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House Republicans overwhelmingly stood behind Trump after he incited a white supremacist insurrection

Rather than rushing to lionize a few party defectors, impeachment coverage must reckon with what the vote reveals about race and Republicans.
Ashton Lattimore January 14th, 2021
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Image of a computer screen in a briefing room, with the numerical breakdown of the impeachment vote on the screen.

The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump for a historic second time on Jan. 13, and in the process confirmed that even after he incited a white supremacist insurrection at the Capitol building, an overwhelming majority of Republicans see still no problem with Trump’s conduct. While it is technically correct that the ten Republican votes in favor of impeachment made it “the most bipartisan one in history” as described by the Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and others, that’s an extremely low bar to clear. In fact, the vote numbers don’t suggest bipartisanship in any meaningful sense, but rather paint a stark portrait of a political party that has almost unanimously aligned itself with white supremacy and the white backlash to BIPOC political ascendancy. As if to drive home the point, GOP representatives even booed Rep. Cori Bush for denouncing white supremacy during the hearings. Rather than rushing to lionize the handful of Republicans who momentarily broke with the party—and did so only after their own sense of safety was threatened—news coverage needs to reflect these realities.

There are 211 Republicans in the House of Representatives—only ten of them voted in favor of impeachment. That means over 95% watched as insurrectionists broke into the Capitol with Confederate battle flags held high and white supremacist symbols adorning their bodies as they apparently searched the building for government officials to execute, and decided, “This is fine.” Of course, the overwhelmingly white Republican caucus may have correctly surmised that they weren’t the ones in mortal danger on Jan. 6. Rather, Democratic members of Congress—especially women and Black and brown members—represented the primary targets of the mob’s ire, as newly emerging details have revealed.

The same day the impeachment vote was taken, the Boston Globe reported that as Rep. Ayanna Pressley and her staff barricaded themselves in her office to keep safe from the intruders, they discovered all of the panic buttons in the office had been torn out. On Instagram Live the evening before the vote, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that during the attack she “had a very close encounter where I thought I was going to die.” Both Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez are part of The Squad, an outspoken group of progressive Black and Latina Democratic representatives elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 and 2020, which also includes Bush, and Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Jamaal Bowman. As highly visible avatars of women and BIPOC’s growing political and demographic power, members of The Squad have long been on the receiving end of racist rhetoric and right-wing death threats. The events of Jan. 6 suggest at least some people had designs of carrying those threats out, possibly even with help from members of Congress who graciously offered “reconnaissance tours” to the insurrectionists. 

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The attempted coup also posed a significant risk to a great many Black and brown people who aren’t lawmakers. The residents of Washington, D.C. itself—a largely Black city—along with Congressional support staff and Capitol building custodians had to contend with the trauma of being descended upon by a white supremacist mob, and afterward, were left to clean up the mess that same mob left behind. Overly credulous news coverage praising “principled” Republicans not only threatens to miss the racial realities of where most of the party stands, but also the narrowly circumscribed and race-specific extent of its support for the working class.  

With the looming threat of more insurrectionist violence in the coming days, it is of the highest moral and political significance that so many House Republicans condoned and aided the racist incitement that put the republic, fellow Americans, and the lives of their own Congressional colleagues in serious peril. And because the animating impulses behind the Capitol insurrection won’t wane with the dawn of the post-Trump political era, it’s imperative that we in the media don’t close our eyes to what the impeachment vote actually has to tell us about race, politics, and power in the United States.


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