When House impeachment managers made the case for convicting former president Donald Trump on charges of inciting the January 6 insurrection, some of the most compelling arguments came from Republicans. “Current and former officials immediately recognized that the president had incited the crowd, that he alone was capable of stopping the violence, that he did this and he had to call it off because he was the only one who could,” explained one of the managers, Representative Joe Neguse (D-Col.) as he showed members of the Senate clips of prominent Republicans pleading with Trump to call off the violent mob that stormed the Capitol after the president urged them to “fight like hell” against certification of 2020 election results.
The star of the montage, and of a presentation by another manager, Texas Representative Joaquin Castro, was Wisconsin Representative Mike Gallagher, an ambitious young Republican who on January 6 used social media and a dramatic cable news appearance to speak directly to Trump. “Mr. President. You have got to stop this. You are the only person who can call this off. Call it off,” the congressman declared, in a video posted from his Capitol Hill office. “The election is over. Call it off. This is bigger than you. It is bigger than any member of Congress. It is about the United States of America, which is more important than any politician.” Later, Gallagher appeared on CNN, called the rioting “insane,” compared it to violence he’d seen in Iraq, and announced that “the President needs to call it off.”
Gallagher’s profile rose in the aftermath of the January 6 attack, as he told of how he had barricaded his House office and taken a Marine sword from the wall because “it seemed the most practical weapon with which I could defend myself, if it came to that.” Editorials hailed him for what was seen as a politically courageous rebuke to his own party’s president. Talk about Gallagher as a gubernatorial prospect, or a possible successor to US Senator Ron Johnson—should the conspiracy-theory peddling Republican chose to stand down in 2022—amplified in Wisconsin and nationally.
Here, it seemed, was a strong, sensible Republican with the political courage to stand up to Trump and steer the Republican Party away from the Big Lie.
Yet, four months after the attack, as the time nears for decisions about seeking higher office, Gallagher’s political courage has failed him.
On Wednesday, when the House voted on setting up a national commission to investigate the January 6 violence, dozens of Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the move. They responded to a call from New York Representative John Katko, a Republican co-author of the legislation, who urged “all members, Republicans and Democrats alike, to put down their swords for once, just for once, and support this bill.” The 35 Republicans who voted for a commission broke with Trump and GOP leaders to assure that the House would provide a resounding 252-175 endorsement of the inquiry—sending an important message regarding the legitimacy of a bipartisan investigation modeled on the review of the 9/11 attacks two decades ago. Considering the punishing nature of the House Republican Caucus, which just days ago removed Wyoming representative Liz Cheney from a leadership post for crossing Trump and rejecting the lies about who won the 2020 election, those were courageous votes. They came from Republicans who had supported impeaching Trump, such as Cheney and Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, and from impeachment foes, such as South Dakota’s Dusty Johnson and Indiana’s Trey Hollingsworth.
Yet Gallagher opposed creating the commission, in a failure of political nerve that led “Never Trump” conservative commentator Charlie Sykes, a fellow Wisconsinite, to observe, “One-time rising stars continue to debase themselves.… Cowardice is contagious.”
For Gallagher, the vote for the commission should have been easy. He rejected the Big Lie on January 6 when, after calling out Trump, he voted to certify Electoral College results that made Joe Biden the nation’s 46th president. In the days that followed, as he was accepting accolades for his statements on the day of the attack, Gallagher supported calls for censuring Trump. “Let’s be candid,” he declared. “President Donald Trump bears responsibility for the tragic events of Jan. 6.” Gallagher did not support impeachment, arguing in a long and somewhat tortured statement that “it will simply feed a cycle of enmity and polarization, which is already spiraling further out of control, chilling speech and silencing debate. We must break that cycle, whatever the cost to our own careers and however unsatisfying to our own sense of anger and outrage.”
To address that enmity, Gallagher argued in that January statement, members of Congress needed to stop playing “fruitless games” and recognize, “It is a time for honesty.”
The American people do not trust us.
We need to earn back their trust. The American people demand accountability. They especially cry out for justice for Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was beaten to death by members of the insurrectionist crowd.
To give them justice, let us start by telling the truth. Why was security at the Capitol so light? Why did it take so long to call out the National Guard? What happened to the chain of command? Did anyone in the White House speak to participants in the riot? If so, who and when and to what ends? What did the president say and do during the multi-hour gap between his speech and his tweets telling the rioters to go home? The American people want to know the real answers to these questions. They deserve to know.
In January, Gallagher acknowledged that truth-seeking was necessary.
By May, things had changed. After the dismissal of Cheney made it clear that Trump and the Big Liars retained influence over who might rise or fall in the GOP, the politically ambitious representative voted to block a bipartisan inquiry.
If Mike Gallagher wants to know why the American people do not trust members of Congress, he need look no further than his own mirror.