Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, voted against impeaching President Donald Trump on Wednesday, joining most House Republicans in a losing effort to avoid a stinging rebuke to the president in his last week in office.
The impeachment was approved 232-197, with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in the equivalent of an indictment for inciting a mob to violently invade and ransack the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, killing five.
The article of impeachment for incitement of insurrection would normally be sent to the Senate for an extended trial to convict or acquit the president. Only three presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and now Trump twice. In the prior three trials, all were acquitted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, can send the impeachment to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said the earliest he would consider the impeachment would be Jan. 19. That is the day before Biden replaces Trump as president during ceremonies at the Capitol.
Bentz did not speak during the two-hour debate and spent much of the time off the floor due to attempts to limit COVID-19 exposure in the House chamber.
Bentz said Wednesday the attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump supporters was inexcusable. “I continue to share the emotions many are feeling in the aftermath of the unprecedented and unacceptable violence this past week.”
Bentz said the “rush-to-judgment” impeachment would only divide the nation more and undercut efforts to get both parties working on key issues such as COVID-19 as soon as possible.
“I voted against impeachment because our focus should be on unifying our nation, ensuring a peaceful transition to the Biden Administration,” Bentz said.
With less than two weeks since he was sworn-in, the bulk of Bentz’s time has been taken with the Electoral College vote, the riot and opposing efforts to oust Trump as soon as possible.
“I came to Congress to stand up for rural communities across my district by addressing the terrible damage caused by recent wildfires, and to reform the laws that govern our water rights,” Bentz said.
As the lone Republican in Oregon’s House delegation, Bentz was at odds with the state’s other Congress members — Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, and Kurt Schrader, D-Salem.
“Donald J. Trump encouraged and incited the violent attack that occurred on Jan. 6, when Congress was gathered to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election,” Bonamici said in a statement. “It was an attack on our Capitol and our democracy. Today I voted to impeach him for incitement of insurrection.”
Two Republicans from Washington state voted to impeach.
“I believe in our Constitution, individual liberty, free markets, charity, life, justice, peace and this exceptional country,” Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, said prior to the vote. “I see that my own party will be best served when those among us choose truth.”
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, said in a statement before the vote that opposing impeachment would “validate the unacceptable violence we witnessed in our nation’s capital.”
The House Judiciary Committee’s statement for impeachment said that reports showed the crowd at Trump’s rally preceding the riot last week was large, angry and prepared for violence.
At that rally, Trump’s “incendiary speech” reiterated false claims that “we won this election, and we won it by a landslide.” Trump told the crowd that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He said to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue to prevent Congress from confirming the election of ‘an illegitimate President.’”
“These comments directly incited a violent attack on the Capitol that threatened the safety and lives of the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, and the President pro tempore of the Senate, the first three individuals in the line of succession to the presidency,” the Judiciary Committee report read.
“The rioters attacked law enforcement officers, unleashed chaos and terror among Members and staffers and their families,” the report said.
Bentz was sworn in Jan. 4 as the new congressman replacing 20-year veteran Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River.
The vote against impeachment was the third time in a week that Bentz had supported Trump following the riot at the Capitol.
Immediately after the violent occupation on Jan. 6 was suppressed by police and National Guard, the Congress reconvened to verify the Electoral College vote electing Democrat Joe Biden as President.
Despite findings by state election officials, courts and the Attorney General William Barr saying there were no substantial examples of voter fraud, Bentz joined with other Republicans in objecting to the votes from Pennsylvania. The Electoral College votes were approved by a bipartisan vote of the House.
On Tuesday, Bentz voted against the House’s first attempt to take action to eject Trump from the White House. A resolution called for Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, which would have allowed him and a majority of the cabinet to remove Trump as unfit for office.
The House voted 223-205 in favor of a resolution. But before the vote, Pence said he would not invoke the amendment.
On Wednesday was the biggest challenge so far. The article “impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors” read:
“President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”
Bentz had been in the Capitol earlier on Jan. 6, before thousands of Trump supporters stormed the seat of national government, overwhelmed police and began defacing statues, occupying offices and stealing computers and other items.
The members of Congress in the Capitol at the time were able to escape the rioters by a few minutes, as security guards rushed them into safe locations, along with Vice President Mike Pence.
Bentz at that time was in his office in the Longworth Office Building, across Independence Avenue from the Capitol. He was following congressional leaders’ requests to reduce the number of people in and around the chambers for fears of COVID-19 infection. He consulted with staff about upcoming possible objections to Electoral College votes. Bentz had already voted to approve the votes of Arizona, saying he saw no reasonable issues on which to object. But additional challenges were expected on other states won by Joe Biden.
Bentz became aware that the thousands of people who attended the Trump speech streamed up Pennsylvania Avenue, some yelling “hang Mike Pence” and “stop the steal,” assaulting police officers and smashing their way into the Capitol. Bentz and his staff followed security protocols to lock the office and shelter in place. They watched the events unfold like most Americans experienced it: on television.
Bentz issued a statement that evening about the attack.
“I condemn the actions of the rioters in the strongest terms possible,” he said. “I call on all Americans to choose peaceful protests over violence, chaos, and anarchy.”
Bentz also made clear that the verification of the Electoral College vote that evening had officially and finally ended the election.
“We can accept that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States,” Bentz said. “I am committed to a peaceful transfer of power.”
Bentz said the majority of Trump supporters in his district and around the nation opposed the attack on the Capitol.
“I continue to empathize with those whose frustrations with the electoral system remain unresolved. I share their frustrations, and as the Representative of Oregon’s Second District, I will do my best to address their concerns.”