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Republicans eager to subvert the 2020 election last week now insist the time has come for unity

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/13/2021 Philip Bump
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By about 8 p.m. on Jan. 6, the United States Capitol was once again safe for members of Congress. The violent mob which had overrun the building earlier in the day had been cleared out, leaving behind a wake of destruction and terror that still linger.

Congressional leaders chose to respond to those actions by getting back to their work, demonstrating their resilience by treating the attempted insurrection as an interruption, not an obstacle. Within short order, both the House and the Senate responded to the effort to block the counting of the electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election by resuming that count.

And just as quickly, more than 140 Republicans in the House and Senate chose to object to the results of the vote in Arizona and Pennsylvania in a futile effort to accomplish precisely what the mob wanted: slowing or halting the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

In the days that followed, both Democrats and some Republicans realized that the actions of the mob stemmed almost entirely from the rhetoric of President Trump himself. His weeks of denial about the election results prompted the protests in Washington, and his demand that they fight against Congress on the morning of Jan. 6 found a receptive audience.

But what those critics of Trump didn’t realize was that minutes after the final, failed vote was cast in the House to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Pennsylvania, a new era of unity had apparently dawned in Washington. As a new effort to impeach the president for his role in fomenting the violence began, it was countered with calls for comity and bipartisanship from people who, one week ago, voted to throw out democratic election results which favored the Democratic presidential candidate.

As the House debated impeaching Trump for incitement on Wednesday, there were repeated calls for unity from the same people who a week earlier had responded to the violence at issue by agreeing with the goals of the violent mob.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) adopted a somber tone as he challenged his peers to be better than rank partisanship.

“It does not matter if you are liberal, moderate or conservative. All of us must resist the temptation of further polarization,” the leading Republican said, about a week after he voted in favor of rejecting the will of more than 10 million voters in Arizona and Pennsylvania. “Instead, we must unite once again as Americans.

“I understand for some, this call for unity may ring hollow,” McCarthy continued, accurately. “But times like these are when we must remember who we are as Americans and what we as a nation stand for. And as history shows, unity is not an option, it’s a necessity. It is as necessary today as it was at the start of our country.”

It was less necessary about seven days ago, however, for unclear reasons.

McCarthy was joined by a number of other members of his caucus.

“I rise in opposition to the resolution,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.). “At a time when our country needs unity, it is concerning that my Democratic colleagues have chosen to begin impeachment proceedings against the president.”

“With just seven days left in office, all legal challenges have been exhausted, Congress has certified electors over objections, and Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States,” she continued. “President Trump has indicated he will peacefully transfer power to President elect Biden next week. So why pursue impeachment just one week before he leaves office?”

Unmentioned in Lesko’s citing the “certification” of electors over objections is that she was among those doing the objecting. Lesko objected to the electoral-vote count from Arizona itself, meaning that she found something suspect in the election which she herself won. But that was then.

“If we want unity, this is not the way,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.). “America was and is the leading light in the world. This proceeding is continued to cloak our nation in darkness.”

“We must be bigger and better than the most base of instincts that have been driving our political discourse,” Van Drew continued. “It is destroying us. Let’s link arms with one another and begin to heal. Let’s stop this impeachment.”

Van Drew gained national attention last year when, facing a difficult primary as a Democrat, he flipped to the opposing party. He earned public plaudits from Trump, earning a speaking slot during the Republican convention in which he attacked “the radicals running my former party.” Van Drew, too, supported the efforts to reject the vote in Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Rep. Ronny L. Jackson (R-Tex.) won a seat in the House last year after years of service as the White House physician. His nomination by Trump to run the Department of Veterans Affairs was abandoned after questions emerged about his behavior at the White House.

Last week, he supported rejecting the votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, he insisted that Congress had deviated from the comity demanded by the public.

“It is clear now more than ever that our country needs to come together,” said Jackson. “In Congress, this Congress needs to lead by example and begin the process of healing the deep division that exists among us as Americans. The articles before us today will not accomplish that.”

He demanded that Congress work on policy — “not impeaching a president who has promised a peaceful transition and who has less than seven days left in office. It is time to focus on the unprecedented challenges we face and it’s time to focus on unity.”

It’s worth noting that any promise of a peaceful transition has already proven somewhat belated.

The reason so many Republicans voted to overturn the results of the election in Arizona and Pennsylvania, of course, was that there was political utility in doing so. Republicans who echoed Trump’s false claims about electoral fraud were rewarded with praise and campaign contributions. They were rewarded with applause.

As Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) was when he spoke to a gathering of young conservatives last month.

“Call your congressman and feel free, you can lightly threaten them and say, you know what, if you don’t start supporting election integrity, I’m coming after you,” he said at the event at Mar-a-Lago. “Madison Cawthorn is coming after you, everybody’s coming after you.”

While arguing against the impeachment on Wednesday, though, his tone changed.

“Today is a moment for members of Congress to put aside partisan politicking and place people over power,” Cawthorn said with all due sobriety. “I urge my colleagues to vote against this divisive impeachment and realize that dividing America will not save this republic.”

“I am willing to take the first step,” Cawthorn added a bit later, “and extend my hand across the aisle to say, vote against impeachment, vote in favor of a unified nation, and I will forsake partisanship and work with you.”

Now that we’re in the moment of unity and all.

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