Defend American Democracy’s goal is to get lawmakers to “hold the President accountable for his actions.”

More than 60 veterans from across the country gathered at the Capitol on Thursday to call on members of Congress to honor the oath they took to defend the Constitution. 

Defend American Democracy, a bipartisan coalition group of veterans and national security organizations, showed up to demand members of Congress “put country over party and honor the oath they took to uphold the Constitution when it comes to impeachment,” the group said.

Defend American Democracy formed as a response to what some veterans and national security professionals saw as Congress’ failure to hold Trump accountable for his actions in the ongoing Ukraine scandal.

Trump stands accused of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate one of Trump’s potential 2020 opponents, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter. Trump and Zelensky spoke on July 25, and a White House memorandum of the call confirmed a whistleblower’s account that Trump urged Zelensky look into the Bidens.

The call came after Trump blocked the release of $400 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine. Several current and former administration officials have since testified that Trump was withholding the aid, as well as a potential White House meeting with Zelensky, in exchange for opening an investigation into the Bidens.

Kyle Bibby, a Naval Academy graduate, former Marine infantry officer, and organizer with Defend American Democracy, believes that many House members are not taking the issue seriously enough.

“We took an oath to defend our democracy and when we see that members of Congress are putting politically expedient decisions ahead of the very real issues that are being covered in this impeachment hearing, it’s very upsetting for us,” said Bibby.

The campaign’s goal is to “get every single member of Congress to take these investigations seriously and hold the President accountable for his actions,” Bibby said.

The latest revelations from the House Intelligence Committee hearings into the matter have reinforced the need for the campaign, according to Bibby. 

“What we’ve seen is now is literally several panels worth of national security professionals, career military officers, and field grade military officers who are saying the the president acted inappropriately and that he essentially used his personal authority as president to withhold military aid from another country … and he did all of that for his own personal, political benefit,” Bibby said.

While the campaign is mostly focused on pressuring Republicans who have stood by Trump’s side, Bibby emphasized that it was a non-partisan issue.

“There have even been some Democrats who have been slow on this,” Bibby said. “I know guys who have been injured, guys who died overseas, guys who now deal with a lot of different trauma from serving and we took our oath very seriously…. If they’re not going to live up to [theirs], they need to get out of their seats. They need to step down because nobody is above the law, and they’re the only people who can enforce any sort of law and accountability on this president.”

Thursday’s rally concluded the Defend American Democracy tour, during which the group visited five House districts —WA-03, MI-06, IL-13, NY-24, and PA-01 — to call on those lawmakers to “hold the president accountable for his abuse of power.” 

The organization has also announced a seven-figure ad buy across 14 congressional districts and Washington, D.C. 

The ads feature veterans repeating the call for Congress to live up to their oaths to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic.

Bibby said the campaign identified specific districts where constituents had not yet made up their minds on impeachment and decided to focus on those communities. “We wanted to go there to be able to make the case as people who understand this issue and take this issue very seriously because of our personal oaths,” Bibby said.

The response in those districts has been overwhelmingly positive, Bibby said, but he acknowledged the reaction from some members of Congress has been “a little cold.” 

“But we’re going to keep turning the pressure, we’re going to do what we do. We’re going to go into these districts and talk to other veterans and explain what’s going on, and also the veterans that are already there are going to organize themselves,” Bibby said.

Whether the campaign will be successful or not remains to be seen, but Defend American Democracy has one thing working in its favor: Veterans are particularly effective messengers, because the military remains one of the few American institutions that is still trusted by people on both sides of the political aisle. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 73% of Americans have confidence in the military, compared with only 38% for the Supreme Court, 36% for organized religion and the medical system, 29% for public schools and organized labor, 23% for big business and newspapers, and only 11% for Congress. 

Bibby also believes the outsider nature of the campaign gives them greater moral authority in delivering their message.

“Almost every single veteran we’re bringing here — they don’t know about D.C., they don’t know how to get a meeting on the Hill, they don’t necessarily know about Senate or House procedure, but they know right from wrong,” Bibby said. “That is the main thing we are trying to drive home to these members of Congress…. If they’re going to keep putting their own personal political priorities ahead of the priorities of this nation, we’re going to be coming after them for that.” 

The campaign remains focused on House members for now, but should the House vote to impeach Trump and pave the way for a Senate trial, Defend American Democracy is likely to turn their attention to members of the Senate as well.