Editorial: Don’t let the appalling mob attack on the Capitol obscure the GOP’s shameful enabling
There are many ways to describe the disturbing and heartbreaking events at the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday — a riot, an insurrection, a tragedy, an attempted coup — but one thing that cannot honestly be said is that they were a surprise.
Desperate to retain power, President Trump and his feckless Republican allies have spent weeks planting and nurturing doubts about what may be the most important American institution, its system of elections. Their baseless allegations of widespread fraud and unconstitutional voting procedures, combined with Trump’s call for his followers to take their grievances to Washington, practically pushed his extremist base over the Capitol Police barricades and through the Capitol doors.
With only two weeks left in Trump’s misbegotten tenure, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to call him to account in the only meaningful way the Constitution provides, which would be to impeach him again. Instead, we must simply count on Congress and responsible members of the current administration to prevent him from doing any more damage before he slinks out of town for good.
As appalling as the pro-Trump rioters’ actions were, they shouldn’t obscure the shameful behavior by many Republicans inside the House and Senate chambers when lawmakers met to count the votes of the electoral college and confirm that Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.
Wednesday’s joint session should have been brief. Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), clearly won the election, and their electoral votes were duly certified by state officials. Court after court rejected attempts to overturn the will of the voters. Yet Trump refused to accept reality and instead spread conspiracy theories about a rigged election.
Those falsehoods, repeated by Trump Wednesday in incendiary remarks to supporters, motivated the ugly mob that laid siege to Congress. But they also are the source of the absurd and ultimately futile attempt by some Republican members of Congress to reverse the election results by challenging the electors from several states won by Biden.
While some conspiracy-minded Republicans put forward wild and unsubstantiated claims about epic-scale voter fraud, the heart of the Republicans’ case was that the results were invalidated by allegedly unlawful changes in certain states’ voting procedures — changes that enabled more people of all political persuasions to vote during the pandemic, and which have since been upheld by the courts. Offering novel and at times ludicrous interpretations of the Constitution, these Republicans contended that the changes were designed to flood the polls with Democratic votes.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may have been tardy in acknowledging Biden’s victory, but he delivered a succinct and stinging indictment of the efforts by some of his colleagues to try to thwart the voters’ will.
McConnell said that “nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale — the massive scale — that would have tipped the entire election. Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break, when the doubt itself was incited without any evidence. The Constitution gives us here in Congress a limited role. We cannot simply declare ourselves a national board of elections on steroids. The voters, the courts and the states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our republic forever.”
Sadly, that damage may already have been done. And despite the horrifying scenes at the Capitol and the violence that claimed the life of at least one of the people who stormed the building, Trump was unrepentant. In a video message supposedly intended to quell the uprising and clear the area, Trump kept stirring the pot, claiming again and again that Democrats had “stolen” the election from him. It was so beyond the pale, even Twitter and Facebook (which typically tolerate Trump’s incitements) took it down.
Members of Trump’s Cabinet would be well within their rights at this point to consider invoking the 25th Amendment to remove an unhinged and reckless Trump from power. Alternatively, they could disavow his actions by resigning en masse.
Incredibly, after the tear gas cleared and the Capitol was secured, some Republicans continued to pursue their effort to keep Trump in office. But the violence caused at least some of those who had cynically and irresponsibly objected to the electoral college results to examine their conscience.
Even if things had proceeded peacefully, the attempt to have Congress override the will of the voters was an outrage that could haunt the country in future elections. Those who participated in it in an attempt to curry favor with Trump and his supporters should hang their heads in shame.
The president has committed an unforgivable, and indefensible, act in urging his supporters to march on the Capitol. It cries out for consequences, even if the clock on Trump’s tenure is finally running out.
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