The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans who aren’t willing to act against sedition are complicit

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) speaks at a hearing on Capitol Hill last month. (Alex Wong/Pool via AP)

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) and NBC’s Chuck Todd had this exchange on “Meet the Press” on Sunday about the consequences Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) should face for fomenting the deadly mob that breached the Capitol last week:

TOOMEY: Look, I think the — they’re going to have a lot of soul searching to do. And the problem is they were complicit in the big lie, this lie that Donald Trump won the election in a landslide and it was all stolen. They compounded that with this notion that, somehow, this could all be reversed in the final moments of the congressional proceedings. So that’s going to be, that’s going to haunt them for a very long time.
TODD: I know you are a — not crazy about what you might consider overreach. Would it be overreach to kick either man [Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas] out of the Senate?
TOOMEY: I think so. I think they’re going to pay a very heavy price. What they did was, it was technically permissible under the Senate rules. Their voters will decide whether they get another term. And they’re both young enough men that I’m sure they would certainly like to do that. So I think it should be left to the voters of their state to decide what their fate is.

This is President Trump’s first impeachment all over again. “Yes, bad things were done,” Republicans such as Toomey acknowledged. “But let voters decide.”

No. Toomey was elected. He has the constitutional obligations to try to remove a president who subverts democracy. He has an obligation under the Constitution to, in appropriate circumstances, expel members by a two-thirds vote. He cannot shirk his duties as he did in acquitting Trump the first time. Why have impeachment and expulsion in the Constitution if the answer is: “Let the voters decide"? For goodness’ sake, he is not even running for reelection in 2022. I find it unfathomable that he remains so timid.

It is this sort of weakness — the failure to repudiate Trump years ago; the refusal to dump him in 2020; the silence, if not active support to overthrow the election — that defines the “good” Republicans. Not good enough. Inaction is complicity. Inaction allows Trump and lawmakers to escape accountability for their heinous actions.

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Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) took a stab at explaining Republicans’ moral weakness: He suggested on ABC’s “This Week” that “when it comes to members of Congress, they’re fearful of the reelection, they’re fearful for their safety. I mean, the number of death threats that have been thrown against people like me and, frankly, every member of Congress.” The former Air Force pilot added that “if you’re going to be fearful — just my humble opinion — if you’re going to be fearful in this job, it might not be right job for you at this moment in time.”

Another Republican, Sarah Isgur, a former spokeswoman for the Justice Department under Trump, explained on “This Week” how Republican senators such as Hawley and Cruz were clearly responsible for the monstrous events at the Capitol. “The senators knew better. These are some of the brightest legal minds in our country. They know the Constitution,” she said. “They practiced before the Supreme Court. They knew [lawsuits challenging the presidential election] were meritless from the beginning and they certainly knew it after judge after judge, after Trump-appointed judge said they were meritless.” She added: “Their stated objective was to undermine our democratic electoral process. That’s what’s unacceptable right at the beginning.” If only Republicans who knew this was wrong would show an ounce of courage, they could dispel the notion that the GOP is a party of authoritarian thugs, charlatans and cowards. But that would require actually doing something about Cruz and Hawley.

Let’s turn to Vice President Pence. While he is presently the target of Trump’s ire, he, too, has an obligation to act. Section 4 of the 25th Amendment provides, “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” Does Pence truly believe that a president who incited a riot, dragged his feet to delay telling mobs to leave the Capitol and then sent his “love” to his “very special” seditionists is able to discharge the duties of the office?

The 25th Amendment does not say “physically disabled” or even “afflicted by mental illness.” It says simply “unable to perform” duties. Trump’s incitement of an attack on the government and his unwillingness to categorically and immediately call for it to halt would certainly suggest he is “unable to perform” the job of president. Pence needs to perform his obligations. If necessary, he should publicly call on the Cabinet to provide the votes (eight of 15) needed to temporarily remove Trump. (Better yet, he can avoid the Cabinet and ask Congress to set up “such other body as Congress may by law provide.”) Why does he not act? Fear. Let the voters take care of it.

Few elected Republicans apparently have the nerve to perform their duties, if it involves annoying a president or their malicious colleagues, even when the offense is as great as Trump’s. When Republican colleagues, as Toomey admits, were “complicit in the big lie,” all they can do is shrug. Even when they can tell right from wrong and truth from wacko conspiracy theory, they lack the spine to do anything about it. In that case, Kinzinger is right: They have no business holding office.

I would also ask, given the combination of malicious seditionists and moral weaklings in the Republican Party, what is Kinzinger still doing there? The Democrats are a big-tent party, embracing everyone from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. If he cannot bring himself to join them, he should at least declare himself an independent. Maybe others would follow his example. But that would require they do something. Slim chance of that.

Read more:

James Downie: It’s still Donald Trump’s party

David Kendall: There’s no time to impeach Trump. Censure him instead.

Laurence H. Tribe and Joshua Matz: Yes, Congress should impeach Trump before he leaves office

E.J. Dionne: In the Capitol nightmare, democracy prevailed

Cori Bush: This is the America that Black people know

Fred Hiatt: Trump’s and Hawley’s free-speech rights are perfectly intact. But the senator has half a point.

Jennifer Rubin: For some Republicans, it’s time to head for the exits

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.