Capitol Insurrection: Republicans Consider Future After Trump's Presidency : Consider This from NPR On Wednesday, in the nation's capital, a mob was incited to violence by the president of the United States. In the years that led up to that moment, many Republicans supported Trump. Now, where does their party go from here?

NPR's Ailsa Chang puts that question to two Capitol Hill veterans: Michael Steel, a longtime aid to former Republican House Speaker John Boehner; and Antonia Ferrier, a former longtime staffer to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

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GOP Faces Trump Reckoning: 'If You Play With Matches, You Will Get Burned'

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GOP Faces Trump Reckoning: 'If You Play With Matches, You Will Get Burned'

GOP Faces Trump Reckoning: 'If You Play With Matches, You Will Get Burned'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/953286681/954591694" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

What happened on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., didn't come out of nowhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL FLYNN: We should not accept this.

CORNISH: Take Tuesday night, when the president's former national security adviser, Mike Flynn, who he pardoned for the crime of lying to the FBI, got Trump supporters in D.C. riled up for the next day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FLYNN: Those of you that don't have the moral fiber in your body, get some tonight because tomorrow we the people are going to be here, and we want you to know that we will not stand for a lie.

CORNISH: Also speaking that night was a former aide to the president, George Papadopoulos, who Trump also pardoned for lying to the FBI.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS: We can't forget, though, what Ulysses S. Grant said, there are but two parties right now - traitors and patriots.

(CHEERING)

CORNISH: The next day on the National Mall, the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, kept it going.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RUDY GIULIANI: Let's have trial by combat.

CORNISH: And so did the president's son, Donald Trump Jr.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP JR: Guess what, folks? If you're going to be the zero and not the hero, we're coming for you, and we're going to have a good time doing it.

(CHEERING)

CORNISH: The words of the president's allies echoed their rhetoric of the last four years and the last four weeks as they repeated lies about a stolen election. But what made yesterday different was that the president's supporters were gathered for a rally called Save America on a day he had promoted as a day of reckoning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved.

(CHEERING)

CORNISH: On Twitter last month, Trump called on supporters to gather January 6 saying, quote, "Be there. It will be wild."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We're going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.

CORNISH: And hours later, the U.S. Capitol complex had been overrun.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOT)

CORNISH: Capitol Police shot and killed a woman inside the Capitol building. Three other people around the building died in what were described as medical emergencies. More than a dozen police officers were injured. Pipe bombs, long guns and Molotov cocktails were found around the Capitol building and elsewhere in the city, which was under an emergency curfew that night.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOT)

CORNISH: NPR reporters on the scene spoke to one man who explained what he wanted the insurrection to achieve.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The people in this House who stole this election from us hanging from a gallow out here in this lawn for the whole world to see so it never happens again - that's what needs to happen - four by four by four hanging from a rope out here for treason.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - Wednesday in the nation's capital, a mob was incited to violence by the president himself. In the years that led up to that moment, many Republicans stood by him. Now, where does their party go from here?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Thursday, January 7.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The Senate will come to order. The vice president as president of the Senate would like to give a brief statement with the indulgence of the senators.

CORNISH: Members of Congress returned to the Capitol Wednesday night to finish the work of certifying Joe Biden's win. And they finally did that around 4 a.m. But in the hours before, some Republicans who have long been close allies of the president spoke out against the actions of his supporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: Today was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol.

CORNISH: Vice President Pence, who as recently as Monday said that, quote, "We've all got our doubts about the last election," now said Wednesday, the people who stormed the Capitol, quote, "did not win."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: And as we reconvene in this chamber, the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy.

CORNISH: Senator Mitch McConnell, who waited six weeks to publicly signal that President Trump lost the election, called the rioters thugs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: And the United States Congress have faced down a much greater threats than the unhinged crowd we saw today.

CORNISH: And Senator Lindsey Graham, who went golfing with the president on Christmas and helped lead the fight against his impeachment, said, quote, "count me out. Enough is enough."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Maybe I among - any above all others in this party need to say this. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are lawfully elected and will become the president and the vice president of the United States on January the 20.

(APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham both just won reelection to six-year terms.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: Majority leader.

MCCONNELL: Mr. President, I yield back the balance of our time.

CORNISH: Now, there are people in Washington, D.C., wondering if the events of January 6 will amount to something of a wake-up call for Republicans in power.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM KINZINGER: All indications are that the president has become unmoored, not just from his duty or even his oath but from reality itself.

CORNISH: One Republican, Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, who has been among the most outspoken Republican critics of President Trump, is even calling for his removal from office via the 25th Amendment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KINZINGER: Here's the truth. The president caused this. The president is unfit. And the president is unwell.

CORNISH: Well, Democratic leaders in Congress, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have also advocated for the 25th Amendment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: Because I think he's a very dangerous man.

CORNISH: And today, Pelosi seemed to suggest impeaching the president is also on the table.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PELOSI: He wants to be unique and be doubly impeached. That's kind of up to him and his cabinet as to whether he should stay in office.

CORNISH: But using the 25th Amendment would require the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to vote to remove the president in the final two weeks of his term, which so far seems unlikely. And in the House, more than 100 of Adam Kinzinger's fellow Republicans, even after a mob stormed their workplace, still voted last night to throw out legally certified electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania. A handful of Republican senators joined them.

Which brings us back to the question, where will the Republican Party go from here? Well, NPR asked two of them, Michael Steel, a longtime aide to former Republican Senator John Boehner, and Antonia Ferrier, a former longtime staffer to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Both are veterans of Capitol Hill. They spoke Wednesday evening to NPR's Ailsa Chang as the violence in Washington, D.C., was still unfolding.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

AILSA CHANG: I want to talk about what all this means for the country and for the Republican Party. But since both of you are such longtime veterans of the Hill, I just want to get a sense of how you're taking this all in. What was your first reaction as you watched these events unfold today? Either of you can begin.

MICHAEL STEEL: I mean...

ANTONIA FERRIER: I was horrified, absolutely horrified. I have never seen anything like this. Mike Steel, and I used to work together. And I'm just absolutely horrified that what has traditionally been a peaceful transition of power turned into violence that swept through one of the most important and glorious buildings representing our democracy - absolutely horrified.

CHANG: Mike?

STEEL: Yeah. I mean, my wife told me that she saw me cry more this afternoon than when our son was born. And I told her that was because I was happy when our son was born. This is the symbol of our democracy. It is accessible. It is open because it is as it was meant to be - the people's house. The reason that they could storm it is because it is designed so that the American people can see their government in action, can sit in the galleries, can interact with their members, so the press can grab senators and congressmen as they come on and off the floor. This is supposed to be an open institution.

CHANG: Antonia, your former boss, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - I mean, he explicitly called for his colleagues, members of the Republican caucus, to just allow the process to unfold the way it's supposed to unfold. What do you feel is driving these members to disregard their colleagues and in particular the leader here, Mitch McConnell?

FERRIER: That's a good question. I think I stand very fortunate that I worked for a man who believes in our democracy and the peaceful transition of power. I unfortunately think some members thought about the political expediency of doing something like this and didn't think that there would be any real consequences because they knew that, in the House that Democrats controlled and between the Democrats and those Republicans who oppose in the Senate, that there would be no consequences. Well, unfortunately, they were wrong. And we've seen that play out in a rather dramatic and really sad day today.

CHANG: I want to go to the House because, Mike Steel, you know, more than 100 members of the House were preparing to object to the slate of presidential electors and also a dozen members on the Senate side. But with respect to the House, I mean, were you personally surprised at all that some of these - that many of these members were going to be standing with President Trump on this?

STEEL: I think that a lot of members right now are trying to make a political bet, trying to figure out what the president's influence will be within the party going forward, whether he will have the power to endorse a primary opponent and defeat them in elections. Antonia has heard me say before that they're - in both parties, in both houses, there are two kinds of members, the members that fear a primary more than a general election and those that fear a general election more than a primary. And I think that the ones who fear a primary were more likely to be backing the president on this. And I also think that the result might have been different before we saw what happened in Georgia and before we saw how the president's embrace of these baseless conspiracy theories cost us two Senate seats and the majority in the Senate.

CHANG: Well, I just want to look ahead. I mean, whatever unfolds later today and in the days afterwards, it is not going to change who becomes president in two weeks.

STEEL: No.

CHANG: So - and wherever President Trump goes, Joe Biden will become the next president of the United States. However, it does seem like it is increasingly difficult to argue that things will just snap back to normal after this new administration begins. Give us your sense, both of you, on how you see particularly Republicans working together in both chambers.

FERRIER: That's a very good question. You know, there are sort of the old-school, traditionalist cats, Majority Leader McConnell one of them. We have some outgoing members like Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. And you have sort of your new breed. And the same is true in the House, by the way. It's just in the Senate, they have longer terms, so they tend to be older. Those traditionalists - and Joe Biden - and incoming President Biden comes from that tradition as well. You've had over the past 10 years - and Steel and I can speak to this firsthand of what it was like with the Tea Party making false promises that are all basically built on lies. It's just become louder with this president basically telling Americans who are Trump supporters and Republicans things that are not true. And they're choosing to believe them.

What that means for the party moving forward - there's, I hope, an ability - this is a cathartic moment. But I'm not so sure there will be sort of the, quote, unquote, "responsible Republicans" who will try and work their best with Joe Biden. But it's really - this tempest of today - it feels like there are going to be some long-term consequences, and I really can't tell you what that's going to mean. But I do...

STEEL: I do...

FERRIER: ...Hope that there's (laughter) - I think some - I hope some of these members have some real - they touched the stove. And I hope that they are sanguine about what has happened today.

CHANG: Mike Steel.

STEEL: Yeah.

CHANG: You were about to say something.

STEEL: Yeah, no. I have a similar hope. I think that the - I hope that the shock and violence and horror of today, as awful as it has been, will teach members that if you play with matches, you eventually will get burned and that there are consequences to lying to the American people over and over again. And we saw some of those consequences today.

CHANG: It sounds like you're suggesting, Mike Steel, that maybe some of what is happening now could have been avoided. Do you feel that Republicans could have more forcefully stood up to President Trump earlier on? And I'm not just talking about in the last few weeks, as President Trump has claimed baselessly that the election was rigged and that the election was stolen from him. But over the last four years, are you disappointed that many members of your party did not stand up more forcefully to President Trump?

STEEL: Certainly in the weeks since the election, I think that these baseless, ridiculous charges, these conspiracy theories - and the president simply refuses to concede the fact that he lost the election. There is no impropriety, no fraud that would swing a single state in his direction that has been proven in a court of law or testified to under oath, let alone the several states that would be required to overturn the Electoral College. It's simply irresponsible. And I think that there was a sense that we should let him vent, let him do his little thing. He's going to leave in a few weeks anyway. And that was a poor decision.

CORNISH: That was Michael Steel, former aide to Republican John Boehner, and Antonia Ferrier, a former staffer to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. You're listening to CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

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