As U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, said he condemned the protesters who breached the Capitol on Wednesday, he continued to oppose certifying Electoral College votes that confirmed Democrat Joe Biden as the presidential election winner.
Local Democratic Party officials say Cline’s actions leading up to and during Wednesday’s typically uneventful procedure fanned the flames that led to rioting by supporters of President Donald Trump.
“If 12 senators and 126 representatives in the House had gone through the usual formality of certifying election results, the protesters would not have been really emboldened as they were, but I can’t speculate on that,” said Colum Leckey, chair of the Rockingham County Democratic Committee.
In addition to opposing votes certifying Biden’s win, Cline had signed on to a lawsuit last month seeking to invalidate votes from four other states.
“While people have a right to peaceably protest, those who breached the Capitol and assaulted Capitol Police officers should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Cline said Wednesday on Twitter. “Violence is never the answer, and I condemn their actions in the strongest possible terms.”
The day after the siege of the Capitol, Cline and most lawmakers representing the Shenandoah Valley in the General Assembly did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Of the 14 people contacted, including party officials and lawmakers, only six responded.
Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, was the only lawmaker to discuss the situation over the phone on Thursday.
Bell said people have a right to assemble and peacefully protest, but he condemned violence and those who break the law.
“Acts of violence are not the answer,” he said. “Those who break the law should be prosecuted.”
Dels. Chris Runion, R-Bridgewater, Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, and Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, and Sens. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, and Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, did not return calls to the Daily News-Record on Thursday.
Wilt’s legislative aide referred questions to a statement Wilt posted on his social media pages Wednesday afternoon.
In his statement, Wilt said that “anyone who condemned the riots this summer in Richmond and other cities across the country cannot in good conscience remain silent now.”
“Every American has the right to peaceful protest, but we cannot allow ourselves to be driven by mob rule,” he said. “Our nation is governed by laws and peaceful transfer of power is the bedrock of our Republic. There are processes in place to settle disputes over outcomes and violence or threats of violence is not one of them. Those committing these unlawful acts should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
John Massoud, chair of Virginia’s 6th Congressional District Republican Committee, did not respond to inquiries Thursday.
Alleyn Harned, Harrisonburg Democratic Committee chair, said Wednesday’s events could have been avoided if Cline did not choose to “misrepresent and lie to his constituents” regarding the election.
“When you lie to people and tell them they are patriots, you are culpable to them being misinformed,” he said.
Harned said Cline should resign. If he doesn’t, voters should remember what happened when the next election arrives, he said.
Kym Crump, chair of the 6th Congressional District Democratic Committee, also said Cline and Trump bear responsibility for the attack on the Capitol due to their continued feeding of false information and conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election to their supporters.
“They have failed to uphold their oaths of office and do not deserve the right to represent us,” Crump said.
Daryl Borgquist, chair of the county’s Republican Committee, said he did not attend Wednesday’s rally and protest but knew area residents who did and left before the protest turned violent.
The scene at the Capitol was filled with red “Make America Great Again” hats and Trump flags, but Borgquist said he heard reports that a group “not like the rest” was present.
“This was a group of young adults, which is fairly unusual for us,” he said. “They had backpacks, which is unusual. They were ready to go. They are not us and they don’t represent us at all.”
What shocked Borgquist the most, he said, was how the protesters were able to breach the Capitol when law enforcement was present.
“Law enforcement should have seen it,” he said. “It could have been avoided.”
Harrisonburg Republican Committee Chair Jeffrey Mayfield said the events that took place were a display of the “monster” the “left” created, adding that he wasn’t surprised at what happened or what could happen in the future.
Mayfield disagreed with fellow Republicans’ characterization of what transpired.
“For the most part people were walking around in the Capitol,” he said. “I’m not condemning what happened, but it’s bias to say it was violent. It was stupid and reckless and people should have known better.”
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s protest, lawmakers began calling for the 25th Amendment to be invoked to remove Trump from office with less than two weeks left before Inauguration Day.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., wrote on Twitter that the Cabinet should invoke the 25th Amendment and if not, Congress should remove Trump.
“Congress should inform Trump that he is not welcome at the inauguration,” he said on Twitter.
Earlier that morning, Kaine released a statement on the certification of electoral votes and said the “attack on the Capitol was an attack on all Americans.”
“Goaded by the President and abetted by some of my fellow Senators, right-wing insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol in support of an effort to overturn the presidential election results and install an unelected government,” he said in a statement. “We know exactly how we got to this point. What will the Republican leaders who have enabled the outgoing President do to restore peace, law, and order after this four-year flirt with authoritarianism?”
Virginia’s other senator, Democrat Mark Warner, also voiced support for invoking the 25th Amendment.
“This president is unfit to remain in office for the next two weeks,” he said on Twitter. “Every minute he’s in power, he continues to be a threat to our security.”