FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Wednesday’s insurrection at the nation’s capitol is still on the minds of Arkansas’ federal lawmakers as the country discusses how to move forward. Two representatives said they haven’t slept much since then.
“Craziness is a good way to describe yesterday,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman (R).
Westerman said after the chamber filled to capacity, he’d gone to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office to watch the elector-counting proceedings. After noticing protesters moving toward the capitol, things began to spiral.
“The security detail came in [and] talked about they may need to relocate him,” Westerman said.
Alone in McCarthy’s multi-room office, Westerman began to hear the sound of insurrectionists storming through the hallway. He hid in the bathroom, locked the door, turned off the lights and rode out waves of radical President Trump supporters as they rummaged through the office. One even tried to open the bathroom door.
Westerman and other congressional leaders survived the blatant act of domestic mob terrorism, but four people died in the incident. When asked about whether radical, white-nationalist violence will only escalate, Westerman was honest in his assessment.
“I don’t know,” Westerman said.
Rep. Steve Womack (R) said he watched Trump’s speech at the rally he promoted and noticed the crowd whipping into a frenzy, but things started to change when the Arkansan’s mentor—Vice President Mike Pence—sent a “Dear Colleague” letter that lined out his intention to follow traditional protocols.
“It is my considered judgement that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Pence wrote in the letter.
Trump, who’d pressured Pence to adhere to a conspiracy to overthrow the election results, told his ardent followers that it’s likely Pence would “do the right thing” and follow through. Womack said the false promise set up a poor ending for the emotionally-charged crowd.
“I believe that became the ignition switch that set off the mob when they got [to the Capitol,]” Womack said. “When they found out that wasn’t going to be the case, they took matters in their own hands and stormed the Capitol. That’s my opinion.”
Womack put the blame on Trump for stoking the emotions that led to the riot and then doing little to stop it once it began.
“He made some promises he couldn’t fulfill, and it yielded a terrible result,” Womack said. “I thought he was very slow to the punch on tamping it down. He had an opportunity to go public very quickly as presidents can, and just say, ‘Cease and desist, leave the Capitol, you’re out of bounds.'”
Westerman and Womack joined all but one of Arkansas’ congresspeople in not objecting to the electoral count. Womack tied his reasoning to a strict belief that the Constitution doesn’t allow for that kind of behavior, while Westerman noted the reasoning behind challenging other states’ election results was something Arkansas electors would be disturbed by if it were the other way around.
“Congress cannot take the place of the people,” Womack said.
Some Congressional leaders in both parties have floated the idea of invoking the 25th Amendment or introducing impeachment proceedings to expel Trump from office with fewer than two weeks left in his term. Womack said he trusts Pence to do whatever’s necessary if that’s the path that would protect the country, while Westerman said the President’s Thursday committal to a peaceful transfer of power was enough to avoid that step.
The images of the Capitol in tatters, the rioters’ chants, and radicalism at the country’s front door were enough to leave a strong imprint in the Arkansans’ memory. It’s something they won’t soon forget.
“It’s just a really disgraceful moment in our country,” Westerman said.