The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Most House Republicans voted not to certify some election results. Democrats are still seething.

Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) resume presiding over a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 electoral college results on Jan. 6.
Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) resume presiding over a joint session of Congress to certify the 2020 electoral college results on Jan. 6. (Erin Schaf/Reuters)
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Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) has a routine when he is impressed by a first-term Republican during committee meetings.

“Hey, this is someone I should reach out to, figure out what their district is like, figure out areas that there’s overlap,” Auchincloss, first elected in November, says to himself.

After Googling the name, he does some quick research to see whether the House Republican voted on Jan. 6 against certifying President Biden’s victory in any states, as 139 did.

Far more often than not, he crosses that Republican off his list of potential partners. “I don’t have the willingness to forge political partnerships with people who voted to decertify the electoral results,” Auchincloss said.

Several Democratic lawmakers on Feb. 4 described their experiences during the violent siege of the U.S. Capitol in an effort to personalize the trauma. (Video: The Washington Post)

Almost two-thirds of the House GOP voted for one of the challenges to Biden’s wins in Arizona and Pennsylvania, even after the attack on the Capitol. Of the 41 freshman Republicans who voted that night, 31 opposed Biden’s victory in at least one state.

Other Democrats have voiced similar sentiments. The votes that followed the siege of the Capitol are a red line upon which they are basing their decisions on whom to work with from the other side of the aisle.

The issue is most acute for the freshmen, who were in their third full day in office Jan. 6 and had yet to build any alliances with Republicans. They had no trust, no mutual respect, no reservoir of personal goodwill from which to draw.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) slammed new House rules to install metal detectors in the Capitol, following the Jan. 6 riots. (Video: The Washington Post)

“You come here with an open heart and open mind,” said Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.), who won a comfortably Democratic seat outside Seattle. But, she said, “January 6th just changed everything.”

Some members of the 2020 Republican class want their counterparts to know the feeling is mutual. They believe that their challenge to last year’s election results was similar to four years ago when some House Democrats tried to object to Donald Trump’s victory in multiple states, and that they should not be lumped together with the violent mob that ransacked the Capitol.

“For them to suggest that challenging the results in 2021 was different, and then to accuse Republicans of somehow being complicit in the assault by others on the Capitol, I think is terribly disingenuous and dangerous to a cooperative spirit,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a staunch conservative who defeated a GOP incumbent before winning in November.

There were significant differences in the two certifications. Hillary Clinton accepted her defeat in the 2016 election and did not spend weeks calling for a mass protest at the Capitol. Then a small group of House Democrats objected to Trump’s victory in nine states, but no senator joined their effort. Vice President Biden, who presided over the Senate for the certification, quickly gaveled down the objections.

That certification debate ended in less than an hour — with no violence.

“That’s comparing a peanut to a watermelon,” Strickland said of Republicans who equate the two attempts to block certifications.

Tense partisan relations are now the new normal in Congress, driven by an era when partisan provocateurs draw more attention on social media and political cable news shows.

But every two years, a new crop of lawmakers arrives without ideological scar tissue and with a chance to forge some personal bonds with fellow freshmen on the other side of the aisle, setting the potential for future partnerships.

In normal times, the incoming lawmakers go through an orientation program that includes in-person meetings and dinners. They all stay at the same hotel near the Capitol, allowing for personal interaction in the restaurant, coffee shop and gym.

Freshman lawmakers also take part in retreats to places such as Harvard University or Williamsburg, getting them away from the hustle and bustle of Washington to further learn about Congress and each other.

“We got to drink together. We got to do those cool trips to Williamsburg and got into some arguments, which is healthy,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), part of the class of 2018, recalled of his early days. “And they just don’t get to do that.”

Indeed, they don’t.

The coronavirus pandemic turned the normal orientation upside down. In November and December, there were very few bipartisan, in-person huddles of the freshmen as part of social distancing protocols.

When they did get together, Democrats grew angry at some GOP counterparts for their refusal to wear masks. There were no out-of-town retreats.

When they took the oath of office on Jan. 3, many Democrats only knew the Republican freshmen through their social media presence, particularly Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

Their support of baseless claims and their devotion to guns drew plenty of early attention, and, as Democrats viewed it, they came to define the GOP freshman class.

And in recent days, Greene got into a personal dispute with Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.), a freshman whose office is directly across the hall. After the Georgia Republican tried to block consideration of legislation for gay and transgender rights, Newman posted a video of her planting the transgender flag in the hall so Greene “can look at it every time she opens her door.”

The GOP freshman responded by posting video of her hanging an anti-transgender sign outside her door so Newman — whose daughter is transgender — would see it.

The vast majority of new Republicans want to remain closely aligned with Trump, despite having never served with him, even after he encouraged the mob to march to the Capitol.

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), who won a GOP-held seat in 2018, said he still counts some Republicans from that class as friends and “potential partners” in legislation. But he drew a sharp contrast with the new Republicans.

“I’ll say this about the 2018 Republican freshman class: None of them tried to kill me or overthrow the United States government. So the only thing I could possibly have against them is an occasional disagreement,” Malinowski said.

Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) dismissed “asinine comments like I’m not going work with a Republican because of a vote” when she said Democrats attempted the same thing in 2017.

But Cammack, 33, said she has begun to build bonds with other younger Democrats, such as Rep. Sara Jacobs (Calif.), and that over time, some freshmen will build bonds.

“We’re slowly building those relationships,” she said. “It’s happening, it’s just not happening in the traditional ways that we’ve seen in years past, and that’s really because of covid.”

Auchincloss, 33, who served in the Marine Corps, said he is searching for millennial Republicans, particularly those who also served in the military, to work on national security issues — but, for now, he will use their Jan. 6 votes as a litmus test.

Strickland, 58, said she will not use those votes as a “scorecard” to determine how she will work with each Republican. But she also does not know how to respond when more senior lawmakers try to say that relationships will get better with time.

“When did any freshman class,” she said, “ever get attacked on the Capitol grounds and witness an insurrection?”

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