U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer from Grand Rapids voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump. As one of only a handful of Republicans voting to impeach, WGVU spoke with the freshman congressman about what went into his decision? We begin our conversation asking what he experienced as the U.S. Capitol was attacked and breached.
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): I watched the president give his speech from the ellipse. I believe that was around noon. And when he concluded he walked over to discuss and then work on the electoral college certification in the capital. Some of us were up in the in the gallery, while it was unfolding, while we were going through objections to Arizona that were raised by some of my colleagues. That’s when you know we heard the protest obviously we were told to stay away from the windows at a certain point. You know we were informed that there were folks that had breached the capital itself and that there were protesters in the building. And that we were secure in the House chamber, they locked all the doors. I reassured my colleagues that we were in the safest place that we could be but after about 10 minutes we were told that there have been tear gas fired in the rotunda. And to dawn the inhalation hoods that were under our seats in the event of smoke. And then after a few minutes of that we realized that some of the pounding on the door wasn't just the doors being secured, it with folks who had gotten to just outside the House chamber itself. So, we rapidly evacuated went down, you know with the police escorting a part of the way their firearms drawn. I went down in an elevator into a tunnel started walking, didn't know what was going on didn't know what was secure, and many times with over 30 to 40 other lawmakers. There are no police they were all kind of in disarray at that moment, eventually we found safety in the committee hearing room and had some police who are guarding the door. And as well we were in that hearing room for several hours. Then the president, you know about 2 and a half hours after the assault began, put out a comment or video. He had otherwise been pretty silent except for criticizing Mike Pence and saying the vice president failed to do its duty while the capital is being ransacked. But he at that point tweeted out a video that you know I was hoping would provide the leadership needed in that tough moment, you know, I think he could have acted to call off the group, could have tried to cool down the tensions. Instead, you know he praised the people who had just stormed the capital when we knew that it had caused at least one fatality. We didn't know that Capital police officer Brian Sicknick who had been bludgeon with a fire extinguisher, we didn’t know he was on life support and would pass away, you know, shortly after. Something in me, I just broke at that point. I mean the fact that when we needed leadership and we need to come and rise to the occasion. You know he sided with the people attacking us not with the Constitution or his oath of office.
Patrick Center: What went into your decision to impeach? Was it a long process? Did you consult with others or did you just know instinctively?
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): I'll be honest. This is something I agonized over you know looking at all angles of this considering the timing, considering the due process, comparing the political ramifications, considering you know the every stage of this. I know oftentimes you have conversations with other members say you know help me walk through this. Here's from my thinking, I mean this this was a vote of conscience by many. I respect the decision that a lot of my colleagues had not to impeach I think um I think there are valid arguments. But at the end of the day I had to go with my gut I had to get my conscience. You know I read the articles and they are appropriate they were what we experienced and what happened and I had to I had to vote, yes and support that impeachment.
Patrick Center: How did being from Grand Rapids the home of President Gerald R. Ford and with the history of Watergate play into your vote?
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): Yeah that been something I had I really reflected on. I have a book of President Ford speeches and he gave a speech in the order of day motet, Monday in 1968 that just talk about the dark place the country was in then after multiple political assassinations. But also, what unites us and ties this together it is his pardon of Richard Nixon, it was something I look back on as an act of political courage and grace. It was the end of his career that I mean it did you know put them in the impossible position politically. But I think historically the way we view it as one of the most important steps and most politically courageous moves of a president. You know I reflected on that pardon and that distinction between where we are today and were President Ford was after President Nixon had resigned he had accepted responsibility for his action. So, I think that grace can be applied in those situations, but you know the president still hasn't taken responsibility, still refuses to acknowledge, you know what role he may have played publicly. And the rhetoric that led up to the attack on the capital. And in order to have unity, in order to heal, in order to move forward, you know we have to have accountability first.
Patrick Center: Does being new, a freshman in the U.S. House, allow you more freedom in your decision-making?
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): No, if anything it restricts me more because you don't have that the track record in the community. You don't have you know longstanding relationships with colleagues or with leadership. You know throughout this process, I've got an opportunity to build you know kind of in this crucible some very solid relationships with other members. But you know this is you know I may have committed political career suicide. But you know I rather be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I voted you know how my conscience told me then you know take a vote for political expediency.
Patrick Center: The impeachment vote was largely along party lines. Why are your colleagues' views and arguments different from yours?
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): I think there are a lot of fair argument I would point out that a significant number of my colleagues believe there was some merit but had valid concerns with the process and that it was too rapid. I think those are very valid arguments to make and I respect you know my colleagues who have made those arguments. I just couldn't, when I tried to convince myself of them and I just couldn't convince myself I'm you know I think I don't like the president, but we also had an unprecedented attack on the capital. I think theres need to send a strong message and to promote accountability. I think that that at the end of the day overruled what concerns I had, my frustration with the process that Nancy Pelosi insisted upon for this impeachment.
Patrick Center: Your colleagues are calling for unity after-the-fact. You point out acceptance of responsibility being necessary.
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): Yeah, I think in you know I agree we need to heal these wounds. But if we don't hold folks who are responsible for the action leading up there. We don't ensure there's accountability for those who are deceiving people who trust them or those who didn't stand up to their oath of office that I believe the president failed to do. If we don't do that then you know will never actually be able to heal. Will just be papering over those wounds that divide us, they will still be there and will be in the same place there before too long.
Patrick Center: Your statement mentions the President betrayed and misled millions of Americans with claims of a stolen election. That message has been repeated and amplified by Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate. Do you see Republicans in the House and Senate walking back some of their previous statements if we want to have that unity and healing?
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): There's definitely been a softening I will be. I have been speaking with colleagues about this. I think there needs to be of much more clear a commentary from a number of folks who you know may have been left emphatic but still struggled to say that the election wasn't stolen and that Joe Biden did win. Now make no mistake. I have deep concerns about election integrity. I think there are a lot of process modifications that were made because of COVID and in the pandemic such as wide expansion of absentee ballots. I think there are states like Florida and Texas who managed to have very successful and secure election throughout. But the idea that there was you know this was a landslide victory for Donald Trump but not you know Joe Biden lost, I mean there's just there's no support for that. There is no cases that have held up in a court of law no credible substantiation even the President's own lawyers weren’t arguing that up and yet many politicians continue to tell people who trusted them helping that weren’t true. So that will be a part of the accountability that we need to make because we can't have you know Americans living in two different worlds with different beliefs of truth and facts. We can have differences of opinion but we can't you know argue on some kind of fundamental components and expect to be able to work together, so I think that's a division that need to be bridged.
Patrick Center: I've read and watched a number of your recent interviews. You've alluded to Trump supporter intimidation weighing on messaging and ultimately the decision-making that's been taking place with a number of your colleagues. How real is it, and I guess, how do you then walk in this landscape of people who don't believe the election results?
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): It will be hard. I mean going into the electoral college certification process. I believe it was Eric Trump who said you know any Republican who doesn't you know vote to try to overturn the election will be in primary will be in your backyard in 6 months. I mean, those were the type of political threat, but there are also significant threats to personal safety. I have a colleague who is currently under armed. As an armed escort, in security because of death threats and this was before today's impeachment I mean the political temperature is dolled up. I mean we saw it with the assault on the capital there are folks who've been told you know that their country is at stake and not that you know we need to look to the future and be involved in the political process. But that political violence is somehow justified and that is not something we can ever accept that something we need to build their social and civic trust and that's where I know with this vote I could very well lose a primary, this could be you know the end of my career. I look forward to attempting to rebuild some of the trust that some may feel this vote has eroded. But at the end of the day there’s far more than unites us than divides us. And the people of this country deserve leaders who will tell them what they need to hear not just what they want to hear.
Patrick Center: You're a U.S. Veteran. You may not be intimidated by these threats. How does that military experience in the background play into much of this decision that you've had to make? You’ve talked about leadership and I know that's so important when it comes to military experience.
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): I think it's a belief in you know a political leader at the end of the day, you know has unlimited accountability for the actions of the organization they run that was that was one of my deep frustrations with President Trump's response is just a continual inability to take responsibility for actions that he is responsible for and that he you know, bears a hand in and how the outcome occurred. That's why I said his response with unfit, it was disqualifying of that but that was the moment we needed leadership. We needed to see the president step up and firmly condemn political violence. He shouldn’t have waited until 2 hours after the assault began in that moment, you know when the nation needed that leadership. He couldn't provide.
Patrick Center: What do you expect will happen in the Senate trial?
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids, MI-03): Um, I think it's too premature to talk about that. I'm sure Mitch McConnell will put the interest of the country first and I think we will see that opportunity to open up for arguments and I hope that it’s an eliminating process for the country
Patrick Center: Republican U.S. Representative Peter Meijer from Grand Rapids. Thank you so much.