as belief in democracy.
Whitford attended the Women’s March in DC in January, despite being in the last term of her pregnancy, though, unsure if it would be safe, she didn’t bring her toddler along.
Sante, a digital strategist, missed the Women’s March but went to the Science March. “I met up with scientists that never marched before,” she says, adding that the vibe at Shaw’s Tavern was similarly non-partisan. “Elections are and should be shared experiences. Same with this … It’s about facts and reality and what’s true.”
She said she was inspired by the turnout but less hopeful about her prospects of actually getting to eat breakfast. “I should have come earlier,” she said.
For Sante and most of the assembled, however, food was quite clearly not the point. “I want to be part of a unique moment in time,” said Stacey Merola, who had been standing in line for the better part of an hour. “This is a very DC moment.”
Some recent California transplants were amused by their Washington compatriots.
Twenty-five-year-old Aras Troy, seated at the bar with a cup that read “Covefefe,” a reference to a typo from one of Trump’s recent tweets that went viral , said: “Only in DC would people go to a bar at 10 am to watch a Congressional hearing,” he said.
Nevertheless, he pulled up a Snapchat of a military buddy of his watching the testimony being screened on a sheet in Kuwait.
Seated beside Troy at the bar was 27-year-old Rhianon Anderson, who moved here from California two years ago for a job in tech policy. She had been group-texting with her family watching at home in California, but she said the mood there is different. “This would not be happening in LA,” she says.
“In LA you’ve got the Grammys and the Oscars. Here we don’t have those big events – but we have this,” she says. “Obviously this is not an awards show,” she adds quickly. “Hopefully this is a snowball that is going downhill.”
Tweets from Los Angeles showed guests at a Comey watch party practising yoga just before the hearing got under way.
Alex Heidenberger, who co-owns the tavern with his brother, said the event started off as just another quirky way to bring the DC community together. “The event started out as more of a joke,” he says. “But it blew up really, really, really, really quickly. We didn’t expect this to happen that’s for sure.”
At sideBar in New York City, where a handful of bars broadcast the hearing live, the typical din of flirting young people and cheering sports fans was exchanged for a silent crowd, hooked on the words of senators Mark Warner, Richard Blumenthal and Susan Collins.
The bar showed the session on 16 screens as bartenders hustled orders of avocado toast and bloody marys to patrons young and old. Some of the crowd was dressed in suits, others were dressed for a day out in the city.
More than two dozen people, excluding a handful of journalists, watched the hearing. Catherine Talese, a 49-year-old native New Yorker, said the sports bar setting did not reflect the gravity of the event.
“We’d prefer to have our president and government be just,” Talese said. “I don’t think we’re just enjoying politics as sports.”
Talese sat at the corner of the bar, discussing the testimony with the people sitting next to her, whom she had just met. She said she had always been interested in politics, but that her interest escalated after Trump was elected president, which she said was “upsetting”.
Michael Ehrenreich and Robin Horne, who were visiting from Chicago and San Francisco respectively, sought out the bar to watch the hearing before checking-out the city’s tourist sites.
“Trump is clearly inept and corrupt and I think he threatens a lot of people with his policies,” said Horne, 33, who cited Trump’s policies towards immigration and his attitude towards women as particularly concerning.
The bar opened more than three hours early at the behest of tabloid news magazine Inside Edition, which hosted the event, which was called: “Covfefe and the City Hearing”.
“I think that there’s a little bit of schadenfreude – watching him squirm and be under this pressure is satisfying,” Horne said.
Ehrenreich, 28, agreed: “Everybody is salivating for an opportunity to see him [Trump] taken down a notch.”