Erie At Large: Our Nation's Dark Day
And those who stand accountable
The attack on the United States Capitol was the most heinous act in modern America. It's been compared to the War of 1812, but that was carried out by the British. It's been compared to the Civil War, but that was caused by the official acts of secession carried out by 11 Southern slave-holding states. The insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021 was different because it was waged by a ragtag collection of so-called patriots composed of working-class whites, members of law enforcement (retired and active), former members of the military, wannabe pundits, and even some elected officials. But on that day, they acted in no official capacity, with no legitimate grievance against the government they tried to depose. The mob that stormed the Capitol was little more than petulant children acting out because they didn't get their way.
In the weeks and months to come, there will be much to unpack as We, the People reconcile what we saw and the reasons it took place. To date, most Americans — even those who previously challenged the outcome of the 2020 presidential election with baseless legal claims — recognize that the insurrection was, in fact, the culmination of more than four years of hostile rhetoric by Donald Trump and his enablers in both government and the private sector. Trump's base, having been bound together by falsehoods and false hope, seethed over the idea that any outcome other than his re-election could be viewed as legitimate.
It is unlikely that the country will find redress of the grievances against it before the transition of power and the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris takes place on Jan. 20. The vice president, Mike Pence, now appears to lack the political will to carry through with the process prescribed in the 25th Amendment to remove a president who is unfit for duty. The Congress has only impeachment to remedy the same situation. And with that process — even expedited — unlikely to be completed prior to Jan. 20 when Trump leaves office and President-Elect Biden continues to call for unity and focus on the business that lies ahead, it seems that impeachment will end in a political quagmire.
What's truly lost by allowing Trump to remain in office is that, without such an official action, there is no way to legally prohibit him from running for federal office again. While many expect that Trump will preemptively pardon himself and his family and friends — although there is no legal precedent for the legitimacy of such pardons — others suggest that he is also likely to pardon those charged in the assault on the Capitol on the way out of office. Either would be impeachable and treasonous.
But without official recourse, Trump's future and that of his minions lay in the hands of the American people — the ones who had cautioned all along that Trump's rhetoric and moral turpitude would lead to a moment similar to Jan. 6 and those from either party who moved away from Trump during the course of his tenure in office because they saw how the rancor, lies, and divisiveness were polarizing a people who once stood together, if for nothing else, the idea of America, different as those visions may have been.
As we saw when Congress reconvened late on the evening of Jan. 6 after the Capitol had been cleared of those who laid siege, long-term allies of Trump began to distance themselves within hours of the attack. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), one of Trump's most deplorable lieutenants, took to the Senate floor to say "Trump and I have had a hell of a journey, but enough is enough." Most Republican senators — even Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), whose bid for re-election had failed less than 24 hours before — followed Graham's example. Notably Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who long defended Trump's unorthodoxy but who defended Pennsylvania and its electoral processes on Jan. 6, has joined the chorus calling for Trump to resign.
The Republican members of the House of Representatives lacked such self-awareness. As Vice President Pence continued to read into the Congressional record the certified vote counts of each state's electors, Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) rose to object to Pennsylvania's electoral college results. Unlike the previous objections to other states' electors raised by members of the House after reconvening, none of which had the required support of a member of the Senate, the objection to Pennsylvania's electors retained the signature of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) which meant that the objection would have to be debated for up to two hours in each chamber and voted on by both the House and the Senate.
Senators left the joint session at 12:22 a.m., and in less than 10 minutes, they closed debate and voted 92-7 to reject the challenge to Pennsylvania's electors.
Debate in the House continued for the full two hours. House Republicans, led by the Pennsylvania Republican delegation including Mike Kelly, who represents the 16th Congressional District including Erie County, refused to abandon the lie that Pennsylvania's election results are invalid despite that same election's result returning him to the halls of congress for his sixth two-year term.
When Allegheny County Democrat Conor Lamb rose to speak in defense of Pennsylvania's election results, the election officials who carried out the election, and the Republican legislation that defined the election processes that went into effect in 2020, House Republicans interrupted him continuously with shouts and insults. At one point, Lamb's Democratic colleagues rushed from their seats behind him as if to stop the Republican mob from encroaching on the Democratic lectern in an attempt to silence the young congressman. It seems that such behavior — the petulance, the impatience, and the aggression — have become model Republicanism, particularly for those in elected office.
Similar scenes have become common in state houses across the country as well as here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Last year in the Pennsylvania Senate, then-President Pro-Tempore, Republican Joe Scarnatti, seized the gavel from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Senate's presiding officer, during a heated budget debate as if he were playing capture the flag because Fetterman refused to acknowledge a Republican senator who was attempting to shout over Democrat Katie Muth.
In similar fashion, just days before the attack on the U.S. Capitol, what should have been a day of celebration on the floor of the Pa. Senate turned into a melee as the Republican majority voted to remove Lt. Gov. Fetterman from his post so they could refuse to seat Democrat Scott Brewster from Allegheny County who won re-election by just 69 votes over his Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli. Both of Erie's senators, Republicans Dan Laughlin and Michelle Brooks, voted against seating Brewster despite having been credentialed to rejoin the Pennsylvania Senate by the Pennsylvania Department of State.
"But in a pattern consistent with Republican defiance at the federal level, Pennsylvania Republicans have challenged votes in Allegheny County, which would overturn Brewster's victory and award the seat to Ziccarelli. That decision rested with the courts. A federal judge has since upheld a lower court's decision affirming Brewster's re-election. As Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa noted, Senate Republicans continue to "demonstrate a pattern of undemocratic behavior."
"The suggestion that (Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman) would defy yet another court order in his quest to steal the 45th District from Sen. Brewster is chilling, and takes clear cues from his role model, Donald Trump," Costa told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Loyalty to Trump has become a common and consistent theme in the Pennsylvania Senate. In addition to Corman's disregard for that with which he disagrees, Senate Republicans perpetuated the claims made by Trump in his attempt to discredit the results of the presidential election in Pennsylvania.
As recently as Jan. 4, just 48 hours before the attack on the Capitol that was intended to halt the certification of the Electoral College results, Republican members of the Pennsylvania Senate, including Brooks, whose district includes parts of southern Erie County, sent a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, outlining what they called "inconsistencies" in the 2020 election in an attempt to influence and encourage objections to Pennsylvania's electors during the joint session on Jan. 6.
Previously Sen. Laughlin, who represents the remainder of Erie County, was party to an Amicus Curiae brief filed by Pennsylvania Senate Republicans when Texas sued Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia in a direct appeal to the Supreme Court. Laughlin claimed online and in the local press that Pennsylvania Republicans were not trying to disenfranchise Pennsylvania voters or overturn the results of the 2020 election, but that was the intent of the Texas suit. Amicus briefs, by definition, are intended to offer the Court additional information or perspective that the parties directly involved in the appeal may not be able to offer. So while not directly addressing the question raised by Texas, the intent is to influence the decision of the Court.
Fortunately for Pennsylvania voters, the Court rejected the case outright. To date Pennsylvania and federal courts have rejected 13 attempts to overturn election results in the commonwealth.
PA-16's Rep. Kelly has remained the central figure in most of the challenges attempting to disenfranchise nearly three million voters and overturn the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania. Kelly has long been a general in Trump's Army, trafficking in lies and perpetuating conspiracies on behalf of the 45th President.
Kelly claimed in 2017 that former President Barack Obama was running a shadow government because the Obamas, who had school-aged daughters at that time, had not left Washington after they left the White House. Last October, when the House voted 371-18 to condemn the conspiracy group QAnon, which has become a powerful force in Trump's online propaganda machine, Kelly was one of the 18 Republicans to support QAnon by voting against the majority. Since election night, Kelly has repeatedly said publicly and in court filings that Pennsylvania's election was rigged against Donald Trump despite the fact that Republicans down the ballot outperformed Trump and even won two of three statewide races. Even after the objection to Pennsylvania's electors was defeated in both the House and Senate in the early hours of Jan. 7 — the process continued until after 3 a.m. before recessing until later Thursday morning — Kelly has continued his campaign to throw millions of Pennsylvanian votes, mostly Democratically heavy mail-in ballots, in the trash.
Kelly argues that the legislative process by which the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature designed and implemented the election changes enacted in 2020 actually requires an amendment to the state constitution. Kelly took this argument to the State Supreme Court on Nov. 28 and lost because, the Court said, he should have made this case prior to any election utilizing the new voting procedures. Kelly filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court and was denied.
The fact that Kelly continues this fight even after the Keystone State certified its election results, after the commonwealth's electors met to cast their ballots for the Electoral College, after the joint session of Congress certified the results of the Electoral College, and since the Trump campaign has lost more than 50 challenges to the results of the 2020 election, it only serves to underscore that our representative in Congress is little different than his Republican colleagues across Pennsylvania and in the U.S. House of Representatives. He is a petulant child in the body of a 72-year-old man who will continue to whine and wail to try and get his way, Trump's way. But that's not the worst of him.
Kelly has been one of Trump's staunchest defenders and one of his most steadfast enablers. He believes in Trump's America. He believes in the perpetuation of lies and conspiracies, and he appears unfazed by and unwilling to acknowledge the fact that his rhetoric since 2017 and throughout this election cycle, has stoked and provoked the unfounded anger and the manufactured contempt of the masses who stormed the Capitol.
It was a dark day for our nation. The people who participated must be held accountable. Some have already been brought to justice.
Like them, the elected officials who challenged the very election that retained them in office, fanning the treasonous flames of insurrection and perverting the constitution, must also be held accountable. Their justice, if not brought by the courts, must soon be resolved by the ballot.
Jim Wertz is a contributing editor and Chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party. He can be reached at jWertz@ErieDems.com and you can follow him on Twitter @jim_wertz. This article has been lightly edited from its original version.