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May 17, 2021

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How will high-profile role affect future of Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler?

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler speaks Jan. 13 before the vote to impeach former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler speaks Jan. 13 before the vote to impeach former President Donald Trump. (House Television) Photo Gallery

The political ramifications of Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s high-profile role in the impeachment process depends on whom you ask.

Some rank-and-file Republicans and independents are declaring a renewed surge of support for the GOP congresswoman from Battle Ground, lauding her for her backbone in standing up to her party.

But according to the Clark County Republican Party, where murmurs of a right-leaning 2022 primary challenger are already picking up steam, Herrera Beutler’s vote and testimony amounted to political suicide.

The chair of the Clark County Democrats predicts that the electoral outcome of Herrera Beutler’s impeachment role will prove to be a wash — she’ll pick up some voters from the middle, she’ll lose some voters on the right, and the broader political landscape of Washington’s 3rd Congressional District will largely remain the same.

As for Herrera Beutler herself, the question is beside the point.

“Nothing has changed about Jaime’s focus,” her spokesman, Craig Wheeler, wrote in an email to The Columbian. “She’s always been willing to stand up to those who aren’t acting in our nation’s interest, and she’s always been willing to stand up for the truth.”

Herrera Beutler found herself abruptly thrust into the national spotlight over the weekend when her written testimony about a Jan. 6 phone call between then-President Donald Trump and GOP leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy was included in the formal impeachment record. It briefly appeared that she would be called to testify — the Senate had voted to allow witnesses, seemingly so they could hear from her in person — before they ultimately decided to move forward with a verdict after reading her statement into the record.

The now-infamous phone call painted a vivid view of Trump’s mindset during the attack on the Capitol. As rioters stormed the building, McCarthy reportedly called Trump and pleaded with him to denounce them.

“That’s when, according to McCarthy, the president said: ‘Well Kevin, I guess they’re more upset about the election than you are,’ ” Herrera Beutler recounted.

Herrera Beutler had been talking for weeks about the phone call before it was reported as a bombshell by national news organizations. To those in Southwest Washington, it wasn’t really news. Herrera Beutler had recounted the call as described by McCarthy in several public forums: She’d mentioned it in an interview with local media, in a public telephone town hall and in a conversation with the Clark County Republican executive committee.

“The surprise was that national media and impeachment managers only became aware of it the day before the trial was set to conclude,” Wheeler said.

But given what the conversation revealed about Trump’s actions, it made sense that impeachment managers would take notice once national news picked up the story, Wheeler added.

“She would have testified had she been called, though she never actually spoke with the House impeachment managers about it. After all of this, she wasn’t surprised that both parties didn’t want to drag out the hearing further, given the challenges of the pandemic that needs Congress’ attention.”

Going semi-rogue

Herrera Beutler had already drawn the ire of the Clark County Republican Party for her vote in favor of impeachment last month. That she nearly became a key witness in the trial to convict Trump, CCRP Chair Joel Mattila wrote in a text to The Columbian, leaves her “in lonely political waters.”

“I had a 35 minute phone call a couple weeks ago with (Herrera Beutler), and I didn’t divulge what she said in that call. It is my policy not to divulge contents of private phone calls,” Mattila added.

The Clark County Republican Party’s central committee will likely pass a resolution condemning the congresswoman’s actions at its meeting on Feb. 23. Her latest turn will also likely result in a redoubling of the party’s efforts to seek out a primary challenger in her next election, a process that started in earnest last month after her impeachment vote.

Across the aisle, where Democrats have been trying for more than a decade to flip Herrera Beutler’s seat back to blue, Clark County Democrats Chair Mike Dalesandro said it’s too soon to issue sweeping predictions about how impeachment will impact the 2022 election.

If he had to guess, Dalesandro added, the impact will be a net zero, with the number of voters gained and lost roughly equal.

In Dalesandro’s opinion, Herrera Beutler’s biggest weakness right now is inconsistency — voters like knowing how their elected officials will act, and while the narrative of a lawmaker going rogue and bucking their party is a compelling one, it might not serve her in the long run.

“It’s really an element of uncertainty on where she’s at. She’s kind of been waffling back and forth, especially on Trump, for a long time,” Dalesandro said.

Herrera Beutler’s working relationship with Trump has been a rocky one. She refused to back him in 2016, but then defended him during the 2019 impeachment trial and publicly supported his 2020 reelection bid.

Along the way, she voted with Trump’s agenda 80 percent of the time, according to a tracker from FiveThirtyEight, making her one of the more independent-minded Republicans in Congress. On the big issues — especially overturning the Affordable Care Act — she remained steadfastly with her party.

“Hyper-partisanship is not what I’m advocating for here by any stretch,” Dalesandro said. “(But) it’s a lot of mixed messages.”