The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans responsible for sedition now want ‘unity’

Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Ted Cruz of Texas speak during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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The extent of the attack on the Capitol is still unknown. We continue to get reports that the potential for a mass-casualty event was higher than initially understood. “An Alabama man allegedly parked a pickup truck packed with 11 homemade bombs, an assault rifle and a handgun two blocks from the US Capitol building on Wednesday for hours before authorities ever noticed, according to federal prosecutors,” CNN reported. “Another man allegedly showed up in the nation’s capital with an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition and told acquaintances that he wanted to shoot or run over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, prosecutors said.”

Other reports indicate that some members of the mob were out to assassinate Vice President Pence. Harrowing tales from lawmakers such as Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s aides highlight the trauma the Trump-inspired mob inflicted on lawmakers and their staff members.

We are talking about domestic terrorism, which the FBI defines as “the unlawful use, or threatened use, of violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States (or its territories) without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Shouldn’t any politician who exhorted them to march to the Capitol (as President Trump did) or supplied the propaganda that motivated them (as numerous Republican lawmakers did) forfeit their office?

Yet Trump, who triggered the attack by instructing the mob to march to the Capitol, remains president; Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who continued to pursue the mob’s demand to overturn the election, remain in the Senate.

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How can this be? As for the Senate, former prosecutor Joyce White Vance explains:

In Congress, parliamentary rules require that members use circumspect language to sidestep criticism. Lies are not called out directly. Pointed accusations of serious offenses would be an almost unthinkable departure from traditional rules designed to promote civility and cooperation. But we cannot afford those niceties right now, because we’ve been attacked.

Even worse, the same Republicans who pushed the lies that President-elect Joe Biden did not win now demand Democrats refrain from impeaching Trump for the sake of “unity.” Impeachment would be divisive, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) argue. Keeping in place the instigator of the mob attack, I suppose, is supposed to be healing. If there is to be any reconciliation, it comes from the party’s complete repudiation of the lies about fraud and ejecting members who rode this wave all the way until Jan. 6.

Even now, the seditionists in Congress cannot denounce a president whose actions threatened the lives of their co-workers and staff. Neither they nor the Republican Senate ringleaders Hawley and Cruz express any remorse for spreading the Big Lie that the election was stolen and continuing to seek to overthrow the elected government. Their demand that we not respond to sedition is madness, and if we accept this rubbish, we have lost our moral bearings.

Cruz was front and center leading the seditionists’ crusade to prevent the elected president from assuming office. Cruz offered to litigate the specious lawsuit filed by 18 state attorneys general seeking to disenfranchise voters from other states if it had reached the Supreme Court. He repeatedly argued that there had been “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud.” He disingenuously cited the “deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country.” He knew full well the allegations were baseless, concocted by Trump and reinforced by him and his colleagues. Some of those people with “deep, deep” distrust launched the attack for which Cruz denies any responsibility.

Amanda Carpenter, former communications director for Cruz, spoke more in sadness than in anger in an interview with CNN. “It is so horrifying to watch someone descend into this and not be able to admit what happened when you worked for him and you believed in him,” Carpenter said. She offered the most credible diagnosis of his behavior I have heard: “I can surmise he thinks he’s a smart lawyer who can parse his way out of it, and in his mind he has some kind of rationale but that’s just not believable.” Cruz promulgated the lie that drove rioters into the Capitol, resulting in five deaths. After that attack, Cruz still insisted on playing to that mob by continuing with his utterly spurious objections. And now he accuses Democrats of being divisive.

So, no, lawmakers who voted to overturn an election do not get to lecture on unity. Nor do they have any right to remain on private actors’ media platforms. Journalists bemoaning Trump’s exile from social media and Hawley’s loss of a book deal fail to appreciate that publishers and social media cannot be commanded to promulgate others’ messages. The same crowd insisting that bakers cannot be forced to make gay couples’ wedding cakes should understand that private actors such as Twitter and Simon & Schuster enjoy First Amendment rights and freedom of conscience. Rather than tell them that they must carry seditionists’ messages, patriotic Americans should applaud these companies for taking a stance against those who threatened lawmakers’ lives and tried to topple an election.

Senators should consider not only the damage Cruz and Hawley have already wrought but also their collective refusal to renounce claims of fraud. They should take up the ultimate sanction: expulsion for Hawley and Cruz. The House should also toss out McCarthy and Scalise, enthusiastic participants in the effort to substitute Trump for the duly elected president.

What would be unifying at this point would be a unanimous vote on Trump’s impeachment and removal, followed by expulsion from Congress of the primary instigators of the bad-faith objections to the election. The only basis for unity is reaffirmation of the truth and banishment of the seditionists.

The U.S. is more politically polarized than ever. The Post’s Kate Woodsome asks experts what drives political sectarianism — and what we can do about it. (Video: The Washington Post)

Read more:

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

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

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

David E. 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