It has come to this: Lawmakers are telling journalists that they were casting their impeachment votes in a climate of threats where they feared for the safety of their families.
“After freshman G.O.P. Rep. Nancy Mace announced she would be opposing President Donald Trump’s bid to overturn the election, the single mother of two feared so much for her life that she applied for a concealed carry permit and sent her kids hundreds of miles from D.C.,” Politico reported this week.
“There will be folks that try to kill us,” a Republican congressman, Peter Meijer, told CNBC.
A representative democracy cannot function under the threat from violent extremist groups determined to overturn the results of a presidential election that they lost. Americans — whether elected officials or regular citizens — should not live in fear that they could be attacked or killed for doing their jobs or supporting a particular candidate. The peaceful transition of power is one of America’s proudest national traditions, but it is not a foregone conclusion. Transitions are the sum of many acts, the result of both parties putting aside their differences in service of national unity.
To prevent more bloodshed in the days and months ahead and to ensure that those responsible for the attack on the Capitol are held to account, the nation needs to hear from two key groups of people: the people who encouraged the violence and those charged with preventing it.
Republican lawmakers who objected to the electoral vote results on the grounds of mythical election fraud should immediately and publicly apologize, repudiate their lies and admit that Joe Biden won the election fairly.
There is no honest factual dispute about the outcome of the election. Despite all the baseless, inflammatory allegations about shredded ballots and dead people voting, every state certified its vote tally without contest. State and federal courts threw out virtually every one of the dozens of cases President Trump and his allies brought alleging fraud or irregularities, because they never presented any credible evidence of it.
Of course, the Republicans who’ve suggested otherwise knew this to be the case long before the Capitol was attacked on Jan. 6. Mr. Trump’s supporters in Congress knew it as they raged on television and Twitter about a rigged election — and raised money off the effort. They knew of the risks of violence from groups like the Proud Boys, who openly planned to attend the Jan. 6 rally.
A handful of such Republicans seem dimly aware of the profound harm they’ve caused. “What we saw last week was not the American way,” Republican Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, said Wednesday. “Neither is the continued rhetoric that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president. Let’s be clear: Joe Biden will be sworn in as president of the United States in one week because he won the election.”
At this point, political courage demands that leaders reject the dead-end ideology of “stop the steal,” which only encourages more violence from true believers and opportunistic extremists. Only by accepting responsibility and speaking the truth can Republicans begin to make amends.
Then there is the more immediate concern: Law enforcement agencies owe the American people more regular updates on efforts to prevent further violence than they’ve received to date. Yes, these officials are busy tracking down the perpetrators of the Capitol attack and watching for any future eruption of organized chaos, but the nation has now gone a full week without an opportunity to question either Christopher Wray, the F.B.I. director, or Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general.
When the Trump administration finally arranged a news conference on Tuesday, six days after the attack, it was left to the acting U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., Michael Sherwin, to explain that the investigation was “unmatched” in scope and that the department had “literally thousands of potential witnesses” around the country.
For an administration that has failed time and again to perform the most simple tasks of governance, this halfhearted response is worrisome. So far we’ve had to rely on amateur Twitter detectives and local news reports to get even basic details about the attack: who organized it, why the Capitol was so easily breached, who committed which crimes, why attackers were allowed to walk away even after beating to death a Capitol Police officer and what is being done to prepare for the next wave of threatened attacks.
Right now the priority must be reassurance, especially in light of the last week’s systemic failure by multiple law enforcement agencies. During national emergencies, it’s critical that federal authorities be answerable to the public, so that they can be asked questions that demand answers.
Questions like, why more heed was not taken of an internal warning issued by a Virginia field office of the F.B.I., on the day before the riot, that extremists were planning for “war.” The office had monitored online chatter that included specific calls for violence: “Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.”
This contradicts the claim by one senior official that the F.B.I. had no information leading them to expect that violence would break out at the Capitol. Perhaps there was a good reason this particular evidence did not result in better preparedness, but it’s hard to know when the public is kept in the dark.
Another question: How many members of law enforcement and the military participated in the riot? In the wake of last week’s riot, several Capitol Police officers have been suspended and more than a dozen others are being investigated, either for their own involvement in the attack or for showing support for the rioters. One Secret Service officer is reportedly under investigation for posting comments on Facebook accusing lawmakers who confirmed Mr. Biden’s electoral victory of treason.
All Americans are responsible for resolving political differences without violence. But those who have been elected to represent this nation, and who swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, bear the most responsibility of all.
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