2 Members Of House Problem Solvers Caucus On Division Over Trump

Jan 11, 2021
Originally published on January 13, 2021 5:04 am
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A lot can happen in nine days, and Democrats say leaving President Trump in office for that long is a risk the country can't afford. They want the president held accountable for inciting the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol last week. Democrats in the House will try to remove the president in two different ways. They're pushing for the vice president to invoke the 25th Amendment, declaring Trump unfit for office. And if that doesn't happen, they're simultaneously preparing to impeach the president a second time. An article of impeachment could be filed as early as today.

We have two members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus with us here this morning, Republican Representative Dusty Johnson of South Dakota and Democratic Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota. Good morning to you both. Thanks for being here.

DEAN PHILLIPS: Good morning.

DUSTY JOHNSON: Thank you.

MARTIN: You were both at the Capitol last Wednesday when the riot happened. You've had a couple of days to process the events. I wonder, to each of you, is there an image that stands out to you this morning?

PHILLIPS: There is one as I've been reflecting on the events of the last days - when the speaker and the majority leader were whisked out of the chamber and moments later, our proceedings abruptly ended and a Capitol police officer came over the PA system on the House floor and screamed that we should all take cover behind our chairs and put on our gas masks. After a moment of collective disbelief that this was really happening in America in our Capitol, I'll never forget a police officer - a Capitol police officer, just to my right - a wonderful man. I wish I knew his name, says to me, don't worry; I got you. And he helped us open our gas masks, a voice of calm, and I'll never forget him. And I sure wish that I could express my gratitude to him this morning.

MARTIN: And Congressman Johnson.

JOHNSON: Yeah, Rachel, mine has to do with the Capitol police as well. Just - they are a near ubiquitous presence on the Capitol grounds when we're there, and they generally radiate a certain calm and a confidence. But me seeing real fear and sort of a sense that they were being overwhelmed on the faces of those men and women, it was jarring. It was when I first realized that this situation was rapidly spiraling out of control.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the consequences of this. Congressman Johnson, some Republicans, including Senators Toomey and Murkowski, have put the blame for this riot at the feet of the president. They're calling on President Trump to resign. Let me ask you. Should President Trump leave office or be removed for inciting the attack on the Capitol?

JOHNSON: Well, I would say two things. No. 1, I mean, the president does deserve some culpability for this. I mean, in the days after a terrible, dramatic, tragic event like this, I do think we look for a villain. But there is not a single villain. He deserves a greater than average share of the blame. But frankly, the political rhetoric from a lot, for a long time has, I think, built up an outrage in America, Rachel. And so I don't want to let the rest of us off the hook too easily either. The second thing I would say is that I think what we need right now is we need to keep the peace for the next nine days, No. 1. And No. 2, we need to heal the nation. And No. 3, I think we want to hold people accountable with some legitimate due process. Impeachment, in my mind, would not take care of any of those appropriately.

MARTIN: May I ask, though, what precedent does that set, if the country is not holding someone accountable for inciting deadly violence in the seat of American democracy? I mean, if that's not an impeachable offense, what is?

JOHNSON: Well, Rachel, there's lots of ways the president could be held accountable. I mean, you've mentioned the 25th Amendment. I think that's incredibly unlikely. But there's also the 14th Amendment, which suggests that somebody who's been involved in an insurrection is not able to hold political office in the future. There are also going to be a lot of judicial proceedings. And let's be honest, impeachment is not a legal proceeding. We try to make it look like one. I think the president will spend a lot of time in legitimate judicial proceedings. That is, I think he's going to have to face a lot of accountability on that front.

And I would also just mention one more thing, Rachel. I know everybody's asking what the right thing to do for the president is. But I think we also want to ask, what is the right thing to do for the country? And, you know, in the wake of the Civil War - or as it was coming to a close, President Lincoln - I mean, he knew that Confederate officers had a lot to answer for. He chose - he chose not to create a system where they would be punished. But he felt that, instead, he should show some additional grace and that that would help the country heal. Something similar happened when Ford pardoned Nixon. Probably not the right thing to do for Nixon - it was the right thing to do for our country.

MARTIN: Are you suggesting that incoming President Joe Biden pardon Donald Trump?

JOHNSON: No, not at all. I mean, the analogy's not perfect. I think what I'm talking about is - asking about, in this moment, what is the right thing to do for the country? And it may well be that impeachment could create far more division and that a different accountability mechanism would be more appropriate.

MARTIN: Congressman Phillips, let's bring you in. Do you agree with that?

PHILLIPS: Well, first, I hold my colleague, Representative Johnson, in the highest esteem. And he's a dear friend and a colleague with whom I've worked together closely and intend to as we move beyond this and repair and rehabilitate our country. That said, Rachel, to your question, I do believe the president should resign. That would be the best-case scenario for the country. If that doesn't happen, the invocation of the 25th Amendment, led by Vice President Pence and the Cabinet, I think would be the second-best option. The worst option would be to, as Representative Johnson indicated, to put the Congress through another impeachment proceeding. There are other options - censure and the 14th Amendment, of course. But in my estimation, Rachel, this is a question of accountability and consequence. I do not know how we can enjoy the blessings of a free society without accountability and consequence.

And to Representative Johnson's point, I will say, too, that this goes beyond the president. And Steve Hartman, I think, of CBS, said this week that the soul of America cannot be ransacked, and the solution to what ails us is not under a dome. We can't legislate our way out of this. We have to call upon our better angels at this time, hold him accountable and then focus on repair. And I know that Representative Johnson and I and our members on the Problem Solvers Caucus will be focused on that.

MARTIN: Then I will conclude by asking Congressman Johnson, where does your party go from here? I mean, the people who were marauding through the halls of Congress did so in President Trump's name.

JOHNSON: Yeah, I do think there are a lot of members on my side of the aisle who I think need to have some thoughtful deliberation about, you know, how can we do better? It's not only people within my party, Rachel, but there are plenty within my party where I think we need to ask, you know, how do we use rhetoric that tries to bring America together? How do we focus more on finding solutions, rather than talking about problems?

MARTIN: Republican Dusty Johnson of South Dakota, Democrat Dean Phillips of Minnesota. Thanks to you both.

PHILLIPS: Thank you, Rachel.

JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.