Opinion

Kick insurrectionists out of Congress

The Constitution has a consequence for seditious lawmakers: no more federal office

Multiple Republican members of Congress were in constant contact with people who planned the Jan. 6 insurrection, reports Hunter Walker at Rolling Stone. Two people who helped plan the putsch told Walker they talked regularly about the plot with then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), and Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), along with many of their congressional staffers. Gosar even allegedly promised pardons to the putschists.

Now, one should be cautious about splashy Rolling Stone scoops, because the publication has an unfortunate record of botching major stories. But Hunter Walker has a long history of good journalism at other publications, and the House January 6 committee will be considering evidence on his story soon.

If the reporting holds up, there must be consequences for the lawmakers named. In fact, the Constitution has a requirement for officials who try to overthrow our government: They aren't allowed to serve in federal office again. Meadows, these seven legislators, and all their alleged co-conspirators should be banned from Congress — forever.

Already we know Walker's story fits with established facts about Jan. 6 and the behavior of the insurrectionist caucus. The New York Times has previously reported on close connections between Biggs, Gosar, and the Oath Keepers, a right-wing extremist group with many members who participated in the putsch. The paper has also documented relations between Boebert and the Three Percenters, a similar extremist group. Greene has made violent threats about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other top Democrats. And, as Walker points out, Ali Alexander, organizer of the central putsch group Stop the Steal, said on a livestream that Gosar, Brooks, and Biggs helped him plan.

The main piece of confirming evidence, of course, is that all these public figures openly participated in the putsch, either by whipping up the mob, publicly encouraging it, or voting to overturn the presidential election (which was central to the coup strategy outlined by Trump administration-linked lawyer John Eastman). Brooks gave a hysterical speech at the rally where the putsch was staged, yelling, "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass." He instructed insurrectionists to "carry the message to Capitol Hill ... [because] the fight begins today." Cawthorn also spoke there, and as the putsch began, Boebert tweeted: "Today is 1776." After the sedition attempt failed, all seven representatives voted to overturn the election and reinstall former President Donald Trump as president, as did the vast majority of the Republican caucus.

We can't let that slide. As I wrote back in December, the 14th Amendment states that any members of Congress who, while bound by oath of office, "have engaged in insurrection or rebellion" are forbidden from holding state or federal office unless Congress votes to allow them in by a two-thirds margin. Applying this rule to those implicated in Walker's report is the least we can do. And, arguably, all eight senators and 139 representatives who voted to overturn the 2020 election should be kicked out of Congress and permanently forbidden from holding federal office of any kind ever again. 

Doing so would be perfectly in keeping with the hard-won lessons that led to the amendment's adoption in 1868. The country had just experienced a bloody rebellion (to this day the deadliest conflict in the history of the Western Hemisphere) in which members of the James Buchanan administration (1857-1861) had committed naked treason to help the rebellion. President Ulysses S. Grant later wrote in his memoirs:

Mr. Buchanan had in his cabinet two members at least, who were as earnest — to use a mild term — in the cause of secession as Mr. Davis or any Southern statesman. One of them, Floyd, the Secretary of War, scattered the army so that much of it could be captured when hostilities should commence, and distributed the cannon and small arms from Northern arsenals throughout the South so as to be on hand when treason wanted them. The navy was scattered in like manner. [Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant]

Preventing traitors and rebels from undermining the integrity of the state is elementary political housekeeping. A democratic republic can't possible be sustained if high-ranking officials can participate in an attempted coup d'etat without consequence. Indeed, being kicked out of office is a comparatively mild punishment for sedition.

Alas, it seems highly unlikely this step will be contemplated, even if the congressional January 6 committee uncovers smoking-gun evidence that Greene, Boebert, Gosar, or any other public official directly participated in the putsch. Only a handful of Democrats, none of them in congressional leadership, have so much as suggested it.

Using raw political force against their opponents would require the Democratic Party to evince courage, ruthlessness, and an accurate perception of the character of the opposition, none of which is in evidence. (To quote Pelosi, "We need a strong Republican Party.") Indeed, both Democratic leaders and the mainstream media seem incapable of treating Jan. 6 as the grave event it was. Perhaps that's because it shows America is not a city on a hill, just one grubby country among many.

Whatever the reason for this inaction, it puts me once more in mind of Buchanan. In the winter of 1860-1861, Grant wrote, "the Administration of President Buchanan looked helplessly on and proclaimed that the general government had no power to interfere; that the Nation had no power to save its own life."

Today, Democrats are facing the worst threat to America's democratic institutions since those days, and they have eaten up seven months dithering and squabbling over a modest welfare state upgrade. They must come to grips with reality soon and guide the nation to save its own life. The time to prevent President-for-life Marjorie Taylor Greene is now.

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