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Beyond Impeachment: Election Recriminations Continue Among Legislators

Around the country, legislators who backed the attempt to overturn the presidential election are being stripped of powerful posts. Some are seeking to adopt the mantle of political martyrs.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has been at the center of the state's battles over political divisions following Trumps defeat. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune)
Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune/Star T
Three important committees in the Georgia Senate — redistricting, transportation and insurance and labor — will have new chairs this year. It’s not due to retirement, turnover or term limits. Instead, three chairs were ousted from their positions by GOP Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan as punishment for their efforts to overturn the presidential vote in the state.

“Members of this body aided and abetted the spread of information,” said Democratic Sen. Jen Jordan. “They gave oxygen to a lie.”

Recriminations about the presidential election and its aftermath are continuing in states across the country. As in Georgia, legislators who questioned the result or participated in “stop the steal” or “storm the capitol” rallies have been stripped of committee posts and face calls for their expulsion. 

On Wednesday, the federal Department of Homeland Security issued a warning about a growing risk of attacks by “domestic violent extremists” angered by President Biden's inauguration and “perceived grievances fueled by false narratives.”

Legislators were already facing a tough year, between ongoing budget problems, the pandemic, redistricting and other issues. Their ability to do their jobs has been hampered by the coronavirus, which has forced many chambers to shut down or go virtual. Working conditions are not helped by concerns about safety — with nearly every state capitol closed or under heavy guard during the presidential inauguration.

Cooperation will be that much harder to come by, given the current level of acrimony. “How do we find common ground when we have people who won’t say the election was fair?” asked Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz

In Oregon, GOP state Rep. Mike Nearman has been stripped of his committee assignments as punishment for his actions on Dec. 21, when he allowed armed demonstrators into the Capitol who then clashed with police. Oregon’s Capitol has been closed to the public due to COVID-19.

A variety of progressive groups have called for Nearman’s expulsion, while Democratic Speaker Tina Kotek has said he should resign. 

“Rep. Nearman put every person in the capitol in serious danger,” Kotek said. “The consequences could have been much worse had law enforcement not stepped in so quickly.”

On Monday, the Minnesota House passed a resolution condemning violence and expressing support for democracy and the 2020 presidential election result. It was not unanimous, with eight representatives voting in opposition. Several legislators had participated in a St. Paul rally on Jan. 6, protesting the presidential result.

“The violence we witnessed in Washington, D.C., has no place in our nation, nor does the rhetoric that encouraged it, incited it, and celebrated it — including at an event at our state capitol,” said Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “The Republican members who attended this event must renounce the violent rhetoric used at the rally they attended and renounce the seditious rhetoric and insurrection that occurred in Washington, D.C.”

Some legislators who have questioned the results of the presidential vote are unrepentant, despite numerous court decisions and assurances from federal, state and local officials that the election was not marred by voter fraud. 

“I think it’s completely ridiculous,” Virginia GOP state Sen. Amanda Chase told WRIC, referring to a resolution to censure her for participating in a Jan. 6 rally and accusing her of instigating insurrection. “I think it’s political because I’m running for governor.”

  Amanda Chase (TNS)

Democrats have indeed highlighted infractions. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has launched a website called “Meet the 508 and counting Republican state legislators who aided and abetted a movement to overthrow our democracy and hand Donald Trump another four years in the White House,” the site states. 

Republicans have objected to the heated language directed their way. Some have said that while they denounce political violence, they support the right to protest and note that constituents continue to question the presidential outcome, despite the lack of evidence of fraud. (A Monmouth poll released Monday found that 72 percent of Republicans believe Biden’s win was due to voter fraud.) Many also point out that racial justice protests also on occasion led to violence over the past year. 

“We call on (Minnesota Democratic Party chair) @kenmartin73 to apologize for this quote: ‘You're either on the side of Nazis, white supremacists & far-right groups, or you're on the side of democracy, liberty, freedom and our Constitution,’” tweeted Minnesota GOP Chair Jennifer Carnahan. “Language like this does nothing but create division and flame tensions.”

Democratic lawmakers insist they must question whether some of their colleagues hold the same views about basic questions of democracy and public safety. 

“The fact of the matter is a president that your caucus fully supported asked for a rebellion against the United States,” Walz, the Minnesota governor, said during an online panel with top legislative leaders. “But we’d rather do both sides-ism.”

Stripping Legislators of Power

In some cases, the legislators being punished were already on the outs with leadership. Burt Jones, one of the Georgia senators stripped of a chairmanship, had challenged Butch Miller for the post of Senate president pro tem last year. Another, Brandon Beach, backed Jones’ bid.

Chase, the Virginia senator, quit the Senate Republican Caucus back in 2019, in the wake of a leadership election. No Republican objected when she was stripped this month of her last committee assignment. She was censured by the Virginia Senate on Wednesday, by a 24-9 vote.

Chase confronted a Virginia capitol police officer in 2019 and spoke at Trump’s rally near the White House on Jan. 6. Chase had her Facebook account suspended after she praised the rioters as patriots. She had earlier called for Trump to declare martial law. 

On Jan. 5, three Virginia GOP delegates wrote to Vice President Mike Pence, calling on him to nullify the state’s electoral vote. They have been stripped of their committee assignments. One of them, state Rep. David LaRock, told the Washington Post he is considering legal action.

“If I had been taken off the committee and given no reason, that would be within her power,” LaRock said, referring to Democratic Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. “Being removed from a committee as retaliation for exercising my freedom of expression… is an abuse of power.”

GOP’s Internal Divisions

The attempted coup has exposed deep divisions within the Republican Party. 

Last Saturday, the Arizona Republican Party approved a resolution condemning Gov. Doug Ducey, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain, for critiquing Trump or, in Ducey’s case, not blocking certification of the state’s vote for Biden.

That same day, the Oregon Republican Party passed a resolution condemning the 10 GOP members of Congress who voted for impeachment, while claiming that the Jan. 6 attack on Congress was a “false flag” perpetrated by leftists attempting to make Trump and his supporters look bad. 

Republicans who voted for impeachment, such as Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Fred Upton of Michigan, have been formally condemned by their state or local parties. An effort to condemn Sen. Mitch McConnell, who said Trump “provoked” the Capitol Hill mob, was blocked by his allies in the Kentucky Republican Party.

A number of major corporations have announced they’ll withhold political donations from politicians who objected to certifying the presidential election result or otherwise backed the false claims that the election was stolen.

In Texas, a coalition of progressive groups have called for lawmakers who voted against certifying the election to resign, along with state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who spoke at the Jan. 6 rally and filed a lawsuit seeking to dismiss the presidential vote in four states. (His suit was immediately dismissed by the Supreme Court.) 

“This is about the foundation of our democracy,” Candice Matthews of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats told the Houston Chronicle. “If we sanction these traitors to go back to work and normalize this behavior, we will never get past what happened on January 6.”

Some Republicans who have been accused of undermining democracy have sought to portray themselves as martyrs. 

“My press release was issued to address the leftist lying attack that claimed they had a picture of me at the U.S. Capitol,” Pennsylvania GOP state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe complained on Facebook. “Listen up patriots, this is not the time for unity with those who want to destroy America.”

Anyone who thought that the threat posed by the attack on Congress might help cool partisan tempers has been quickly disabused.

Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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