House Republicans offered a range of lies, deflections and rationalizations as they expressed their opposition to impeaching President Donald Trump exactly one week after he incited an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in order to overturn the results of an election he lost.
What linked their excuses was an argument that all of this was really the fault of Democrats who could have just let Trump leave office on Jan. 20 but decided to impeach him for political purposes. Republicans claimed that Trump would allow a peaceful transfer of power in seven days, so impeachment was not necessary, that impeachment was divisive and would tear the country apart, that Black Lives Matter and “antifa” were violent first. Some said that Trump didn’t really incite anyone to do anything.
This reasoning amounts to more than just normal excuses. It is, as Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Texas) said in her speech in support of impeachment, “gaslighting.” The Republican impeachment opponents mischaracterized Trump’s statements to his supporters, compared unrelated events to blame Democrats and invented a history in which the insurrection didn’t happen. It was as though Republicans wanted to argue that time only began after Jan. 6, the day they met at the Capitol to certify President-elect Joe Biden’s win and chaos broke out.
The impeachment Wednesday did pass the House, 232-197, with 10 Republicans joining the Democrats.
Trump Didn’t Really Do Anything Wrong
The easiest way to evade responsibility is to pretend that what everyone saw happen did not actually happen.
“The president didn’t incite a riot,” Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), who voted against certifying Biden’s win after the insurrection on January 6, said. “The president didn’t lead an insurrection.”
“How does the president incite an attack that was pre-planned?” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who also voted against certifying his own state’s electoral votes for Biden, said.
Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) argued that Trump’s call to “fight like hell” or “you’re not going to have a country anymore” was “obviously standard-fare hyperbole.”
“If we impeached every politician who gave a fiery speech to a crowd of partisans, this Capitol would be deserted,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said. “That’s what the president did. That’s all he did. He specifically told the crowd to protest peacefully.”
Of course, in reality, Trump gave a fiery speech to a crowd that he not only personally invited to Washington but had also inflamed for two months with lies that the election had been stolen by Democrats who would proceed to destroy the country. “Will be wild!” Trump tweeted as he invited supporters to come to D.C. on Jan. 6.
“We won,” Trump told rally-goers that day, before directing them to march on the U.S. Capitol. “We won in a landslide. This was a landslide.” (He lost the election by more than 7 million votes and lost the Electoral College count by 306-232.)
Even as Trump spoke, rioters began to fight with U.S. Capitol Police to breach the grounds. Police lines failed as the crowd he ordered to march on the Capitol gathered steam, planting two pipe bombs along the way.
These insurrectionists explicitly said they were doing what they were doing because the president told them to.
“We were invited here!” one insurrectionist yelled during a livestream. “We were invited by the president of the United States!”
“The President asked for his supporters to be there to attend, and I felt like it was important, because of how much I love this country, to actually be there,” Larry Brock Jr., an Air Force veteran who stormed the Capitol in a helmet and fatigues, told The New Yorker. Brock was later arrested.
Trump Will Allow A Peaceful Transfer Of Power
Republican after Republican claimed that there was no need to impeach and remove Trump from office because he had eventually agreed to peacefully transfer power to Biden.
“In seven days, there will be a peaceful transfer of power, just like there has been every other time in our country, but Democrats are going to impeach President Trump again,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who voted against certifying Biden’s win, said.
“President Trump has indicated he will peacefully transfer power to President-elect Biden next week,” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), who also voted against certifying Biden’s win, said. “So why pursue impeachment just one week before he leaves office?”
“Both President Trump and President-elect Biden have called for a peaceful transfer of power,” Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.), who voted against Biden’s electoral votes, said.
The problem here is that it has not been a peaceful transfer of power, the first time since Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 that an election of a new president was met with violence. Then, it led to the Civil War.
Trump refused to concede the election after he lost. “We’ll see what happens,” Trump said when asked before the Nov. 6 election if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost.
He spread lies that he won “in a landslide” and called for his supporters to come to Washington to help stop Biden’s election from being certified in Congress. He then told them to “show strength and be strong” as they marched to the Capitol and to “fight like hell” or else “you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
These incitements led directly to the sacking of the Capitol, five deaths and an undisclosed number of injuries. Many more could have died, including Vice President Mike Pence, whom rioters chanted they wanted to hang, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), were it not for their swift evacuation by the Capitol Police.
“Someone talked about a peaceful transition,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in his closing impeachment argument Wednesday. “There has not been a peaceful transition. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Impeachment Is The Real Divisive Act
Republicans opposed to impeachment also claimed that Trump has promised a peaceful transfer of power, seeking to bolster the claim that it is Democrats who are dividing the nation by pursuing his impeachment.
“A vote to impeach will further divide the nation,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who voted against certifying Biden’s win and only on Wednesday acknowledged that Biden had won.
“Dividing America will not save this republic,” Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), who voted against certifying Biden’s victory and told Republicans in December to “lightly threaten” their elected representatives when they urged them to back Trump’s election fraud lies. “I am willing to take the first step and extend my hand and say vote against impeachment.”
“The Democrats have won everything in sight, the House, the Senate and the presidency,” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said. “In a republic, that calls for magnanimity by the victors. Only in a banana republic does it call for vengeance.”
“I urge you: Please, do not ― and I’m mixing metaphors here ― attempt to douse the remaining burning embers of this movement with gasoline,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who reportedly worked with the organizer of the rally that led to the Capitol riot. “No one wants that.”
These arguments seem to ignore the fact that Trump incited a deadly insurrection as part of a plot to overturn the results of the election. It is as though time began on Jan. 7. The time for unity is whatever time is most convenient to evade responsibility.
Blame BLM, Antifa And The Resistance
McCarthy, the GOP leader, put to bed the lies that some members were repeating that the insurrection was actually led by Black Lives Matter or “antifa,” shorthand for anti-fascists.
“Some say the riots were caused by antifa,” he said during the impeachment debate. “There’s absolutely no evidence of that.”
But that didn’t stop Republicans from claiming that since Democrats didn’t condemn violence surrounding protests against police brutality last summer, then they had no business complaining about the sacking of the Capitol that could have cost them their lives.
“Democrats have spent all this time enabling riots,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who voted against certifying Biden’s win and previously supported the QAnon conspiracy theory.
“If we had prosecuted BLM and antifa rioters across the country with the same determination these last six months, this incident may not have happened at all,” McClintock said.
“The left in America has incited far more political violence than the right,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who voted against certifying Biden’s win.
These complaints are either distortions or ignore that Democratic Party leaders condemned the violence that happened during the summer’s protests.
“Protesting such brutality is right and necessary,” Biden said in May. “It’s an utterly American response. But burning down communities and needless destruction is not. Violence that endangers lives is not.”
In August, Biden also condemned violence in Portland, Oregon.
“The deadly violence we saw overnight in Portland is unacceptable … , as a country we must condemn the incitement of hate and resentment that led to this deadly clash. It is not a peaceful protest when you go out spoiling for a fight,” Biden said.
“Peaceful protest is our game,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in June. “Violence is their game. Purposeful protest is our game. This looting and rioting, that’s their game. We cannot allow ourselves to play their game.”
In 2017, Pelosi condemned “the violent actions of people calling themselves antifa,” after a protest in Berkeley, California.
Beyond the false allegation that Democrats support violence, the comparison does not make sense. Violence that occurred at or near protests in the summer did not occur for the explicit purpose of stopping the democratic transfer of power and overturning the results of an election.
Among Republicans who rejected impeachment, only Gaetz issued a full-throated defense of everything Trump has done, arguing that “President Trump is most likely to be impeached when he is right.”
Gaetz argued that Trump helped reveal the truth about the “Biden crime family” when he tried to blackmail the president of Ukraine to invent a corruption investigation into Biden’s son and that he “correctly pointed out voting irregularities” when he lied about vote fraud that had cost him his reelection.
The remaining 196 Republicans who voted against Trump’s second impeachment used their moment to build a case blaming Democrats for political dysfunction. Democrats had their chance for unity, but they rejected it by impeaching Trump with days to go.
“Think back to how John Adams handed power over to Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800,” McCarthy said, citing the first peaceful transfer of power in the nation’s history, adding, “We must seize this opportunity to heal and grow stronger.”
But Adams conceded that election. He did not lie to his followers that the election was stolen. He did not rally his followers to march on the Capitol to stop Jefferson from becoming president. Nor did his supporters do this. But McCarthy and 139 House Republicans did lie about the election result and voted in hopes of overturning it. And now they want this to be forgotten to history. It’s only been seven days.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the number of Electoral College votes Biden received. It was 306.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.