Holding the President Accountable
Good Afternoon –
I know it’s only Wednesday (you’d usually get my e-newsletter next Monday!), but due to the gravity of today’s vote to impeach President Trump, I wanted to make sure you heard directly from me today.
It’s a unique experience working in the U.S. Capitol. I say that, in part, because it’s not only an office building. It’s also a museum. And it’s also a symbol of our representative democracy.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would – on occasion – give constituents tours of the Capitol. I’ve always liked helping people feel closer to their government, and there’s something pretty special about seeing that building up close and personally.
One of my favorite places in the tour is called Statuary Hall. It is an absolutely majestic room that contains sculptures of prominent Americans. It’s a room that actually served as the chamber of the United States House from 1807 to 1857. Abraham Lincoln worked in that room! John Quincy Adams worked in that room! (Amazingly, they worked there at the same time!)
At the back of the chamber, above the entry way leading into the chamber, is a large, 211-year-old marble sculpture called the Car of History. It depicts Clio, the Muse of History, riding in the chariot of Time... recording the events in the chamber below.
I’ve thought a fair amount about that sculpture this past week. About how history will record what happened in the Capitol on January 6, 2021 and in the weeks that follow.
The day of the Electoral College vote is usually a pretty low drama day. That was not the case this year because President Trump put on a full court press to seek to reject the electors.
It’s worth understanding how we got here. Voters voted on November 3. Those votes were counted by local election departments. The Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, a nonpartisan body, announced that “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.” Their statement also says that, “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
Those votes were certified by the secretaries of state for the various states – including many Republican secretaries of state. In several states, there were recounts. Not a single recount changed a result. In several states, there were lawsuits by President Trump suggesting a variety of conspiracy theories. Time after time, the courts found that those lawsuits had no merit. To date, more than 60 lawsuits challenging the results of the 2020 election have been heard in open court. These legal challenges were evaluated on their merits by a diverse array of non-partisan judges who were appointed by both Republicans and Democrats and they have all been withdrawn or dismissed due to a lack of evidence – with the exception of a single case in Pennsylvania which successfully challenged fewer than 100 ballots. Republican-appointed judges found no evidence of fraud or irregularities widespread enough to change a result.
I know that there are a lot of people with passionate views about the presidential election. But I’m a big believer in following the will of the voters.
It’s not just Democrats who raised concerns about the efforts to challenge the election results and to block the certification of the Electoral College vote. Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney said doing so would be unconstitutional. “Such objections,” Cheney wrote, “set an exceptionally dangerous precedent, threatening to steal states’ explicit constitutional responsibility for choosing the President and bestowing it instead on Congress. This is directly at odds with the Constitution’s clear text and our core beliefs as Republicans.” Former House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed, saying, “Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden's victory strike at the foundation of our republic. It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans. The fact that this effort will fail does not mean it will not do significant damage to American Democracy.”
Sadly, the debate over the Electoral College vote was only part of the story of January 6, 2021.
On that day, President Trump held a rally in Washington, D.C. The warmup act was Rudy Giuliani who called for “trial by combat.” The President’s son warned those who are a “zero not a hero” that “we are coming for you.”
Then President Trump spoke. As he had done in the past, he made false claims about the election. But then, he went a step further. After riling them up with false information, he urged the crowd to go to the Capitol. He said, “you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.” He said, “We will never give up,” and “we’re not going to take it anymore.”
The world saw what happened next.
A mob breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, and sought to harm members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence (chanting “Hang Mike Pence”). While all this was occurring, President Trump was at the White House filming a statement in which he called those participating “very special people” and saying he loved them.
Let’s be clear. This was not simply an attack on a building. It was an attack on our democracy incited by the President. The violence that we saw unfold was horrifying, terrifying, and ultimately un-American in that it was a direct attack on the will of American voters.
It was not an accident that this happened during the vote to certify the Electoral College. Indeed, the rioters made clear that they were there to try to prevent the certification and the peaceful transfer of power.
This goes against some foundational principles of our republic. In America, angry mobs don’t choose our president. Voters choose our president. In America, we have a peaceful transfer of power.
Once order was restored, something important happened. Congress returned to work. It certified the clear will of the American public in a free and fair election, that Joe Biden will become our nation’s 46th President on January 20.
That is what history will record as the events of January 6.
When the history books write about the failed insurrection of January 6, 2021, there is a threshold question that we must answer. What do we want the next paragraph to say?
I do not believe that the next paragraph should say that Congress did nothing and that there were no consequences for the violence or the actions that incited it. I do not want that next paragraph to say that Congress allowed the President the ability to use the remainder of his term in office to threaten our republic.
Throughout the day during the riot in the Capitol, I thought of my kiddos... and I have thought about them a lot in the aftermath of these events. I don’t want the lesson to my kids – or to any American – to be that actions like these are acceptable. That they can happen without consequence.
With that in mind, on January 7, I called upon the Vice President and Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and to remove Donald Trump from office. I did so because I believe the President to be manifestly unfit for office. I did so because I agree with retired U.S. Navy admiral and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen that Donald Trump is “not in a position to lead” and that “we need to act in a preventive way to prevent more from happening.” I made clear that if the Vice President failed to act, that I believed Congress should.
Earlier today, the House took up an article of impeachment seeking to remove the President from office on one count; incitement of insurrection. The article details how President Trump incited violence against the government of the United States. It details that Members of Congress had gathered to count the electoral votes that would make Joe Biden the official winner of the 2020 election. It states:
In the months preceding the Joint Session, President Trump repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the Presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials. Shortly before the Joint Session commenced, President Trump addressed a crowd at the Ellipse in Washington, DC. There, he reiterated his false claims that “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.” He also willfully made statements that, in context, encouraged – and foreseeably resulted in – lawless action at the Capitol, such as, “if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Thus incited by President Trump, members of the crowd he had addressed, in an attempt to, among other objectives, interfere with the Joint Session’s solemn constitutional duty to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential election, unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel, menaced Members of Congress, the Vice President, and Congressional personnel, and engaged in other violent, deadly, destructive and seditious acts.
President Trump’s conduct on January 6, 2021 followed his prior efforts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the 2020 Presidential election. Those prior efforts included a phone call on January 2, 2021, during which President Trump urged the secretary of state of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” enough votes to overturn the Georgia Presidential election results and threatened Secretary Raffensperger if he failed to do so.
In all this, President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law, Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.
As most people know, I did not come to Congress to impeach a president. I came to Congress because I want to provide more economic opportunity for the folks I represent and I want government to work better for them.
But the very first thing I do in this job is raise my right hand and swear an oath to uphold the constitution.
Specifically, that oath commits me to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
To me this boiled down to two simple questions: 1) Did the President commit an impeachable offense? And 2) Should he be removed from office?
In my view, there is no question that the President’s actions were impeachable. As my Republican colleague Adam Kinzinger has said, “If these actions – the Article II branch inciting a deadly insurrection against the Article I branch – are not worthy of impeachment, then what is an impeachable offense?”
Like many, I believe that the President should resign. Absent that, I believe Vice President Pence and the Cabinet should remove him. They have failed to uphold their oaths – but I will not fail to uphold mine. With that in mind, I voted to support the article of impeachment.
History will record that Donald Trump is one of only three presidents in our nation’s history to be impeached – and the only president to be impeached twice.
Folks have asked me a number of questions about what happens now. Will the Senate come into session to consider this issue? Will they convict or acquit the President?
Candidly, I do not know. I’m not a member of the Senate but, as a member of the House, I am committed to my oath of office.
Let me end this how I began... with Clio, the Muse of History, watching over the events in the Capitol.
When historians look back on the next few months, I hope they will record that leaders in our nation’s capital gave them cause for hope. That they worked to beat back a virus that has killed far too many of our fellow Americans. That they helped America recover from the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression. That they addressed big, generational challenges – like the climate crisis and racial injustice – that have been ignored for far too long. That they made reforms to our government to prevent corruption and self-dealing and the abuse of power.
And, perhaps most important, I am hopeful that historians will write that our leaders worked to bring our country together – to do, as Lincoln stated in his second inaugural address, “the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
I am committed to that cause. And, as always, I am honored to represent you.