Senators and House members who brought spurious objections to Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes after an angry mob seeking to upend our democracy stormed through the Capitol bear a heavy burden to explain their conduct.

Sadly, a significant number of House and Senate members appear dim and perhaps were led astray by more mendacious members. But many — for example, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — are not dumb. They knew the objections were baseless. They saw the violent results triggered by disinformation, yet they doubled down on Republicans’ sedition.

While many Republicans denounced the violence, pointed to President Trump as the instigator and decried their colleagues’ refusal to level with voters, they so far show no sign of willingness to censure their colleagues or to end their membership in the Republican caucus.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) had this to say:

I contacted his office inquiring as to whether fellow Republicans should be disciplined. I got no response. I made the same inquiry of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who even suggested the 25th Amendment would be appropriate to invoke against the president. No response. I received no answers from Republican Sens. Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) or Ben Sasse (Neb.). The office of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) referred to his remarks criticizing those who gave false hope to their supporters that the election results could be overturned but would not comment on possible sanctions.

The question remains: What is to stop seditious congressmen and senators from repeating this attack on democracy either in the next couple of years or in a subsequent election? The House and Senate each has ethics rules. The purpose of these is to deter bad conduct, discipline offenders and, if needed, expel members for particularly egregious conduct. It makes a mockery of those rules to say that misallocating funds to decorate your office, for example, is punishable, but seeking to undo an election and inciting rioters are not.

Each chamber can enact a simple rule: “No member shall retain a seat if he or she endeavors to overthrow the results of an election, file frivolous lawsuits seeking to do the same or seek to pressure any election official to change the results of an election.” In addition, “No member shall incite domestic terrorists verbally or by gesture.”

Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) on Jan. 7, blamed the Republican party's baseless election objections for inciting the assault on the Capitol. (The Washington Post)

Such rules would not run afoul of members’ First Amendment rights; instead, they recognize that the privilege of holding a seat in Congress comes with responsibilities. The bare minimum of those responsibilities involves refusal to participate in delegitimization of an election by perpetuating a nonstop stream of disinformation.

In addition, I want to highlight four Republicans who voted with the seditionists: Reps. Mike Bost (Ill.), Bill Johnson (Ohio), Dan Meuser (Pa.) and Lloyd Smucker (Pa.). (Smucker and Meuser even voted to disenfranchise their own state.) These are members of the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus. This group was founded specifically to oppose rank partisanship and support reasonable debate and bipartisan governance. Their actions turn that group into a fraud and a joke. They should be expelled from that caucus; if not, it should be disbanded.

Every Republican bears a responsibility for what happened on Wednesday, whether or not they participated in a seditious attempt to overthrow our democracy. In the House, they voted for leaders who participated in sedition. They continue to caucus with the perpetrators of a great assault on our democracy. It is now up to Republicans to dissociate themselves from these members of their party. Expulsion or at least censure and loss of committee seats is necessary to underscore the depth of their offense. If they fail to do so, they will ratify their fellow Republicans’ behavior.

Democrats have an obligation here as well. They must confront their Republican “colleagues” and summon the nerve to take disciplinary action against them. It may not be pleasant, but it is a defining moment for them as well.

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