The U.S. House has voted to impeach President Trump for "inciting an insurrection" on Capitol Hill. This hour, we talk with Congressman Peter Welch about the vote, and we ask government experts: What happens next?
Our guests are:
- Peter Welch, Vermont's U.S. Congressman
- Dante Scala, professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire
- Linda Fowler, professor of government at Dartmouth College
Broadcast live on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.
Late Wednesday, the U.S. House voted to impeach President Donald Trump for incitement of an insurrection. The charge refers to the president's role in inciting a mob riot of his most extreme supporters to take over the Capitol building last week. Five people died in that riot, including a member of the Capitol Police Department.
Speaking on the House floor during the impeachment debate on Jan. 13, Congressman Peter Welch urged his colleagues to remove President Trump from office.
“If we want unity, we must have accountability. So the question before this Congress: Will Congress condone through acquiescence or condemn through impeachment Donald Trump's violent acts to overturn the election?”
- Rep. Peter Welch
What happens next? Does it make sense to pursue this impeachment motion after the president has left office?
Bob Kinzel: There are six days left in the four-year term of the office of President Trump. Some listeners might be wondering: Why follow through with impeachment, when the president will be out of office and a private citizen in less than a week?
Rep. Peter Welch: You know, if you don't have accountability, we won't get to unity. This impeachment has to be completed, but it has to be completed very, very quickly.
This was astonishing. Literally, the president assembled a mob, incited the mob and had to march forward and overtake the Capitol. People got killed, and it was in pursuit of his effort to overturn a valid election. You can't ignore the fact of that happening, even if the timing was on his way out the door.
So there’s two issues here. There's accountability – and I think that's absolutely essential – and there’s getting Biden off to a very quick and positive start, where he focuses on COVID and economic recovery.
So this impeachment has to be done, but it has to be done extremely quickly, as we did in the House. And it's not as though you need a lot of evidence, because the whole world watched the attack on the Capitol.
You mentioned accountability. I'm wondering, are you also concerned that the president might do something irrational or perhaps dangerous in the next week?
Well, he just did something dangerous. I mean, this is an astonishing, astonishing thing, to have the president of the United States really inciting people to come to Washington and then giving an incendiary speech where folks in front of him were holding signs saying, ‘Hang Mike Pence.’ And then for him to decry his own vice president because Vice President Pence was refusing to basically unilaterally try to do something that he had no authority to do, and that is overturn the election.
So, you know, some people are saying this is late in the term, and it is late in the term.
But one question: Why didn't Donald Trump stop doing impeachable acts long ago?
So do we ignore it? You can't, really. People died. The citadel of our democracy was attacked. The goal of the president was to overturn an election.
No president, no president in our history, has ever done what he did. So he promoted this with a big lie about an illegal election or unfair election – no basis for it – and he employed violence as a political tactic. And there is absolutely no place in our democracy for violence to be the means of persuasion.
Congressman Welch, you talked about the need to have some unity, so that the first 100 days of President-elect Joe Biden's administration can be [about] getting some important things done. But can you do that at the same time that the Senate is holding an impeachment trial?
Frankly, you're right, Bob. That's a very, very difficult challenge. But you can't just ignore that we had this attack by a mob – armed mob, by the way – on the Capitol and say, “You know what, that was yesterday. Let's move on.” That is a searing experience in our democracy. So there has to be accountability.
But the point I'm making, is that it has to be done very, very quickly and that it can be done quickly. This is not like there has to be depositions and witnesses and hearings. This is something where the members of the Senate can look at the tapes, have a debate and vote, and that's the way it should proceed.
Vice President Biden – soon-to-be President Biden – has also asked whether there can be a bifurcation, so that the Senate could act on his cabinet appointees in the morning and do the trial in the afternoon. So it's doable.
But I think to ignore the reality of what happened, where lives were lost, where violence was used, where there was an armed effort to invade the Capitol to stop the certification of the electoral votes of the people of this country, you can't ignore that. So there's got to be accountability. It's got to be fast.
The impeachment resolution accuses the president of inciting an insurrection. Do you find him guilty of this charge, based solely on the comments that he made to that mob of his extreme supporters last week? Or is it more than that? Is it a combination of factors?
It's more than that. I mean, from before the votes were cast, Donald Trump was saying it was going to be a rigged election. So he was beginning … the foundation of his lie about the election. And then, from the moment the votes were counted and he lost, he promoted the lie that it was an unfair election. There's no evidence for that. Fifty-nine of the 60 lawsuits that he filed were thrown out. Republican secretaries of state counted, recounted, hand-counted as in Georgia, and they certified that the election was free and fair. There's no evidence for it.
But he used the bully pulpit and he used social media to convince a lot of his supporters that it was bogus. He then invited them to come to the Capitol on Jan. 6 … in order to, quote, do the right thing and have the Congress stop certification of the election. So he invited the mob to the Capitol, and then he gave a speech and sent them on a mission to march on the Capitol, invade the Capitol and go after Mike Pence and stop the certification.
So this was … an execution of a plan that was in plain sight from, actually, before the November election. And then it was on … constant[ly] since the election.
“Hi, Congressman. I don't know if you remember, but the last time you were on the radio, I called and … I said Jan. 6 was going to be a problem. And I think you agreed with me, and it was even worse than I thought. There is no bottom to this. No matter how bad we think it is, it always gets worse. So I'm calling about Mo Brooks. Can you get that guy expelled from Congress? That guy is as guilty as Trump is.”
- Robert, Burlington
Kinzel: Alabama Representative Mo Brooks was also at that rally before the mob stormed the Capitol building last Wednesday, and made some very strong remarks.
Welch: Well, he made very strong remarks and was very supportive of the invasion of the Capitol. And also, there's some indication in this investigation underway, that Brooks and some other members of Congress were actually assisting some of the insurrectionist by escorting them around the Capitol to do reconnaissance. We don't know the facts on that, but that has to be investigated.
A member of Congress can say and assert what they want; they can't lead an insurrection. They can't assist people who are going to invade the Capitol to do reconnaissance on the day before.
So there is no reservation on my part. If some of this evidence that is out there is confirmed, that Mo Brooks and others who did things that he did should be expelled from Congress.
I'm wondering, Congressman, if we can break this into two categories: In one, there'd be people like Rep. Brooks, who spoke at that rally and said that they wanted folks to go to the Capitol and take some definite action – I can't quite say what he said on the air – so that's one group.
The other group is: Did some Republican members – and this is maybe what you're alluding to – give some of the protesters the layout of the Capitol building and conspire with them so that they would know where to go on the day of the riots? Are those two different groups?
They are two different groups. It's two different acts. I mean, Brooks was doing the inciting with the president, speaking as aggressively as he was.
But there is indication that some members of Congress, who were aligned with some of the far-right folks who have been promoting this invasion, actually provided them with escorts and tours of the Capitol.
And that can only be done right now, by the way, with a member of Congress.
The usual tours that are available just by calling, say, my office, that are done in the normal course had been canceled really since COVID. So now, the only way you can get through Congress is with a member of Congress who escorts you. And there's some indication that some members did that.
That's going to be under investigation. Abigail Spanberger, my colleague from New Jersey, a Naval U.S. Naval Academy graduate, a military person, has authored a letter asking for that investigation on the basis of what we have.
But that's illegal, and that's grounds for expulsion, if a member of Congress is doing that. And I don't care whether it's a Democrat or Republican.
Dan, from Colchester:
“I heard a lot of rebuttal on the floor yesterday, making the false equivalency between the insurrection at the Capitol and the Black Lives Matter protests, some of which did, unfortunately, cause some damage and become somewhat violent. I don't think the Democrats rebutted that very effectively, even though it's pretty obvious that it shouldn't need to be rebutted. But would you do a bit of that right now?”
- Dan, Colchester
Welch: Well, look. My view is that violence is inappropriate anywhere, you know, in any kind of demonstration. I was involved in a lot of demonstrations in the civil rights movement. And there's always a danger of violence. You don't want it, but whatever the objective or the political point of view you're advocating, violence should be off the table, alright?
What's so different about this is that you have the president of the United States inciting the crowd. He assembled the crowd. He gave the crowd their mission: Go down to the Capitol. They walked down there – marched down there – with “Hang Mike Pence” signs.
I saw them on the mall when I took a walk down to the Lincoln Memorial in the morning, practicing military-style marching. Now, I didn't think much of it at the moment. But of course, fast forward a couple of hours later: the president gives them that speech and they actually use that formation to overtake an understaffed Capitol Police force.
Violence anywhere is wrong. It's wrong. It is not a legitimate tool of political persuasion.
But where you have something that’s so extraordinary is that it's the president of the United States who resorted to encouraging people to do something violent: invade the capital and serve his goal of trying to overturn a legitimate election. That's what's so extraordinary about this. So there's nothing to compare. There's something to judge here. Did this president do something that's impeachable? And there's nothing I can imagine that would be more impeachable than what he did.
“I guess, what I see as an American – and I think a lot of Americans do – is, you know, I guess I … certainly don't condone what happened at the Capitol and I understand your point in regards to the president and how that makes it different. But, as there were riots and protests going on all throughout the summer, there was a lot of cases where high-ranking members of government in the Congress, the Senate, even a candidate for vice president, were encouraging those riots to continue after they had turned violent. So I think what we should be seeing is more accountability across the board.”
Welch: Well you see, I am for accountability, OK? I don't know which specific ones you're talking about, but I can't make it any clearer than what I just said: Violence is an illegitimate tactic. And I don't care what the goal is; whether it's Black Lives Matter or the president trying to reverse an election, violence is not an appropriate tactic.
So I can say right here: I'm against it. I'm against the use of violence to get your way, whatever your way is.
But it's not a defense to what the president did – and this is the responsibility we have in Congress, to hold him accountable. It's not a defense for what the president did for my Republican colleagues to pick and choose other incidents where something happened that may be objectionable. We have, actually, responsibility. If there's going to be any accountability, it has to be from the House of Representatives, that has the authority – and we're the only ones that have authority – to file articles of impeachment.
So the question for my colleagues, which they dodged by essentially trying to change the subject, was: Did the president do something that was impeachable? And the fact that did somebody else, somewhere, at some time, did something that was wrong is not a defense to what Donald Trump did.
And by the way, politicians, presidents, they should be held to a standard that is higher. This is the president of the United States, who has enormous authority and where his fundamental responsibility with his oath of office is to uphold the law, to not break the law. So this is something. And the use of violence as a tactic is unprecedented in our history; certainly in my lifetime.
“As shocking as it was to see the attack on the Capitol, it's even more shocking to me to learn that we have the same kind of extremist problem that's growing up here in Vermont. These people who attacked the Capitol didn't come out of nowhere. They grow and they train and they congregate in different places. And I'm talking specifically about this Slate Ridge reservation in West Pawlet. Do you know of this place and are you aware of the incredible foot dragging that's going on among our state officials in doing anything about this place?”
Welch: Well, I know what I've read, but not enough to be specifically responsive to what's going on there. But your point is when I agree with.
You know, Trump is going to be gone in a few days. Trump-ism will not be gone. What Trump did, he didn't create the circumstances on the far right and the use of violence and the conspiracy theories. But he has kind of a feral genius about how to stoke that, and how to use that politics of division, the politics of conspiracy theories, as a way to for him get power and then to solidify his base.
But we've got ongoing challenges to deal with, a politics where people are making up facts, believing in conspiracies, and we're not having the dialog that you need to resolve really challenging issues that this country faces. And of course, this is all been amplified by social media and their algorithms that are all intended to provoke engagement. And that usually is triggered more with anger, so that they can sell more advertising.
So these are dynamics that are out there that Trump exploited, but continue even after Trump is gone and Joe Biden is sworn in.
You know, we're fortunate in Vermont because there is the tradition of our town meeting, but we've got to hang on to that. And, you know, you see even with our governor, who condemned the Trump action because of the behavior, there was no hesitation on his part on the basis of party loyalty when you had a president who is inciting violence.
But that's special about Vermont. But each one of us has to do every single thing we can to maintain that civic sense of participation and tolerance.
Next week, we have the inauguration of the new president. Will you be there and will you feel safe?
Well, I'm planning on being there and I'll definitely feel safe.
I mean, I'm actually sad about this, Bob. You know, the day after the invasion, they began putting up this huge security fence for the inauguration. Had they done that a day before then, we wouldn't have had any of this problem.
When I left Washington yesterday, they had several of these huge security fences up. The National Guard literally was sleeping in the Capitol. When I walked into the Capitol, I was walking around these exhausted National Guards-people who had been up all night and were sleeping on the marble floor.
We now have more troops in the capital than we have in Afghanistan. And I'm sad about that. I'm really sad about it.
So I am not concerned about safety. I am concerned about a kind of democracy where the wonderful event of the peaceful transition of power – not so peaceful this time – but where we're going to have a new president because the American people elected a new president, that person is going to take the oath of office, that we can't have that be a purely joyous occasion. And [where] even if it wasn't the candidate we wanted, we celebrate the American value of the peaceful transition of power and that the voters decide who their leader is.
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