The Republican members of Congress who conspired with President Donald Trump to upend our election and encourage the armed rioters who violently invaded the United States Capitol should be investigated and expelled from the House and the Senate with all deliberate speed. Our Constitution makes it clear that while elected officials are ultimately accountable to their constituents, each chamber of Congress is responsible for disciplining its members for ethical breaches. Local and federal law enforcement will hopefully arrest and prosecute the white supremacists and confederates who stormed America’s Capitol, but Congress must not hesitate to deploy its own mechanisms for accountability.
Expulsion is an extreme measure that has been rarely used by Congress to discipline its members, though it was famously enforced against members who engaged in insurrection and rebellion against the United States during the Civil War. Not even during that armed conflict for the soul of America did the Confederate battle flag fly in the United States Capitol. But it happened on Wednesday. It is not necessary for Congress to determine violations of federal or state law for them to expel members for their role in inciting insurrection against our nation.
Based on the events leading up to Wednesday’s coup attempt both inside and outside the Capitol, several candidates for expulsion seem clear. For example, Republican House member Louie Gohmert said earlier this week that a federal court rejecting his lawsuit to overturn the election sent the message to people, “You have to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa,” before attempting to walk back his incendiary remarks. Senator Josh Hawley announced that he planned to challenge electors for President-Elect Biden in the Senate, and then said that antifa protesters vandalized his home, though that claim was later disputed and disproven by police. On Wednesday, Hawley was seen raising a fist in solidarity with protestors before they rioted and invaded the halls of Congress. Earlier in the day at a pre-riot rally, Congressman Mo Brooks, who also pledged to challenge the election results, declared, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” and, “Today is a time of choosing and tomorrow is a time of fighting.”
These members' actions and comments have poured gasoline on a fire lit by President Trump’s attacks on our democracy and culminated in the violence Americans watched on display by his supporters in Washington, D.C. In its wake, the “MAGA Civil War” mob used “chemical irritants” on police and left four people dead. And some members of Congress are still spreading disinformation.
The reckoning for members of Congress who encouraged these rioters must be swift and exacting. Congress should immediately set up a separate bipartisan, bicameral commission to investigate the security and ethical failures that led to Trump supporters successfully storming the Capitol. This commission should also make recommendations as to which of Donald Trump’s complicit sycophants in the House and Senate should be expelled for their incitement of domestic terrorism against the United States government.
Expulsion is an appropriate tool because it removes these members from Congress and would exclude them from the urgent work needed to repair our fractured democracy in the 117th Congress. Freshman Rep. Cori Bush has already drafted a resolution to remove several of her colleagues for their roles in provoking Wednesday’s attack. Should any expelled members wish to return to Congress two years from now, they would have to face their constituents, and convince the voters that they deserve to represent them again after instigating an armed and violent coup attempt. Even if Congress ultimately lacks the supermajority required to expel these members, punishment must be pursued in order for Congress to have any credibility.
Normally, disciplining members of Congress is the purview of the House and Senate ethics committees, but in this case, the rot is far too deep. For example, Senator James Lankford, the outgoing chair of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, pledged, before yesterday’s uprising, to join Senator Ted Cruz in objecting to the duly recognized electors for President-elect Joe Biden. In the House, Reps. Kenny Marchant and Michael Guest, who both served on the House Ethics Committee, last Congress joined more than 100 of their colleagues in supporting a failed Texas-led lawsuit to reverse the election results in several swing states.
These members cannot be allowed to retain positions on the ethics committees since they can no longer be trusted to enforce congressional ethics rules in an impartial or appropriate manner. Even then, a separate, independent, and transparent process to investigate Wednesday’s attacks that excludes the members who were complicit in them, is necessary to ensure public confidence in the result.
Even before Wednesday’s failed insurrection, the actions of these members undermined public trust in our electoral system and our democratic institutions. The attack on the Capitol makes clear that their conduct also threatened the safety of their colleagues, their staff, the Capitol Police, and other law enforcement sworn to protect them, and the nearly 700,000 residents of Washington, D.C., who ironically have no voting representation in Congress.
For weeks before and in the aftermath of the presidential election, some in Congress have suggested that we should look forward, and not back, eschewing accountability for President Trump’s relentless attacks on our democracy. The events of this week demonstrate with dangerous clarity that there can be no progress without a reckoning. President Trump inciting armed protestors to storm Congress was a predictable, if not inevitable, byproduct of his acquittal on abuse of power charges by the Senate last January. But President Trump did not do this alone, and his allies in Congress must be held liable for their actions as well. Congress can no longer wring its hands about accountability for Trump, or, now, for the colleagues whose gross complicity put their lives at risk. America can’t afford for them to wait.