Maine’s 1st District Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about Thursday’s historic impeachment vote and what comes next.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Gratz: Listening to some of the debate yesterday, I heard Republican members arguing not so much that President Donald Trump’s behavior last week was proper, but they objected in some cases to what they called a “rushed impeachment.” What was your response to that?
Pingree: Well, I mean, last time, we went through a long process. This time, it was just so clear cut. When I was listening to my colleagues talk about this, about, you know, ‘Maybe we should let this go, let’s try to heal and move forward.’ Some of them even said, ‘Oh, this is the cancel culture, we’ll never have our rights back again.’ And I thought, this is a consequence of the actions that the president took. I listened to him at the rally, he was very clear, you know, ‘March on the Capitol, don’t accept this election.’ He’s been lying about the election for days and days. And if you watch those videos of what it was like that day, you look at people with hockey sticks, beating up police officers, storming the chamber, setting up a gallows, saying, ‘hang Mike Pence,’ you know, ‘get the speaker.’ That was just unthinkable domestic terrorism, and there had to be consequences for that. We had to make it clear, that’s an assault on our democracy, assault on individuals. We just had to do it.
Well, the other question that some had was that since the Senate isn’t likely to start a trial before Trump’s term expires, was it really useful to use impeachment?
We didn’t have a lot of tools at our disposal. As you know, first, the House took a vote basically asking Mike Pence to remove the president from office. There was plenty of reason and, of all people, the vice president had reason to go ahead and do that. He made it clear he wasn’t going to. We unfortunately have intelligence reports of multiple rallies being planned on the Capitol. Other groups planning to come in and attempt to stop the inaugural. It just seemed critically important to take a tough stand and, again, say to our colleagues, you know, ‘This doesn’t stand.’ There were 10 Republicans who voted with us. Many people believe there are more, and we don’t know what will happen in the Senate. I know that the Senate soon-to-be majority leader has tried to get Mitch McConnell to agree to do it before the inaugural. But we don’t know if that’s going to happen.
In the end, as you mentioned, 10 Republican members voted with Democrats for impeachment, were you hoping that more would join?
Many of them still feel this enormous pressure of, you know, ‘Maybe I’ll have a primary.’ Lots of them were talking about threats on their lives. There’s just a lot of uncomfortable action going on out there. So it was a decision individuals had to make. I know, for many of my colleagues, the best thing that could happen to the Republican Party — and we’re better off when we have a strong Democratic and strong Republican Party — is to purge Donald Trump and allow the party to move on, allow our nation to move on from this time when we had a president who destroyed the norms, didn’t believe in the electoral process. These things that if we don’t hang on to them, we start to lose the fundamentals of what holds our country together.
If the goal was to prevent Trump from running for office again, what about the suggestion some have made that it would have been better to find him in violation of the 14th Amendment, which would have required a majority vote in both chambers and would have prevented him from seeking federal office again?
It was just a decision made that we had to go in this order. And that vote may still come up, too, when we have a new Senate, and we can move forward.
Do you plan to attend President-elect Jo Biden’s inauguration next week?
At this point I don’t think I will. There are going to be such strong security concerns. And there’s also a pandemic going on. There would be very limited activity that we were able to engage in anyway. It’s likely just a short ceremony outside. At this point I don’t think I will.
And then once the inauguration happens, what would you like to see the new president focus on first?
Well, 100%, he has to focus on the pandemic. The rollout of the vaccines has been terrible. We need to use the Defense Production Act to up the production, but also to have more sensibility in how they’re being rolled out. We have to have another package to just help hold this economy together, to help state and local governments move forward. And then it’s a very long list. We’ve had an administration that has decimated many of our executive branch departments, from the State Department to the EPA, the Department of Education. There’s a lot of work to be done, but I am really looking forward to having a new administration, to having very experienced cabinet secretaries, good people to work with. And I think we’re gonna have to work very, very hard in the next two years on a lot of issues, which will be bipartisan, and I think will just help put our country back together.