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GOP Strategist: Some Members Of Congress Are Accomplices To Insurrection


It's day two of the second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. He's accused of inciting the deadly January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol through his repeated false claims of widespread election fraud. But many Republican members of Congress repeated those baseless claims. Now Trump is being held accountable for his actions through the impeachment process. And many of the people who stormed the Capitol face legal consequence. But what about the men and women in Congress? Should they be held accountable, too? And if so, how? Sarah Longwell is a Republican strategist and publisher of the conservative news website The Bulwark. She wrote about this issue. Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH LONGWELL: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

PFEIFFER: Glad to have you. And, Sarah, spoiler alert basically for our listeners, you wrote that, yes, congresspeople should be held accountable. You basically say if Trump is at the top of the chain and voters at the bottom, then Congress are the elites in the middle. Why do you feel so strongly that they should be held accountable in some way?

LONGWELL: Well, look, people are going to jail. Their lives are going to be ruined for what happened at the Capitol. And there were a lot of people responsible for filling their heads with poison prior to the insurrection. It wasn't just Donald Trump's words right before the attack. It was the two months that preceded it where people like Kevin McCarthy said, yes, Donald Trump won this election, where people like Madison Cawthorn, newly elected representative, said, hey, call your representatives, you can lightly threaten them. Louie Gohmert said, you're going to have to go to the streets and be violent. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, you know, a quarter of Republicans in the Senate, these people are not just witnesses right now; they're accomplices. They were going to object to the certification of a free and fair election. And so I think we just - we can't just look at Donald Trump. We have to look at the entire ecosystem that perpetrated these lies and filled those rioters' heads with poison and then turned them toward the Capitol.

PFEIFFER: Then if impeachment is how Trump is being held responsible and if jail, fines, court is how the public is being held responsible, how do you hold congresspeople responsible?

LONGWELL: Well, unfortunately, the electoral process is going to take a long time to play out. And so in the meantime...

PFEIFFER: Meaning whether they get reelected.

LONGWELL: Whether they get reelected, exactly. And so it has to be the rest of our culture. It has to be with the process of shame. You need the business community to stand up and say we draw a bright line for people who objected to this election, that that is disqualifying to hold public office for people who told lies to voters. Fifty million people believing that the election was stolen is an existential threat to our democracy. You need editorial boards...

PFEIFFER: What are the tools business has, by the way?

LONGWELL: Withholding their donations, saying we are not going to donate to politicians who objected to a free and fair election. Its editorial boards calling relentlessly for the resignations. I mean, we've got billboards up through our Republican Accountability Project calling for a lot of these officials to resign. There is - needs to be a relentless public pressure that says what they did was wrong and be very clear about that because it was wrong.

PFEIFFER: There are some ways that government could address this - censure, expulsion. Do you look at those as options?

LONGWELL: I do, but it's difficult. You know, you've got a collective action problem where so many Republicans participated in this problem that they're not really going to hold each other accountable. I mean, Democrats essentially have to do it. And so then it looks entirely political, which is why the rest of the culture sort of has to step in here. It's why it's so important that those 10 Republicans voted for impeachment in the House and why it's going to be extremely important that as many Republican senators as possible stand up and do the right thing now because that's really going to matter, showing people that there is some accountability even from within your own party.

PFEIFFER: In terms of what businesses could do, we've already seen businesses reacting in recent weeks, publishers canceling Republican book contracts, donations stopping, the PGA canceling its contract with a Trump golf course. In some ways, do you think corporate America is more uniquely positioned that even our government to address these issues if they disagree with the politics of some of these politicians?

LONGWELL: I do think so. I think that, you know, corporations can show a lot of moral leadership in this moment. I think the important part is that it not just happened sort of in a mini flurry right after the insurrection, that it's something that's maintained, that more businesses come out, especially right now during this impeachment trial, that people lay down a marker that says anybody who voted for this to object to the certification of a free and fair election, we're not going to donate to them.

PFEIFFER: That's Republican strategist Sarah Longwell. Thank you for your time.

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