n a meandering press conference Tuesday that repeated false 2020 election fraud claims, downplayed well-documented violence and name-called journalists, far-right U.S. House members defended former President Donald Trump against any role he may have played in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and several co-sponsors convened the briefing to announce a non-binding resolution declaring “former President Donald J. Trump did not engage in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or give aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
“We believe Congress has a unique role in making that declaration,” Gaetz said during the one-hour event featuring numerous member speeches. A list posted Tuesday by Gaetz showed 65 co-sponsors, among the 219 Republicans in the House. (Editor’s note: There are now 68 co-sponsors. You can see the resolution, and the list of co-sponsors, on the House web site. None of Kentucky’s House members are co-sponsors.)
Gaetz introduced the one-paragraph sense of Congress just two days before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments over whether Colorado officials can bar Trump’s name from the 2024 ballot because he allegedly violated Sec. 3 of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, referred to as the insurrection clause.
“It’s not the job of the states and especially not the job of some bureaucrats in Colorado to make this assessment and interfere with the rights of voters to cast their vote for the candidate of their choice,” Gaetz said.
The event included members of leadership like House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York, who said it is “a fact” that Trump didn’t engage in an insurrection.
“Rogue far-left Democrat operatives are attempting to use this lie to illegally take President Trump off the ballot,” she said.
Colorado Supreme Court ruling
The Colorado State Supreme Court on Dec. 19 overturned a lower court’s decision the former president and current GOP front-runner should be on the ballot, setting the stage for a high-profile battle in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The likely 2024 Republican presidential nominee faces 91 criminal charges, including a federal indictment that details Trump’s actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, 2021.
Among the alleged actions: orchestrating fake elector schemes in several states and pressuring former Vice President Mike Pence to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results.
Rep. Eric Burlison of Missouri said during Tuesday’s press conference that protesters flocked to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 because they were frustrated “not just at what they saw happening in the election process, but because they were frustrated with you, the media,” referring to reporters in the room.
“When I was in the Missouri Capitol (building), we had protesters come in all the time. We would call what happened on that day (Jan. 6), a Wednesday in the Missouri Capitol, OK. We welcome free speech,” said Burlison, who was one of many to deliver remarks Tuesday.
Attacks on the news media were a hallmark of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign rallies and have since become a common refrain from the former president and his supporters.
Rep. Diane Harshbarger of Tennessee said Trump and his supporters were “vilified for doing nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights.”
A wealth of video documentation shows protesters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 breaking windows, attacking police officers and rummaging through lawmakers’ papers and property.
The Department of Justice has arrested more 1,000 Jan. 6 protesters in the past three years; nearly 800 have been sentenced for criminal activity.
Harshbarger said the Justice Department has been “weaponized” and accused journalists of reporting “half-truths or no truths at all.”
After citing Christian scripture, Harshbarger said: “So my message to the American people is simple: Armor up and get ready for the spiritual battle ahead, because it’s going to be a battle.”
‘A campaign of disinformation’
Criticism swiftly followed the press conference as advocacy organizations said GOP lawmakers lied about what happened on Jan. 6.
“Make no mistake: The violence that took place on January 6, 2021 was an insurrection,” read a statement from the Not Above the Law coalition representing 150 organizations.
“Despite attempts by Matt Gaetz and his fellow MAGA extremists to rewrite history through a campaign of disinformation, they cannot erase the fact that this brutal attack left five people dead, over one hundred law enforcement officers injured, and Donald Trump and his allies facing multiple criminal charges for their involvement.”
In a Jan. 22 email to fellow House Republicans, Gaetz staff members urged colleagues to sign onto the resolution, calling it a “no-brainer.”
“(C)ontroversial only to the most extreme of the far-left – and a statement of fact that every single Republican can be expected to support. If the left has the courage to interfere in our elections and weaponize the judicial system against our brethren, we must have the courage to express what is self-evident,” read the email signed by Gaetz’s Legislative Counsel John Wilson.
At the time, Gaetz’s office said 27 Republicans had co-signed the resolution.
House Speaker Mike Johnson’s office did not respond Tuesday afternoon to questions on whether he would bring the resolution to the floor for a vote.
Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio sponsored a companion resolution in the Senate.
Gaetz told reporters that he had been in communication with Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, and Trump about the effort.
When asked Tuesday why House Republicans would focus on a non-binding resolution rather than other efforts, for example seeking a two-thirds congressional override of the insurrection clause, Gaetz responded “The best is yet to come.”