Rioters Are Facing Consequences—Will Any Politicians? : The NPR Politics Podcast The Justice Department says hundreds will be prosecuted in connection with the Capitol siege. Republican lawmakers like Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz are also dealing with fallout from their support of President Trump's election fraud conspiracy.

This episode: political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, and congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

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Rioters Are Facing Consequences—Will Any Politicians?

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Rioters Are Facing Consequences—Will Any Politicians?

Rioters Are Facing Consequences—Will Any Politicians?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SHERIDAN SMITH: This is Sheridan Smith (ph) from Long Beach, Calif. And I'm on my way to Los Angeles, and I'm stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway. The time is...


1:36 p.m. on January 12.

SMITH: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but I will probably still be stuck in the same spot. Enjoy the show.


SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: He's probably still on the 405. I have been in that traffic, and it is unbelievable.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: If you're near the 101 and the 405, you may not move at all, ever.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. We can talk about LA highways all day. But in the meantime, hey, it is the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover politics.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

KURTZLEBEN: And it is a two-podcast day here at the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. We are ready for a long day. We will be back tonight after the House votes on a resolution encouraging the vice president and Cabinet to use the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from power. Right now, though, we have plenty of other news to get in, so let's just get started and run through all of this.

First, we have personnel news. With just over a week left in the Trump presidency, Chad Wolf, acting secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, is stepping down. And Tam, let's talk about this. This is quite the moment to do that. What is going on?

KEITH: Yeah. And let's just say he is not like the other two Cabinet secretaries who left, who said that they had grave concerns about the insurrection that happened at the Capitol last week. No, that is not what he mentioned in his resignation letter. His concern is related to lawsuits that basically said that he wasn't rightfully in the job. He's the acting Homeland Security secretary - or was - and was not lawfully acting in that role based on a couple of lawsuits.

But, yeah, the timing is remarkable here. You have - you know, the Department of Homeland Security has a lot of involvement in securing the homeland, and there are ongoing threats of potential additional violent incidents, efforts to overturn the government, lots of chatter on the Internet and events planned, warnings coming from law enforcement. And - now, the Homeland Security secretary is not running point on all of these matters. But it's still a weird time to leave - also a weird time to leave because today, President Trump is visiting the border wall, which was part of his whole Homeland Security strategy.

KURTZLEBEN: So now the agency head is departing before the smoke clears after an actual attack, very shortly before Biden takes office. Do we have any sense of how much this complicates the transition?

DAVIS: Well, yeah. I mean, the transition could be very complicated by other events that are happening in Washington this week. You know, Democrats in the House are on a path to impeach the president, which would shortly after that trigger an impeachment trial. And when the Senate is in an impeachment trial, they really can't take up any other business unless they get sort of a bipartisan agreement to do so.

Joe Biden's worried about this. You know, his camp has been talking to Senate parliamentarians to see if they can somehow split the day because he needs to get his Cabinet filled. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer put out a statement today saying that they need to prioritize his national security and economic nominees. He needs a Pentagon chief. He needs Janet Yellen at Treasury. I mean, these are really urgent positions not just for the violence that we've seen in this country, but again, the pandemic that's still ongoing and the economic team he's trying to get in place and the health care teams he's trying to get in place.

So Democrats certainly feel a real urgency here. And he's going to be coming into office - you know, I don't want to say ever, but in modern history, you know, most presidents come in, and the Senate's able to approve on the first day a whole chunk of nominees to get them up and running. Joe Biden's not going to have that luxury. He's coming into office with none of his nominees confirmed for his Cabinet.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, let's move on to another story here, Sue. We have several Capitol police officers who have been suspended in connection with last week's fatal riot at the U.S. Capitol by protesters loyal to President Trump, according to the acting police chief. What more should we know about that?

DAVIS: Well, we found out a lot of this from Congressman Tim Ryan. He's a Democrat from Ohio, and he has oversight over the Capitol police force. And he's been, you know, pretty out there calling for accountability here. He talked to reporters this week. And I think a lot of people might recognize this because we've all seen these images. But the - couple of the images of Capitol police officers during the riot - one, you see an officer take a selfie picture with one of the rioters. There was another police officer who allegedly put on a Make America Great Again hat and was directing people around the building.

Those officers have been suspended. Ryan said that there's about another 10 to 15 other police officers who are under investigation for their conduct during the riot. There has been a lot of anger across the board among lawmakers about how Capitol Police handled it. There's been a lot of praise for certain officers and, on the whole, what they did to keep members safe and staff safe. But we've already seen the Capitol police chief forced out of his job. And I think that there is a real need for significant accountability from the top down to the bottom for how the Capitol police force is led, who serves on it and how they need to reform itself to make sure that this never happens again.

KURTZLEBEN: Speaking of security, there has been more talk of violence, of armed protests ahead of the inauguration next week. Guys, to wrap this up here, what kind of measures do we know of that might be in place to prevent that?

KEITH: There was a lot in place already. But now we know that the mayor of Washington, D.C., has asked for an emergency declaration, and the president has granted that. There's something like 15,000 National Guard who will be in the Washington area for this. We also know, though, that there have been threats or alarms raised about possible violent protests or armed protests at state Capitols all around the country. So there are a lot of moving pieces here. But one other thing to just add is Joe Biden has already said because of the pandemic, please, don't come. He - you know...


KEITH: He will not be getting into a crowd size match with President Trump or President Obama or any other president. He doesn't want people there. And the inaugural committee announced that they are doing an installation of flags in the grounds where normally people would be standing and observing the inauguration. Instead, they are putting in thousands and thousands of variously sized flags to symbolize the people who are not there. And that, in theory, will make it harder for people to try to be there and cause trouble.

KURTZLEBEN: Yeah. All right. Well, let's take a quick break. And we will talk more about all of this when we get back.

And we are back. Now, Tam, I understand the president is in Texas today. He is going to not the Alamo, but the town of Alamo - actually quite far away from the former - to give a speech. So tell us, do you have any sense of what we might expect from that?

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, this is the kind of thing that a normal president would do at the end of their presidency - going, traveling around, sort of - remember all of the things I did? Look at my policy accomplishments. And he's there, of course, to say, look at this big, beautiful wall that we built. Now, much of the wall that was built is - I mean, it's more like a fence. But - and it's mostly replacement wall, not new wall. But anyway, standing next to it...

KURTZLEBEN: (Laughter).

KEITH: ...It will be big and impressive and that - and will be good pictures. And that's what he's there for. But the thing is, it's pretty hard to burnish your reputation when the last thing everyone is going to remember is a violent insurrection and, quite possibly, your second impeachment.

KURTZLEBEN: So that means we will actually be hearing from Donald Trump tonight himself, which is something that we haven't really done that much the last few days because, well, Twitter - because Twitter has permanently suspended Donald Trump's account. Sue, I want to start with you. What is the most striking to you about this permanent ban?

DAVIS: You know, in the immediate, there's almost a calming factor about it 'cause if you think even in the days since the ban - I mean, it's only been a couple of days - the lack of sort of Trump provocative tweet that then forces, you know, a bunch of mini news cycles, and people like me have to then go to lawmakers on Capitol Hill to get the reaction to the president's latest tweet - I mean, that just stops suddenly. I mean, it just - when you turn it off, you turn it off fast.

I do think it raises all sorts of complicating questions. And I think there's a huge amount of anger in the Republican Party and beyond that. You know, people like the ACLU and other sort of First Amendment right advocates are raising lots of questions about the role of Big Tech and social media in political speech right now. When it comes to the president, I have to say it's a little bit more complicated because, yeah, he doesn't have a Twitter feed anymore, but it's not like he doesn't have an ability to communicate with the country at any time...

KURTZLEBEN: (Laughter).

DAVIS: ...Of his own volition. You know, he could call a press conference.


DAVIS: He could put out a statement. He's got a press secretary. He's got briefing rooms. Like, the idea that he's been hampered in his ability to get his message across I think we all have to kind of roll our eyes at a little bit. But there is a big collision course coming between Silicon Valley and Washington and politics and who gets to decide who says what and where. And I have no idea what the future brings on that, but this feels like a very important chapter of that story.

KEITH: The thing that I can't stop thinking about with this is just that Facebook banned him, too, and other social media companies...

DAVIS: And Instagram, too, I think.

KEITH: ...And Instagram and - you know, he is being de-platformed. But Twitter is the president's voice. Twitter is the voice of Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, all caps, exclamation point.

DAVIS: Right.

KEITH: And without that, it does feel like he is missing something. Like, imagine - this whole impeachment thing has started basically since he was banned from Twitter. Imagine if this was happening, and he was tweeting. He would be all-caps tweeting about a witch hunt. He would be publicly berating Republicans to stay in line. And, you know, combine this with the Georgia Senate race last week where the two Georgia senators didn't win, where he wasn't able to pull them over the line, and I really wonder if he has lost some of his bluster.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, one more big thing to get at here - and it's something that Sue raised - it's about the question of accountability for all of this. The Department of Justice is arresting and prosecuting the people - some of the people who raided the Capitol building to disrupt a free and fair election. But they had been told not only by the president but also by other people at the highest level of government that an American election has been stolen, that there was rampant fraud, that they needed to protect democracy.

Of course, those things are lies. They're not true. And the rioters are now being held accountable. But well over a hundred Republicans came immediately back and voted to double down on the deception. And just today, the president also described his speech that helped to incite the riot as, quote, "totally appropriate." So I think we should be clear that the political deception that convinced people it was OK is continuing. And I'm curious - what forms of accountability are we seeing as the days go on?

DAVIS: Well, I think the accountability is happening up and down. You know, President Trump is on the verge of becoming the first American president to be impeached twice. That's an inglorious distinction he's going to have to carry with him the rest of his life and for all of history. You see it with these Capitol Hill internal investigations for police officers that may have been complicit in some of this behavior in the riots in the building. You know, I think we're seeing it against some of these politicians down the ballot. Look at people like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, the Republican senators from Texas and Missouri. They're getting their butts kicked, guys.

KURTZLEBEN: (Laughter).

KEITH: Yeah.

DAVIS: I don't know how else to say it. I mean, and not just from Democrats - I mean, they're feeling it from inside their own party. They've got their fellow colleagues like Mitt Romney and Pat Toomey and others saying that their actions were despicable in sort of legitimizing this. It could potentially really hurt their own future ambitions. These are two people who really want to run for president one day.

Even outside of politics, I've been fascinated watching these big American companies - people like American Express and AT&T and Marriott - come out and say they're no longer going to give money to people who voted to object to the Electoral College results - those people all being Republicans. That's a huge accountability factor here.

So there's legal accountability. There's political accountability. There's sort of collegial accountability - how you're viewed with your colleagues and who will work with you. So I do think there will be accountability, but I'm not sure it's always going to be the satisfying thing that each individual needs. But it's happening, and it's happening in real time. And I think it's going to play out not only now, but in a long time to come.

I think we're going to talk about the events and the politics that came out of this when we look to the 2024 presidential race and the people that are running and how it's changed our politics. I mean, this was a huge, huge, huge event that we're going to be processing for a long time.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. Well, we're going to leave it there for now, but we will be back in your feeds very soon later tonight. Until then, I am Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover politics.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

KURTZLEBEN: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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