As the riot at the Capitol began, no elected official in the Republican Party was under any obvious delusions about the cause. Even staunch allies of President Donald Trump such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) reached out to the White House in an effort to quell the unrest: “Please tell the President to calm people,” she wrote in a text message to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “This isn’t the way to solve anything.”
But even before the rioters were cleared from the building, the day’s events were being recast as something other than what they obviously were. Greene followed up in another message to Meadows: Maybe the rioters were antifa? A few hours after that, in a building with freshly broken windows, Congress had its first chance to rebuke Trump by rejecting his calls for denying electoral votes cast by the states of Arizona and Pennsylvania.
A majority of House Republicans and a handful of Republicans in the Senate instead chose to side with Trump and the rioters.
That has been the pattern since. Of the 256 Republicans currently serving in the House and Senate who were seated in Congress for at least one key vote offering a chance to hold Trump to account, 249 of them have on at least one occasion declined to do so. Meaning that only seven Republicans have consistently demonstrated interest in leveraging their institutional power against Trump’s effort to seize a second term in office.
More of those Republicans serve in the Senate. Of the chamber’s 50 Republicans, eight voted to reject the slate of electors submitted by Arizona or Pennsylvania in the wake of the Capitol riot, choosing to amplify the false idea that there was something suspect about the election. When Trump was impeached by the House for his role in the riot, most Republican senators declined to convict him.
A few months later came the final — and one would think easiest — test: a vote to form a bipartisan commission that would probe the causes of the riot. Only six Republicans chose to support that effort. It failed to overcome a filibuster.
We can break out those votes into a Venn diagram. There were eight senators who sided with Trump each time: rejecting electors, opposing conviction and opposing the formation of a commission. Those were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.). Five of them (Cruz, Hawley, Lummis, Scott and Tuberville) are among the most conservative fourth of congressional Republicans. None is among the least conservative fourth.
An additional 34 senators chose not to reject electors — but declined to convict Trump in his impeachment trial and opposed the formation of that bipartisan commission.
The five senators who rejected each of these efforts? Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). Three of those five are among the least conservative fourth of Hill Republicans.
As you will notice, nearly twice as many senators sided with Trump all three times than rejected Trump on each occasion. That’s an unfavorable ratio for efforts to hold Trump to account — but it could be worse.
It could be the House.
On the other side of the Capitol, legislators had the same three opportunities — though after the bipartisan commission was rejected, the investigatory vote in the House centered on the creation of the House select committee. Of the currently serving representatives who were seated for one of those votes, 132 voted to reject at least one slate of electors, to oppose Trump’s impeachment and to block the formation of the committee.
Only two Republicans — Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) — chose to take the position in opposition to Trump on all three occasions. That’s a 66 to 1 ratio.
This is useful to consider in light of the committee’s ongoing work. Over the course of six public hearings, it has offered robust evidence and testimony delineating not only how Trump tried to block Joe Biden’s inauguration but, in Tuesday’s hearing, the extent of awareness that Jan. 6 might become violent. Violence that followed months of Trump making dishonest claims about election security and weeks of calls for people to come to Washington.
Yet despite what was known even on Jan. 6 itself, only seven of the 256 Republicans in the House and Senate who were given a chance to hold Trump accountable consistently chose to do so.