January 25, 2021

Politics and Commentary News Aggregator

The Mob Is Gone, but the Crisis of the Republican Party Has Only Begun

8 min read

Just after 1:30 a.m. on Thursday, Representative Conor Lamb, Democrat of western Pennsylvania, rose on the floor of the House to defend the franchise of the people in his state. Even at that late hour, and even after a Trumpist mob urged on by the President had attacked the Capitol, a group of Republican House members, joined by Senator Josh Hawley, of Missouri, was trying to get the state’s electoral votes thrown out. Their objections, Lamb said, “don’t deserve an ounce of respect—not an ounce.” His colleagues, he said, had to be clear about what had happened that day: “Invaders came in for the first time since the war of 1812. They desecrated these halls.” And, he added, “for the most part, they walked in here free. A lot of them walked out free. And there wasn’t a person watching at home who didn’t know why that was: because of the way that they look.”

Lamb was referring to the apparent leniency that the mostly white mob had been afforded by law-enforcement officers in the course of an attempt to violently undo the election. Many of the Trumpists had displayed, for the cameras, a thuggish air of territorialism, as if it hadn’t occurred to them that battering through the windows of the Capitol; assaulting police officers; trying to hunt down the Vice-President, Mike Pence; physically threatening legislators; or vandalizing the Speaker’s office might carry with it legal liability. It’s not known how many may have had guns or other weapons. There had been no effective effort to repel them and, in the immediate wake, few arrests. (A woman died after being shot by the Capitol Police; three people died of what authorities described as medical emergencies.) Those circumstances will require an urgent and profound inquiry in the days to come—how much is attributable to a security failure, to the mis-deployment of law-enforcement, to a sense of impunity encouraged by Donald Trump, to a strain of violence in our political culture, or to, as Lamb suggested, racism? (Some of the rioters carried Confederate and white-supremacist symbols, as well as “TRUMP” flags.) But the immediate reaction to Lamb’s words was a low rumble of voices from the Republican side of the aisle.

Lamb, who had earlier debunked the conspiracy theories that Trump has pushed about the Pennsylvania vote, continued, “We know that that attack today, it didn’t materialize out of nowhere. It was inspired by lies, the same lies that you’re hearing in this room tonight. And the members who are repeating those lies should be ashamed of themselves; their constituents should be ashamed of them.” As he continued speaking, the Republican hubbub grew. “Point of order,” Representative Morgan Griffith, of Virginia, said, after Lamb got a few more sentences out. “The gentleman said that there were lies, on this floor, here today, looking over in this direction. I ask that those words be taken down!”

Members of Congress are not supposed to insult one another directly, but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who was presiding, said that the complaint had come too late. (She added that she had been called the same thing on the floor.) Griffith and his cohort continued to try to shout down Lamb; as so often with Trump’s allies, they appeared to imagine that they were the real victims. In an instant, members on both sides were leaving their seats in what became a near skirmish, before Pelosi restored order. Perhaps the events of the day had left some Republicans chastened—but not all of them. “The truth hurts,” Lamb said. “But the fact is this: we want this government to work more than they want it to fail.”

All the elements that Lamb cited—the lies, the shame, the failure, and the determination to make our democracy work—had been on display in the preceding hours. It was a remarkable relief that, after such a tumultuous, bitter, dangerous day (chronicled by my colleagues John Cassidy, Evan Osnos, Susan Glasser, Masha Gessen, and Vinson Cunningham), both houses of Congress had reassembled in the same chambers to get the job of counting the electors done. If those halls had been desecrated, they were also, in part, reconsecrated. A little after 3:30 A.M., the electors for Wyoming, the final state alphabetically, were added to the tally, and, with that, the last box was checked in certifying Joe Biden’s victory. Pence and the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, had broken with Trump on the question of whether he could stage a coup, if on nothing else. But there was no instant great awakening on the part of the Republican caucus. In the late-night session, the Party’s pathologies and Trumpist distortions were still present.

Before the storming of the Capitol, thirteen Republican senators had said that they planned to object to the electors of various states, as did some hundred and forty representatives. Senator James Lankford, of Oklahoma, was in the middle of a speech urging the disenfranchisement of Arizona’s voters, when the senators were told that the rioters were in the building. By the time that he and his colleagues returned, he had decided to withdraw his objection. But six senators—Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Cindy Hyde-Smith, John Kennedy, Roger Marshall, and Tommy Tuberville—still voted to reject Arizona’s electors and thus disenfranchise the state’s voters. (Before the assault on the Capitol began, Hawley had greeted the gathering mob with a fist-in-the-air salute.) So did a hundred and twenty-one representatives—a majority of the Republican caucus in the House.

The debate on Arizona, when it resumed, became a venue for senators to also address the violence. Michael Bennet, of Colorado, invoked the fall of the Roman Republic, with “armed gangs” who “ran through the streets,” and asked that the election results be received with “the biggest bipartisan vote we can.” He added, “Every single member of this Senate knows this election wasn’t stolen.” Dick Durbin, of Illinois, remembered Abraham Lincoln’s struggles, and his victories. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, noted that both during the War of 1812 and this week, the forces attacking the capital were “waving flags to a sole sovereign”—one a British King and the other an American President who has forgotten what the limits on that office are, and has built a cult of personality.

Ron Wyden, of Oregon, called the mob “domestic terrorists” and noted that “Donald Trump can do enormous damage to our country in the next two weeks”—as, indeed, he can. Wyden said that the use of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to remove a President who has become incapable of doing his job was being discussed, in some circles, in earnest. (There are reports that those talks are taking place within the Administration; some mid-level officials have already resigned. On Thursday morning, Trump said in a statement that there would be an “orderly transition” but continued to claim fraud.) Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, a combat veteran, described her shock at witnessing a domestic coup attempt. She said that she wasn’t asking her Republican colleagues for any “grand gesture”—she was just asking them not to sacrifice American democracy to protect Trump’s “porcelain ego.”

Those were the Democrats. On the Republican side, the responses to the attack ranged widely. Senator Mitt Romney said that he had been “shaken to the core” by what he called an “insurrection.” He bluntly told his fellow-Republicans that if they objected to the electors they would be complicit, and that “the best way we can show respect for the voters who were upset is by telling them the truth; the truth is that President-elect Biden won the election; President Trump lost.” Mike Lee said that he had struggled with the decision, but wouldn’t object. Marco Rubio thought that politics had made “everybody” crazy—an abdication of both personal and partisan responsibility. Pat Toomey defended the election’s integrity, while assuring those listening to his speech that he had voted for Trump and had hoped that he’d win. Senator Lindsey Graham embarked on a freewheeling ship-jumping riff: “All I can say is count me out”—out of the coup attempt, presumably—“enough is enough, I’ve tried to be helpful.” He has indeed tried—to be helpful to Trump, including by stoking his efforts to undermine confidence in the election result and even donating money for the President’s legal challenges.

It is, obviously, a good thing that Graham has had enough, that Pence did not try to rip up the electoral certifications, and that McConnell worked with Democratic leaders to quickly reconvene Congress and condemned what he called “this failed insurrection.” But they all supported Trump for far too long; their subservience has been pathetic, and they cannot be surprised by where Trump has taken them and the country. He has been openly calling for the sort of attempted putsch that we witnessed on Wednesday. He reportedly had to be pushed to tell the rioters to leave, and only did so in ambiguous statements that mixed incitement with an expression of love for them. What has changed is that Trump is now clearly on the losing side, and McConnell and Graham know it.

Other Republicans still haven’t given up. Over in the House, Matt Gaetz, of Florida, babbled about how “some pretty compelling evidence from a facial-recognition company” showed that people in the mob weren’t Trump supporters at all but “members of the violent terrorist group Antifa.” There had been some hope that the congressional Trumpists would not press on with objections about other states. (An objection requires the signature of at least one representative and one senator, and triggers two hours of debate.) Senator Kelly Loeffler, of Georgia, who lost her reëlection bid on Tuesday, announced that she would withdraw her objection to her state’s tally. And, when the conspiracy-minded Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, also of Georgia, lodged her objection to Michigan’s electors, she got no senatorial takers. But, after midnight, Hawley signed on for Pennsylvania. That meant another two-hour debate for his colleagues, many of whom had earlier been forced to barricade themselves in safe rooms or behind furniture. (Grace Meng, of New York, told CNN that she texted her family goodbye, thinking that she might not survive; other legislators had similar stories.)

Amy Davidson Sorkin


2021-01-07 12:40:36


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