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Rep. Annie Kuster: Trump Not The Only One Complicit In Storming Of Capitol

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Allegra Boverman for NHPR
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NHPR

The U.S. House voted to impeach Donald Trump for a second time on Wednesday, this time for incitement of an insurrection. This follows last week's events when pro-Trump extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol, an incident that left five people dead.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with New Hampshire Democratic Representative Annie Kuster, who voted for impeachment.

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Rick Ganley: This is the second time you voted to impeach the president. Last time, that vote was split along party lines. Yesterday, Trump's impeachment attracted 10 Republican votes. Do you think that will have any impact as things move on to the Senate?

Annie Kuster: Absolutely. We're reading in the news this morning that Senate President Mitch McConnell is undecided as to whether he might actually vote for the impeachment in the Senate. And I believe the pressure of this impeachment that's been brought to bear on the president will, at a minimum, keep the country safer for the next seven days because he doesn't have the support of his political allies. But it's necessary, I believe - he will be removed from office. And that's the position that I've taken.

My preference would have been that he would have resigned. I think any rational person under the circumstances would. The second preference, we voted to encourage, request that vice president invoke the 25th Amendment and remove the president because he's unfit for office. But overall, my position is that the country is not safe with Donald Trump in the White House and that we would be safer for the next seven days if Mike Pence was at the helm.

Rick Ganley: Can you give me a little bit of the tone yesterday? What was the impeachment process like, and maybe compared to the first time he was impeached?

Annie Kuster: Well, Rick, I have to explain to people, because I was exposed to COVID-19 by my Republican colleagues who refused to wear masks in the secure location after we were evacuated from the chamber on January 6th, I'm not able to travel this week to Washington. I was waiting for the results of my own COVID test isolating here. But I was in touch with my colleagues. The mood is very somber. If you've seen the visuals, the National Guard has come in, armed National Guard, to protect our Capitol so that my colleagues could safely get to the chamber to vote. And so it's a very somber mood. Our capital and our country are under attack. And I'm both a victim and a witness to that attack on Jan. 6 last week. And many of my colleagues are still suffering from the trauma of being hunted by Trump supporters and rioters on that day.

Rick Ganley: Well, given that, Congresswoman, are you surprised that more of your Republican colleagues did not sign on to this impeachment?

Annie Kuster: My Republican colleagues are living in fear themselves. They have militia, as Governor Sununu does here in New Hampshire, they have militia threatening their lives and at their homes. I've been in touch with numerous Republican colleagues, both the House and the Senate in the last few days. Many of them supported censure, which is the next level of rebuke of the president. But there is certainly a core group of Trump supporters who, frankly, they are similar to the members of this mob. They believe that the election was stolen.

When you tell a lie over and over and over with the force of the presidency of the United States of America, people believe that. And so I have colleagues that believe that and will, apparently, go to the ends of the earth for this president...now there's a massive investigation about the attack on the Capitol, including the complicity, but also actual role of colleagues of mine in the United States House of Representatives that participated in planning the event, in inciting the violence. A staffer of mine just told me a story of watching, the day before, a member giving a tour to Trump supporters. We don't know if that was recognizance. So, it's a very uneasy environment that we're in right now.

Rick Ganley: You're saying you believe some of these these colleagues of yours may have been colluding?

Annie Kuster: Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind, and they're upfront about it. I have colleagues who participated in the rally. They spoke there. They made vengeful, angry comments. The title of the rally was Occupy the Capitol: Off With Their Heads. That's what the sign said. And we just had no idea. I mean, we have such a presumption of freedom of speech, and the lead in from NPR this morning about we had every assumption that this was a peaceful demonstration, and we had every assumption that the Capitol would be protected. We know what protection looks like. You've seen it. You've seen the pictures for Black Lives Matter or from inaugural events, and it's armed paramilitary National Guard presence. And I thought as I sat in the balcony, I texted my family, my family was obviously concerned watching the images on television. We couldn't see anything of the images of the angry mob storming the Capitol. And I texted them back, no, I'm fine. I'm with the Capitol Hill Police in the gallery at the House of Representatives. Of course, I thought I was fine.

And then within minutes, Nancy Pelosi was whisked off the dais. We hear that Vice President Pence has been evacuated. We hear that the mob has breached the Capitol. Then we hear they're in the rotunda and we were sitting ducks. And there were members who participated. There were staff in the Capitol who participated. These people knew exactly where they were going. This is not an easy building to navigate. So it's a mix. Don't be confused by, you know, people that are wandering around with MAGA hats and 2020 Trump, you know, paraphernalia and looking in at the Capitol.

Rick Ganley: So you have no doubt that these were Trump supporters?

Annie Kuster: Oh, no doubt in anybody's mind. They all were wearing Trump hats, Trump shirts, shouting. No doubt in anyone's mind who they were.

Rick Ganley: Well, Congressman, I'm sorry. Time is limited. I don't mean to to cut you off. I did want to ask you, though, about some of your concerns about the timeline of the Senate impeachment hearings and what that could possibly do to delay prioritizing President-elect Joe Biden's appointees.

Annie Kuster: No, it won't delay that. They're talking about bifurcated proceedings. Thank God, we won the two elections in Georgia and the Democrats will control that and will coordinate with the president.

Rick Ganley: Meaning these hearings go on concurrently?

Annie Kuster: Yes, absolutely. It's just a matter of scheduling and making it work. We have important business. Your lead in also talked about the vaccination. There was no plan. This president didn't keep us safe from this vicious virus. We need to come in with a plan and funding, not just for the production and distribution of the vaccine, but to get it in the arms of every American here in New Hampshire. We've only used half of the supply that we have. There's total disarray and we need a plan. We need the personnel, and we need to get that done so that every person gets that vaccine just as quickly as they can.

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