The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger: Impeaching Trump ‘was, frankly, an easy decision’

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger is a Republican from Illinois. (KK Ottesen/For The Washington Post)

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, 42, is a Republican from Illinois and a pilot in the Air National Guard. Previously he served in the Air Force in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. He recently launched Country First, a PAC to move the Republican Party away from the influence of former president Donald Trump.

You are one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump and the first Republican member of Congress to support invoking the 25th [Amendment] after the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol. Can you talk about what you were thinking when you made those decisions?

Basically, the second Donald Trump tweeted that this is what you get when you steal an election, two or three hours after the insurrection started, I realized he was just unfit to be president. He wasn’t even managing the federal government, wasn’t defending the Capitol. So that’s when I’m like, “Look, Dick Cheney becomes president for [two hours] because George W. [Bush] has to go under a colonoscopy, because it is that important to have somebody at the helm.” We [didn’t] have true leadership at the helm. So that was my decision with the 25th Amendment.

When impeachment came up, I didn’t think it was the best thing to do because I think it just gave Donald Trump an opportunity to be a victim, and he’s really good at being a victim. But I knew that if it was put in front of me, there was no choice. It was, frankly, an easy decision.

Did you think that more members would join you than did?

It just depends on what day you would ask. I thought we would have had more than 10 on the day of the impeachment. But a few days before, I would have been impressed with 10. Every day the waves were switching back and forth. I think if it was secret ballot, it’d have been a ton.

How do you explain the gap between members’ private opinions and public stances?

Political pressure. It’s fear of Donald Trump. Because there’s no doubt you’re not going to get through a primary having voted for impeachment without some hard work and explaining. To some extent — and I don’t blame anybody for their vote, unless they were intentionally misleading people — there was an argument to be made that if your district wants you to vote against the impeachment, you should vote against the impeachment. That is a legitimate position of the role of representation. But I think you were elected to be out here with judgment and you had to swear an oath to protect against foreign and domestic enemies. I mean, it’s reasonable to think that a domestic enemy could be from your district, too.

Even after the Jan. 6 attack, a majority of House Republicans voted to overturn election results later that very night. That’s a pretty large number — not just a fringe few. Was that a surprise to you? And did that vote change anything for you?

It was not [initially] a surprise, only because I’ve been here long enough to know what litmus tests for conservatism end up turning out to be, and how, in many cases, people will just vote a way because it’s the politically easiest way.

[But] after the insurrection, to still see the number on the second [objection] was more surprising and more angering than the first time. To come out of that and see people like Matt Gaetz [R-Fla.] on the floor blame antifa and that kind of stuff was actually very angering. And what it changed for me was realizing that, even in the face of something like January 6th, there was not going to be an organic awakening [in the party] to what was happening. It was going to take people being outspoken and telling the truth — and maybe at great cost.

How much do you think it is people actually believing the election was not legitimate?

I don’t think really there’s many people that believe that. A lot of them, it’s avoiding pain. The ones that kind of have kept their head down, it’s more a matter of: I’ll just do what I need to do to get through and hope that there’s an organic change to the party. But there’s a few I’d put in a little more of the exotic caucus in the Republican Party. For a lot of them it is an opportunity to fundraise and get famous immediately. Marjorie Taylor Greene — nobody knew her name until fairly recently. And now everybody does. So it’s the easy path. And you can be well loved in your base and secure your reelection for eternity. That, I think, is what drives at least a lot of the outspoken folks.

Do you think that fellow members who undermined the election results see a link between the delegitimizing of an election and then something like an insurrection? It’s basic political theory.

I just don’t know. I think, at the heart of it, they do. But I don’t know if anybody feels personal responsibility. I mean, it’s been disappointing to see the lack of self-reflection after this. But that may be a longer process than we thought. I think there will be self-reflection. I mean, the whole thing happened because people were delegitimizing government but, more important, accepting conspiracy theories that say the government is run by Satanists. And that’s got to change. You know, it’s not an irrational response to overthrow the government if you think Satan is running it.

It’s important for us to be clear-eyed and speak out about the darkness that has enveloped our party, or else, you know, there’s no reason to be out here fighting.

KK Ottesen is a regular contributor to the magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @kkOttesen. This interview has been edited and condensed.