The lowest-profile lawmaker in Washington’s Congressional Delegation, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., briefly occupied the national spotlight Friday night and Saturday morning. She “outed” an angry exchange between then-President Trump and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. The call, as related by McCarthy, showed Trump hanging Vice President Mike Pence out to dry as a mob stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as they chanting “hang Pence.”
The act of truth telling will hurt Herrera Beutler among Trump zealots at home in Southwest Washington. It has, however, gained praise as an act of conviction, especially when set alongside Trump’s toadies on Capitol Hill. Herrera Beutler was greeted with silence, however, when she called on witnesses to Trump’s behavior on January 6 to come forward and be fellow truth tellers. Mike Pence, for instance, may need members of that mob to fire his future ambitions.
The revelation by Herrera Beutler sent the Senate into an hour of chaos Saturday morning when House impeachment managers demanded to hear from Herrera Beutler. The question of the hour: What was Trump doing on 1/6 and when was he doing (or Tweeting) it? Fearing the trial would be prolonged, the Senate and Trump’s defense team agreed that a written statement by Herrera Beutler would be admitted to evidence.
Herrera Beutler was elected in 2010 in the 3rd District, which encompasses Southwest Washington. A rare Latina among House Republicans, she was a state legislator who had worked as an aide to Spokane Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. She would survive tough races in 2018 and 2020 against WSU-Vancouver political science professor Carolyn Long. It came as a major surprise last month when Herrera Beutler (and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.) were among 10 House Republicans voting to impeach Trump. Newhouse garnered more attention, but only Friday night did the nation learn what moved Herrera Beutler.
It was the Trump-McCarthy exchange, in which the House Minority Leader pleaded that the outgoing President call off the mob that he had unleashed on the Capitol, hoping to block Congress’ final certification of Joe Biden’s election to the presidency. In Herrera Beutler’s words:
“When McCarthy finally reached the president on January 6 and asked him to publicly and forcefully call off the riot, the President initially repeated the falsehood that it was Antifa that had breached the Capitol. McCarthy refuted that and told the president that these were Trump supporters. That’s when, according to McCarthy, via Herrera Beutler, the president said, ‘Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.’”
“Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” McCarthy was said to shoot back.
McCarthy, who represents the interior California valley, has not fared well in the past 36 days. He talked to GOP colleagues about standing up to Trump, but then turned around and voted against accepting Georgia’s 16 electoral votes. He voted (along with 199 House Republican colleagues) against impeaching Trump for inciting the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Herrera Beutler chose not to shrink from an unpleasant truth. “I have shared these details in countless conversations with constituents and colleagues, and multiple times through the media and other public forums,” she wrote Friday night. “To the patriots who were standing next to the former President as these conversations were happening, or even to the former vice president, if you have something to add here, now would be the time.”
Witnesses have not heeded her call. Drip by drip, however, the truth has emerged about Trump offering up his loyal vice president to the wolves. Trump phoned Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, just two minutes after Tweeting an attack on Pence, who had been rushed out of the Senate chamber just ahead of the mob. Lee passed the phone to Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, a fellow Trump loyalist. Just two minutes earlier, as the mob stormed halls of the Capitol, Trump denounced his Veep. Trump said in a Tweet: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
Tuberville related his brief conversation with Trump, saying: “Well, I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to President Trump. You don’t get many words in, but he didn’t get a chance to say a whole lot, because I said, ‘Mr. President, they just took the vice president out. I’ve got to go’.”
Trump knew but did not lift a single short finger to help Pence. The 45th President waited hours before recording his “We love you – Go home” statement to the insurrectionists. When the count resumed in the Senate, Lee and Tuberville voted against accepting Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, which went for Biden.
It would be days before the 45th President again spoke with his vice president.
Herrera Beutler has often been seen as an extension of McMorris Rodgers, a lawmaker of outward public piety but with the instincts of a rug merchant. Not so for this protege. After her 2018 match with Democratic challenger Long, the “Gentle lady from the 3rd District” has sought opportunities to make common cause with Northwest Democrats. Her reaction to Trump-McCarthy was that of a normal, principled person, rather than one moved by fear and ambition.
Herrera Beutler has one source of insulation – Washington’s open primary. It permits those of all political stripes, not just party zealots, to pass judgment on their House members. A crack constituent operation also helped Herrera Beutler in recent tough races.
Herrera Beutler said last summer that she would vote to reelect President Trump, but it’s highly doubtful that will be the case if he runs in 2024.