The United States Congress, a week after the nation’s Capitol was overrun by a violent mob while lawmakers were carrying out one of their paramount duties, now faces a paramount challenge: how to hold President Trump properly accountable for his role in the insurrection.
Failure to do so, whether by forced resignation or impeachment, would be an intolerable insult to the rule of law and thus to America’s system of government.
Trump stoked his followers to malevolent fury as he urged them to fight to overthrow his re-election loss to Joe Biden. It was the culmination of his effort to discredit the election as shot through with voter fraud unless he emerged the winner.
But the alleged “steal” that his followers sought to avenge as they ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and put lawmakers’ lives as risk was a fraud itself. None of the purported evidence Trump cited in his pre-riot harangue on the Ellipse has stood up under inspection by the authorities and the courts as having had any bearing on the election’s outcome. He manifestly didn’t win in a landslide, as he has continued to assert.
This was plain enough to some Republicans who have been among the president’s most stalwart allies – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example. North Carolina’s two senators, Republicans Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, joined the overwhelming majority of their colleagues in bucking Trump’s insistence that Congress refuse to certify Biden’s victory. Both the Senate and House affirmed that victory just hours after reclaiming chambers that had been overrun by rioters.
In the House, however, even with the same outcome the dynamic was different. Among many Republicans there seemed to be an inability, if not an outright refusal, to process what had just occurred – a mob’s brutal invasion of the nation’s civic sanctum.
It was a mob incited by the president, desperate to stay in the White House. And it was a mob all too willing to believe Trump’s bogus claims that he – and they also, as his “army” – had been cheated of their mutual grip on power.
North Carolina’s House Republicans hardly covered themselves with glory as they aligned themselves with the president and his lawless supporting cast.
Of the state’s eight GOP House members, only Rep. Patrick McHenry of Denver (10th District) agreed to certify the contested electors from Pennsylvania – which Trump had spotlighted as a supposed hotbed of fraud despite his failure to offer any proof recognized by the courts. McHenry said that refusing to approve lawfully chosen electors would have violated his oath to uphold the Constitution.
Apparently the other seven – Dan Bishop of Charlotte (Ninth District), Ted Budd of Advance (13th), Madison Cawthorn of Hendersonville (11th), Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk (Fifth), Richard Hudson of Concord (Eighth), Greg Murphy of Greenville (Third) and David Rouzer of Benson (Seventh) – took a more lenient view of their sworn obligations. All were among the 138 Republicans who sided with Trump and the insurrectionists in voting to reject Pennsylvania’s pro-Biden slate of electors. The same group, minus Foxx and Murphy, also voted against the Arizona slate.
At his rally before the rioters swarmed to Capitol Hill, Trump unspooled a litany of allegations about election fraud not only in Pennsylvania and Arizona but also in the crucial swing states of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada.
Of course, it’s impossible to show that fraud was utterly nonexistent. That provides a fertile ground for conspiracy theories.
What has been affirmed by none other than Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr — who quit just as the post-election drama looked as though it might drag him into the conspiracy quicksand – is that no fraud has been found that would have affected the election’s outcome. Trump and his allies simply can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that their dozens of attempts to challenge the results in various state and federal courts have flopped because, when it comes to any wrongdoing, none of their allegations have held water.
Ironically, Trump in his tirade hit on a kernel of truth when he linked his defeat to the coronavirus pandemic. His mishandling of the plague that has taken in the range of 380,000 American lives certainly was a campaign factor.
But that wasn’t the president’s point. He wasn’t conceding that his failure to lead an aggressive federal response and to convince people to wear masks had given Biden an edge. His complaint was that Democrats took advantage of the pandemic to tilt election rules in their favor and set the stage for fraud.
Which leads to another kernel of truth: Amid the pandemic, election rules in several states indeed were modified so that voting would be both more convenient and safer. For example, in North Carolina, as the virus began cutting its deadly swath last spring, the State Board of Elections proposed among other changes making it easier to vote absentee by mail. The General Assembly responded by reducing the absentee ballot witness requirement from two persons to one. Read more