Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, voted Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump in a stunning final rebuke after four years spent locked in a fragile two-step of backing her party while keeping its polarizing leader at arm’s length.
Herrera Beutler was one of 10 House Republicans to cross party lines and vote to impeach Trump for inciting the right-wing mob that launched an assault on the U.S. Capitol last week. The House voted 232 to 197 to advance the charge to the Senate, which will make the determination as to whether the president should be convicted, removed from office and barred from running again.
In an address on the House floor, Herrera Beutler called on her colleagues to embrace the moral clarity that comes with accepting the truth.
“I rise today to stand against our enemy. And to clarify, our enemy isn’t the president, or the president-elect. Fear is our enemy. It tells us what we want to hear, it incites anger and violence and fire, but it also haunts us into silence and inaction. What are you afraid of?” she asked.
“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,” Herrera Beutler concluded, to a smattering of applause on the House floor.
The congresswoman from Southwest Washington was the fifth Republican to announce her support for impeachment. In a searing statement, posted to her social media channels at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, she excoriated the president for his “pathetic denouncement of the violence that also served as a wink and a nod to those who perpetuated it.”
“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 speaker of the House,” Herrera Beutler 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.”
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, followed suit Wednesday morning and became the sixth House Republican to support impeachment. Washington’s remaining GOP representative, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, voted against advancing the article to the Senate.
A tenuous alliance
As a moderate Republican in the party of Trump, Herrera Beutler’s bond with the administration has always been uneasy.
Ahead of the 2016 election — when Trump was still widely regarded as a long shot for the presidency against Democrat Hillary Clinton — Herrera Beutler publicly announced that she wouldn’t support him, and would instead cast her vote in protest for the then-House Speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan.
Over the next four years, her advocacy for the president’s agenda remained fairly steady, though it wasn’t the unquestioning allegiance practiced by some of her Republican colleagues.
According to political website FiveThirtyEight.com, Herrera Beutler voted with the president’s agenda 81.6 percent of the time. Of the 197 House Republicans, only 14 have lower scores.
(“Do I think the way the president presents his ideas or his opinions is appropriate? Not always,” she told PBS in June. “Oftentimes I feel like it’s the ‘cringemeter’ — am I going to cringe when that happens or not?”)
But in December 2019, when it came time to cast her most consequential vote — whether to impeach the 45th president the first time — Herrera Beutler stuck with Trump. “It felt like it turned into a political weapon for one party to take out a president they didn’t like,” she said.
By 2020, with the full power of Trump’s incumbency behind him, she had changed her mind. She would vote for the sitting president on the November ballot, Herrera Beutler announced ahead of the election, claiming he was a preferable alternative to Democrat Joe Biden.
When 147 congressional Republicans sought to overturn the results of that election, which showed Biden as the indisputable winner, Herrera Beutler did not join them.
“Here’s the reality: My guy didn’t win in November. He lost the election,” Herrera Beutler said in a video address, posted to her Facebook page a few hours after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. “I hated that. But in four years there will be another election, if we reject this despicable violence.”
It’s too soon to say how Herrera Beutler’s vote on impeachment will affect her 2022 prospects. The six-term congresswoman is much more popular than Trump in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District — despite a strong Democratic challenger, she won her 2020 reelection by 13 percentage points. Trump barely carried the district, winning by 3 points.
Calem Heimlich, chair of the Washington State Republican Party, at the time had praised the congresswoman’s deft political positioning for appealing to both moderates and right-leaning voters.
“It shows that Congresswoman Herrera Beutler has done a really good job at representing the district, and that she was getting votes from independent voters,” Heimlich told The Columbian in November. She is “appealing to swing voters, and even some soft Democrats.”
While Herrera Beutler’s backing for impeachment may garner her support from those voters, it could make her vulnerable to a primary challenger who positions themselves to her right next year. Even in Clark County — a purple haven in the red-tinged WA-3 — voters were unkind to moderates in the last election, favoring more partisan candidates.
Herrera Beutler alluded to that risk in her address to the House floor Wednesday.
“I’m afraid of what people will say or think. I’m afraid of being devalued. I’m not afraid of losing my job, but I am afraid that my country will fail. I’m afraid patriots of this country have died in vain. I’m afraid my children won’t grow up in a free country. I’m afraid injustice will prevail,” she said.
“But truth — truth sets us free from fear. Truth doesn’t guarantee bad things won’t happen, but it does promise to always prevail in the end.”