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Nearly 50 years ago, then-Congressman and Bangor native William Cohen voted to impeach President Richard Nixon. Cohen bravely stood up to a president from his own party, and history will remember him for it.
“If you wake up and there’s snow on the ground where there wasn’t any the night before, you conclude that it snowed during the night, even if you didn’t see it fall,” Cohen said during the Watergate investigation. “Conspiracy is too subtle and ambiguous to leave smoking pistols, but the fallen snow must not be ignored.”
Last week, America and the world saw figurative snow fall in real time as President Donald Trump helped fuel a violent mob that attacked the U.S Capitol and then could only manage a delayed, weak, haphazard response. This country can’t shovel all that hateful snow aside and pretend it doesn’t exist, or ignore where it came from. That’s what Trump is now attempting to do.
A small but significant group of House Republicans had their Bill Cohen moment Wednesday, standing up for truth and standing up to the dangerous actions of an unfit president.
Like Cohen, who even as a freshman member of Congress recognized and rebuked the lawlessness of Nixon, history will look kindly on these Republican lawmakers who realize that the presidency is bigger than any one person, and that clearly impeachable offenses culminating in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, striking at the heart of democracy, require impeachment.
For anyone looking to find responsible voices working to heal America in a moment of great division, or for any U.S. senator looking to find the will and the words to be part of that process, we recommend reading the impeachment statements from House members like Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming or Rep. John Katko of New York.
“Much more will become clear in coming days and weeks, but what we know now is enough,” Cheney, a member of House Republican leadership, said in a statement on Tuesday. “The president of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.”
Katko, a former federal prosecutor, said that, “To allow the president of the United States to incite this attack without consequence is a direct threat to the future of our democracy,” and that he could not sit by without taking action.
“The divide in our country is more clear than ever before. I hear my Republican colleagues in their argument that impeachment only further divides our country at a time when we must move forward. I agree,” Katko added. “There must be a continuance of government and a peaceful transition of power. But I also believe firmly that I must follow the law and the facts and hold this President accountable for his actions.”
The statement from Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington in particular stands out for its directness, detail and eloquence:
“The President of the United States incited a riot aiming to halt the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. That riot led to five deaths. People everywhere watched in disbelief as the center of American democracy was assaulted. The violent mob bludgeoned to death a Capitol police officer as they defaced symbols of our freedom. These terrorists roamed the Capitol, hunting the vice president and the Speaker of the House,” she said.
“Hours went by before the president did anything meaningful to stop the attack. Instead, he and his lawyer were busy making calls to senators who were still in lockdown, seeking their support to further delay the Electoral College certification. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy describes pleading with the president to go on television and call for an end to the mayhem, to no avail. The president attacked Vice President Mike Pence on Twitter while Pence was in a secure room having fled from the mob that had breached the Senate floor threatening to hang him. Finally, the president released a pathetic denouncement of the violence that also served as a wink and a nod to those who perpetrated it: ‘I love you’” he said to them, ‘you are special.’ More hours of destruction and violence ensued before law enforcement officials were finally able to clear the Capitol.
“The President’s offenses, in my reading of the Constitution, were impeachable based on the indisputable evidence we already have. I understand the argument that the best course is not to further inflame the country or alienate Republican voters. But I am also a Republican voter. I believe in our Constitution, individual liberty, free markets, charity, life, justice, peace and this exceptional country. I see that my own party will be best served when those among us choose truth.
“I believe President Trump acted against his oath of office, so I will vote to impeach him.”
Like Cohen’s words half a century ago, these words will echo through history.
Correction: A previous version of this editorial misspelled Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s first name.