Here’s what we do with them next.
Thomas Friedman wrote a great column yesterday, in the hours before the insurrection. He argued that the more than 100 Congressional Republicans who refused to certify the election — in effect refusing to honor nothing less than American democracy — “should carry the title ‘coup plotter’ forever.”
I agree. Wednesday was (thankfully) an unsuccessful coup d’etat. The rioters who sieged the Capitol were not organized enough or (again, thank God) smart enough to find a way to remain there through the night, syncing their forces with the president who instigated their insurrection, a president who could have then called on the military to defend his new authoritarian rule. That’s how coups happen. They also happen in what was attempted in Congress Wednesday, when those Congressional Republicans Friedman wanted to Scarlet Letter took to the House and Senate floors and said millions of legitimate votes should be discarded. Why? Because of baseless allegations President Trump has repeated for months, and which these Congressional Republicans have parroted for just as long, but to even more cynical ends. They hope that by drafting off of Trump’s populist rage they might steal some of his followers for themselves, and empower their future political campaigns.
It didn’t work. The 147 Congressional Republicans who refused to certify the election — eight in the Senate, 139 in the House — failed in their legislative coup d’etat. Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States.
For democracy to truly win, though, for the republic to stand for generations to come, I think we should to do more than what Thomas Friedman proposes, calling all of these 147 Republicans “coup plotters.”
I think Congress should expel or censure each of them.
Congress had done it before. Expulsion is the more serious act. The Constitution says that if a member’s actions are egregious enough, Congress can expel that member from continuing to serve. Twenty Senators and Congressman have been expelled in American history, 17 of them for sedition during the Civil War, when members aided the Confederacy from their seats in Washington, in the House of Representatives and Senate.
Staging a legislative coup that hopes to overthrow the 2020 election results and with it democracy itself is about as seditious and egregious as it gets. Both chambers of Congress should consider expulsion for the 147 members. Expelling anyone would require two thirds of Congress voting to do so — but with Democrats holding thin majorities in the House and Senate, expulsion would be tough.
Censure might be easier. To censure members of Congress is to formally denounce them. They aren’t removed from office but a censure “can have a powerful psychological effect” on a member, says the Senate’s own website. The best example of this is Joseph McCarthy. His baseless Communist witch hunts in the 1950s led to his censure in 1954. It ruined his political career. He died of alcoholic hepatitis three years later.
Trump will not be president on January 20th but his enablers in Congress will still hold office. To censure them would limit their political futures and, even better, warn future politicians that Congress will not tolerate aiding and abetting an authoritarian demagogue. If Trumpism has taught us anything it’s that we are not done with his mad brand of politics.
We can take steps now, though, to reduce its effectiveness later.