President Trump violated his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States when he incited a seditious mob to attack the US Capitol as part of a failed attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. For this, Trump was impeached on Wednesday, by a 232-197 vote of the House of Representatives.
A House majority recognized the truth of the call to action by Representative Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who served as the lead manager for the second impeachment: “We have a solemn duty to protect our democracy and Constitution.”
But it was nowhere near the unanimous vote that it should have been.
Republican opponents of accountability refused on Wednesday to recognize Trump’s incitement to insurrection, echoed the president’s lies and conspiracy theories, and dismissed the impeachment vote as a “made-for-TV spectacle”—confirming the observation of Representative Maxine Waters that “the Republican Party is now the Trump Party.”
Wednesday’s urgent vote to impeach will not be met with equal urgency by the Senate. Just as Senate Republicans prevented Trump’s removal a year ago, every indication is that they are prepared to again thwart justice. Though he now criticizes the president he served so diligently over the past four years, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, on Wednesday rejected the urging of Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York, to call the Senate back into session for an immediate trial. Even if a trial of Trump were to occur after he leaves office on January 20, as is now proposed, there is scant evidence to suggest that the majority of Senate Republicans would be prepared to convict the 45th president and to bar him from seeking a new term as president in 2024.
Much was made on Wednesday of the handful of House Republicans who actually voted for impeachment. But only 10 Republican members—less than 5 percent of the party caucus—did the right thing.
Most Republicans refused to break with Trump. Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, the Judiciary Committee member who led the anti-impeachment forces on Wednesday, actually repeated the same outlandish claims about the 2020 election that Trump used to inflame the mob that a week earlier had marched on the Capitol. Jordan and his colleagues attacked Democrats who had supported Black Lives Matter demonstrations, who expressed legitimate concerns about past elections, and who voted to impeach Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors in 2019. North Carolina Republican Dan Bishop actually claimed that the impeachment resolution was “an incitement.”
An exasperated House Rules Committee chair, James McGovern of Massachusetts, responded that Jordan and his allies were still “coming up on this floor and talking about whataboutism and trying to make these false equivalencies. Give me a break.”
One of the few Republicans who did the right thing Wednesday, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, said before the vote, “There is no doubt in my mind that the President of the United States broke his oath of office and incited this insurrection.”
But Trump is not the only federal official who has violated an oath with scheming to prevent the certification of the election of President-elect Joe Biden. Nor is he the only official who should be held to account for deliberately lying to the American people, and for creating a climate where democracy was threatened and the governing of the nation was interrupted by violence.
Members of Congress began their terms on January 3 by swearing an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Within days of pledging to “bear true faith and allegiance” to that oath, however, dozens of those members embraced the agenda of a president who incited mobs to attack the Capitol in a violent attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
These are the facts of what happened on January 6.
Trump has been impeached, based on those facts. He should be removed. But what of the members of the House and the Senate who aligned with Trump? What of the members, like Alabama Republican Mo Brooks, who rallied the January 6 mob with the cry, “Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”
How will members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives—who respect their oaths of office respond to the actions of colleagues who aligned themselves with the agenda of the American fascists who stormed the Capitol?
Wednesday’s impeachment debate identified the violence on January 6 as “domestic terrorism” incited by Donald Trump, and Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar accurately described the attack as “a targeted blow at the most essential process that makes us a democracy.” But Trump had partners in his infamy. Representative Gwen Moore, of Wisconsin, reminds us that “the actions of these violent looters at the Capitol were incited by Donald Trump in concert with numerous of his close, radical, right-wing Republican friends.” That incitement did not end when forces loyal to the republic finally forced the mob out of the Capitol. On Wednesday evening, eight senators and 139 representatives voted to sustain one or both of the objections to the election results that were under consideration when the Trump supporters attacked.
“Amidst all this misinformation driven chaos, destruction and violence, and despite strong opposition from Senate Leader Mitch McConnell,” Moore said in a statement, “[the Republican senators and representatives] voted not to certify election results in an attempt to install Trump as America’s first non-democratically elected leader since the American Revolution.”
The eight Republican senators who voted to sustain objections were:
Tommy Tuberville of Alabama
Rick Scott of Florida
Roger Marshall of Kansas
John Kennedy of Louisiana
Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi
Josh Hawley of Missouri
Ted Cruz of Texas
Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming
In the House, 139 of 209 Republican members joined what is being referred to as “the sedition caucus.” Are they not as guilty as Trump?
The Call for Accountability
Last Friday, Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Patty Murray, of Washington, called on Hawley and Cruz to resign. Newspapers across the country have urged various senators and representatives to step down. Unfortunately, the members of “the sedition caucus” are no more likely to resign than is the president.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio went further. Arguing that Hawley and Cruz “have betrayed their oaths of office and abetted a violent insurrection on our democracy,” he called for their resignations. “If they do not resign, the Senate must expel them.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said the Senate Ethics Committee “must consider expulsion, or censure and punishment, of Senators Cruz, Hawley, and perhaps others.”
That is a bold demand, and one that will face pushback in a Congress where expulsions are rare and where there is always concern about partisan abuses of accountability processes.
Yet, history tells us that there are times when it is necessary to address threats to the Republic that are posed by those who have taken oaths to defend it.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution mandates, in Section 3:
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.
Section 5 of the amendment adds: “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
Missouri Representative Cori Bush, a newly elected Democrat who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, is now proposing “a resolution to investigate and expel the members who attempted to overturn the presidential election and incited a white supremacist coup attempt.”
Bush’s resolution directs the Committee on House Administration and the Committee on Ethics “to investigate, and issue a report on, whether those members of the House who have sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election have violated their oath of office to uphold the Constitution or the rules of the House of Representatives and should face sanction, including removal from the House of Representatives.”
Forty-seven members of the House—including newly elected Democrats such as New Yorkers Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones; senior members such as Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin; as well as “Squad” members Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan—have cosponsored Bush’s effort. Yet House leaders in both parties are cautious about sanctioning their own. Already, Republicans and some Democrats are peddling nonsense about the need to “heal”—as if healing can occur without accountability.
There will be suggestions that the Republicans who objected to the certification of 2020 election results last Wednesday, even after the deadly assault on the Capitol, were merely standing by their party’s president.
That’s an absurd defense.
As former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said a century ago, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.” Trump did not stand by the country; he harmed it, grievously, and he threatens to do more harm. On Wednesday, Cori Bush told the House that “the white supremacist president who incited a white supremacist riot” had to be held to account. She was right to say that. And she is right to say argue that every official who swore an oath to defend the Constitution and, instead, echoed and approved that president’s incitement to insurrection must also be held to account.