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‘I have to vote my conscience’: Rep. Dan Newhouse opens up about his decision to support impeachment

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 13, 2021

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., poses for a photo in his office on Jan. 16 on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., poses for a photo in his office on Jan. 16 on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C. (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

WASHINGTON – Central Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse was one of 10 House Republicans who voted Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for his role in the storming of the U.S. Capitol that had left five people dead just a week earlier.

Newhouse and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a southwest Washington Republican, joined eight of their GOP colleagues and all 222 House Democrats to approve a single article of impeachment for “incitement of insurrection” in a historic vote that made Trump the first president ever impeached twice.

The four-term congressman from Sunnyside spoke with The Spokesman-Review just before casting his vote, which he said was “not a knee-jerk decision.”

“I’ve been contemplating and praying about this ever since it became an issue,” Newhouse said. “Even though I’m a Republican and a supporter of Donald Trump – and that’s what makes this really hard – I felt that the president let us down, particularly when he knew what was going on and did not do all he could to stop the violence. I can’t condone that.”

Addressing thousands of his supporters outside the White House on Jan. 6, Trump repeated the baseless claim that he won the election “by a landslide” and called on the crowd to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to pressure Congress to overturn the results of the Electoral College. He also demanded Vice President Mike Pence block the largely symbolic proceedings, something Pence had no authority to do.

In a speech on the House floor minutes after announcing his intention to impeach Trump, Newhouse leveled blame at Democrats for not adequately condemning violence by left-wing protesters over the past year, including in Seattle’s so-called Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. But he went farther than most Republicans in admitting personal responsibility for failing to speak out against Trump’s months-long campaign to overturn the election results.

“This is a sad day in our republic, but not as sad or disheartening as the violence we witnessed in the Capitol last Wednesday,” Newhouse said. “We are all responsible.”

“My colleagues are responsible for not condemning rioters this past year, like those who barricaded the doors of the Seattle Police Department and attempted to murder the officers inside. Others, including myself, are responsible for not speaking out sooner, before the president misinformed and inflamed a violent mob who tore down the American flag and brutally beat Capitol Police officers.”

One police officer was killed and dozens more injured Jan. 6 as pro-Trump rioters forced their way into the building where, minutes earlier, GOP lawmakers were continuing to question the legitimacy of the election at the president’s behest.

The president and his allies have been successful in sowing doubt about the vote, which polls show a large majority of GOP voters believe was rigged. Most Republicans in Congress have tried to avoid directly endorsing Trump’s debunked claims while giving credence to concerns based on those same claims, something Newhouse suggested was a mistake.

“The things many of my constituents and Trump followers around the country have been told to believe over the last few months – that Congress could change the election – that’s just not true,” he said. “We should have been louder in helping people understand what the case truly is.”

Newhouse was among 126 Republican lawmakers who signed a Dec. 10 brief supporting a lawsuit filed by the state of Texas seeking to overturn election results in four states won by President-elect Joe Biden. He said he had no regrets about that decision, which came before the states’ electors cast their votes, but believed Congress had no authority to override the results once they were certified by each state.

Newhouse and Herrera Beutler were among the minority of House Republicans who spurned Trump’s demand to object to the results of a vote GOP election officials and Trump-appointed judges have said was free and fair.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, reversed her initial position and also voted to certify the results after the violence.

The vote likely represents a major political risk for Newhouse in the heavily conservative Central Washington district, where Trump won 59% of votes in November. The departing president has overtly threatened to back conservative challengers to unseat Republicans who don’t support his effort to overturn the election results.

“I know I’m gonna catch a lot of grief at home for this,” he said. “But this is not about the political future of Dan Newhouse. This is about the future of our country.”

Herrera Beutler also said the moral imperative of holding the president accountable took precedent over the risk of losing her seat. Speaking on the House floor ahead of the vote, she asked her colleagues, “What are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail,” Herrera Beutler said. “My vote to impeach our sitting president is not a fear-based decision. I am not choosing a side. I’m choosing truth. It’s the only way to defeat fear.”

Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat whose district stretches from Wenatchee to the Seattle suburbs, said she pulled Newhouse aside in a Capitol hall after the vote to tell him how much she respected the decisions he and Herrera Beutler made.

“I’m really proud of them,” Schrier said. “It’s really hard to go against your party when you have a lot of constituents who are probably very strong supporters of this president to do the right thing in this moment, and they were both very brave.”

Newhouse said he had discussed the decision with some of his fellow House Republicans, including McMorris Rodgers and Herrera Beutler, but the decision was ultimately his own.

“I know that I’m going to be in the minority in the Republican conference,” Newhouse said before the vote, “and that’s not an easy place to be. But in my heart, I have to vote my conscience. I just cannot condone violence and I think it’s time to take a stand and say, as a country, we have to be better.”

While other Republicans argued impeachment would hurt the nation’s ability to unite the nation and move on from his divisive presidency, Newhouse said he thinks holding the president accountable will do more to bring Americans together. He said he got to a point where he had to ask himself, “What’s the best thing to heal the country?”

“I could be wrong,” Newhouse said. “This could be throwing more gas on the fire. I hope not. But at some point – as individuals, as a country – we’ve got to say, ‘This can’t go on anymore.’”

House Democratic leaders have said they intend to send the article of impeachment to the Senate quickly to begin a trial, but the upper chamber is not scheduled to reconvene until Tuesday and outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday he would not bring senators back early.

That all but guarantees Trump will not be removed before his term ends Jan. 20. But Newhouse said he hoped his vote for impeachment would send a clear message and prevent a future president from similarly undermining American democracy.

“I could not condone the violence,” Newhouse said. “I could not condone the inaction by the president, and I hope people understand that.

“The more people take a stand against what’s going on in our country right now, the sooner we will heal as a nation and come together as a truly United States of America.”


Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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