Two Washington Republican Congressmembers Answer Higher Calling

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Two of the ten Republican congressmembers who voted in favor of the House impeachment resolution represented districts in Washington state.   Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-4) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-3) have been widely recognized and praised for their votes, but they will also pay a price politically, both among their GOP colleagues and back in their respective districts.

It was a particularly tough vote for Rep. Newhouse, who said it was “not a knee-jerk decision.”  In an interview with the Spokesman-Review the following day, Newhouse said, “This is a sad day in our republic, but not as sad or disheartening as the violence we witnessed in the Capitol last Wednesday.  We are all responsible.”  Newhouse’s 4th Congressional District in Central Washington is heavily conservative, where President Trump won with 59% of the vote, so Newhouse will have a lot of reckoning as he travels around his rural  district in future years.

Rep. Herrera Beutler, whose 3rd district in Southwest Washington is more diversified, posed this question to her colleagues, “What are you afraid of?”  As a person of faith, she said the moral imperative of holding the President accountable took precedent over the risk of losing her seat.  I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail.”

The state’s remaining Republican, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, joined 196 GOP colleagues to oppose the single article of impeachment but also decided against challenging the election after the rioters occupied the capitol.  Rep. McMorris Rodgers will feel a lot more comfort in her secure 5th Congressional District (Spokane and Eastern Washington). 

For anyone in Congress, you are expected to represent your constituency.  But there comes a time of higher calling. The impeachment vote is not about economic policies, a virus pandemic and health crisis, or foreign policy issues.  It’s a clarion call that goes beyond self-interest or political advantage, and is what Herrera Beutler said on the House floor a “moral imperative.”   

A populist movement against government institutions and the pillars of our democracy has little regard or respect for the main tenet of our constitution —  that the three branches of government remain strong and independent.  For the head of one branch to incite an attack on another is definitely an impeachable crime.  That’s why Alexander Hamilton pressed hard for those checks and balances, cautioning that “Someday, we may elect a demagogue who could become a tyrant.”  

During these past four years of Trump’s authoritarian rule, there have been many books tracing how our political system has deteriorated, the erosion of the fundamentals of our democracy, and worse,how  the American beacon light, once the model for other countries, now is fading. 

When I served in Congress, representing the 3rd District, it was more about civility, mutual trust, and definitely bipartisanship.  How did we get to where we are today?  It started when Rep. Tom Foley (a Democrat who represented Washington’s 5th Congressional District), graciously handed the Speaker’s sacred gavel over to Rep. Newt Gingrich, who made it more of a sledge hammer – a weapon of destroying the other party.  Many scholars credit Newt Gingrich as the lynchpin in undermining democratic norms, ushering in an era of polarization, prejudice, and feisty partisanship.  Gingrich himself predicted: Trump’s America would prompt anti-Trump forces that were incapable of co-existing.  His quote, “one will simply destroy the other.”  

Our two state Republicans definitely responded to a higher calling in doing what’s right for our nation at this critical time.  Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat whose district stretches from Wenatchee to the Seattle suburbs, approached Newhouse after the vote to tell him how much she respected the decision he and Herrera Beutler made. Had I been on the House floor at the time, I would have strolled across the aisle to thank Rep. Herrera Beutler and remind her fellow Republicans, many who are Evangelicals, about Psalms 15: “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks for truth.  He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor.  He who does these things will never be shaken.”

Both Newhouse and Herrera Beutler were not “shaken.”

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Don Bonker is a former Member of Congress from Washington’s Third District and former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Trade. He now lives on Bainbridge Island and consults on international trade issues.

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