In U.S. House speaker battle, threats aimed at lawmakers undermine democracy

Chicago
By Chicago 6 Min Read

A democratic form of government cannot flourish if people use violent threats to settle political disputes.

The many threats levied against Republican House members during last week’s voting for a new House speaker were nothing more than an effort to shape — fix — the outcome by frightening lawmakers.

Such actions can’t be tolerated and should not be shrugged off as the work of pranksters or cranks. Investigators should do everything possible to track the threats to their sources, and leaders across the political spectrum should speak out much more forcefully than they have to say such threats won’t work, now or in the future. Those who threaten violence should face sanctions serious enough to act as a deterrent to others.

Last week, House Republicans who voted against U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, as he ran for the House speaker post say they were threatened with violence for not falling into line behind Jordan, an ally of Donald Trump. It’s a MAGA tactic that has become all too common.

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said he had four death threats. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said he received text messages and phone calls so worrisome his wife slept one night with a loaded gun near her bedside. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, reported “credible death threats and a barrage of threatening calls.” Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., said in a closed-door meeting that threats had prompted him to dispatch a sheriff to his daughter’s school and to have an officer stationed outside his home.

Editorial

Editorial

Other Republicans, including Rep. Jen Kiggans of Virginia, Rep. Kay Granger of Texas and Rep. John Rutherford of Florida, said they were targeted by inappropriate efforts to persuade them from Jordan backers, including conservative leaders and right-wing influencers. Fortunately, many lawmakers stood up to the threats.

On Friday, Jordan said he would abandon his race for House speaker after losing a third vote in the Republican conference. But long before, he should have publicly announced he would not accept the job if his victory relied on threats of violence against his House colleagues. A social media message he posted calling for an end to the threats was simply inadequate, although one can hardly expect a strong show of integrity and courage from Jordan.

Unfortunately, we did not hear enough major Republican politicians decrying the threats. Among the missing in action: the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump.

That’s not surprising. In fact, we’d be more surprised — astounded, actually — if Trump spoke out against the threats, given he is the chief transgressor when it comes to making them.

Last week, Trump shared on social media a Substack article linked to documents that appeared to disclose the home address of New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is prosecuting Trump on charges of financial fraud.

Trump’s recent litany of transgressions includes suggesting a top U.S. general be executed, a proposal that shoplifters should be shot and inappropriate remarks about the hammer attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

New York Judge Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over Trump’s civil fraud trial, said last week, “Incendiary untruths can and have led to serious physical harm.”

But you’d never guess that from the paucity of Republican leaders willing to publicly challenge those for whom threats are a stock in trade. So other politicians and civic leaders must publicly speak out as well — over and over.

Ordinary Americans have the right, of course, to make their views boisterously known to lawmakers and to vociferously criticize officeholders. But trying to shape those lawmakers’ votes with threats of violence is unacceptable.

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Too often, the threat of violence has been used to shape political discourse across the country. People have showed up with assault rifles at anti-gun violence rallies. Protesters armed with assault rifles entered the Michigan state capitol in 2020.

Some Republican members of Congress reportedly said they declined to vote to impeach Trump because they feared violent retribution. According to his upcoming memoir, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a Trump critic, is paying $5,000 a day for private security to protect his family from the Trump supporters.

The U.S. Capitol Police last month reported an increasing number of threats and other concerning statements made against members of Congress, their families and staff. The number of threats rose from 3,939 cases in 2017 to 7,501 in 2022.

The threats will continue, and get worse, if they are seen to be effective. Politicians, investigators and the courts can make sure that’s not the case.

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