California Assembly impeachment vote puts Republicans in bind

Kenneth Lundgreen holds a sign against President Donald Trump outside of Twitter headquarters on Jan. 11, 2021, in San Francisco. Police officers erected barricades and staged for a possible conservative protest Monday morning. Photo by Noah Berger, AP Photo
Kenneth Lundgreen holds a sign against President Donald Trump outside of Twitter headquarters on Jan. 11, 2021, in San Francisco. Police officers erected barricades and staged for a possible conservative protest Monday morning. Photo by Noah Berger, AP Photo

That the California Assembly would spend its first day of the year calling for the removal of President Donald Trump — a week after he sicced a mob of white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and hooligans on Congress — is about as surprising as summer fog in San Francisco. Democrats hold a super-majority in both chambers of the Legislature.

But it was not a welcome first vote for California’s elected Republicans. The choice presented to them: Either castigate a president still wildly popular within their own party or take a vote that might be construed by moderate and independent voters as, if not pro-insurrection, then at least insurrection-tolerant. 

In its first vote of the 2021-22 legislative session, the Assembly voted 51-to-6 on a nonbinding resolution calling for the president to resign — and absent that, for his removal by his Cabinet or Congress. 

“On this issue, when you take the party blinders off, this was a very simple question to answer and that is: Did the president of the United States incite a mob? Did he incite insurrectionists?”

ASSEMBLYMEMBER CHAD MAYES

That the resolution was authored by Assemblymember Chad Mayes of Rancho Mirage only reinforced the tough dilemma facing the chamber’s remaining Republicans. Mayes, a former Republican Assembly leader, abandoned the GOP early last year citing what he called his colleagues’ blind loyalty to a dangerous president. In November, Mayes won reelection to the Legislature as a political independent — the first such victory in two decades.

Speaking after the Assembly recessed, Mayes said he had hoped his colleagues would have passed it unanimously.

“On this issue, when you take the party blinders off, this was a very simple question to answer and that is: Did the president of the United States incite a mob? Did he incite insurrectionists?” he said. “And if he did, what are we going to do about it?”

Assemblymember Waldron did not respond to a request for comment. 

California Republicans have faced the political problem since Trump’s rise to power. Fealty to the president is a precondition for earning the support of much of the party’s base. But allegiance to him is disqualifying in the eyes of the majority of state voters, who disapprove of Trump’s job performance by a two-to-one margin. 

Today’s vote shows that the bind will persist for California Republicans until the very end of Trump’s presidency — and perhaps long after. 

Assemblymember Chad Mayes wears a mask on the floor on the last day of the 2019-20 session, Aug. 31, 2020. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Assemblymember Chad Mayes wears a mask on the floor on the last day of the 2019-20 session, Aug. 31, 2020. Mayes later said he had hoped his colleagues would have passed the resolution unanimously. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

Others who failed to vote on the Assembly resolution included Republicans from the state’s remaining purple districts: Jordan Cunningham of San Luis Obispo and Tom Lackey of Lancaster, for example, both represent districts where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. 

Newly elected members Kelly Seyarto of Murrieta, Janet Nguyen and Laurie Davies of Orange County and Suzette Valladares of Simi Valley also sidestepped voting. 

In a statement, Valladares said that while she was “appalled by the actions of last week…Congress is already empowered to act. Californians have asked California legislators to resolve the problems we face specific to California.”

Devon Mathis of Visalia, one of the six Republicans to vote against the resolution and the only one to speak against it made a similar argument, condemning the violence but questioning the Legislature’s priorities.

“We have people dying of COVID, we have areas in our state where families still can’t put food on their tables, we have people in my district that still live in Third World condition and still don’t have running water,” Mathis said. “But instead, the first thing we do on the floor in California is throw a political punch at a lame duck. I think that’s lame.”

Yet another non-voting Assemblymember was GOP Republican Randy Voepel. This marked a step back from comments the reliably conservative member made to the San Diego Union-Tribune this weekend, in which he compared the violence at the U.S. Capitol last week to the “shot heard ‘round the world” at the battles at Lexington and Concord and warned of the coming “tyranny” under a Joe Biden administration. 

“The first thing we do on the floor in California is throw a political punch at a lame duck. I think that’s lame.”

ASSEMBLYMEMBER DEVON MATTHIS

Voepel later issued a statement saying that he does “not condone or support the violence and lawlessness” and offered his condolences to the families of those who died. 

Nor was he the first California Republican to walk back comments made in response to the storming of Congress. On the day of the events, GOP Senate Leader Shannon Grove tweeted the unsupported and wildly implausible claim that the violence was the work of leftist activists in disguise. Grove deleted the tweet soon after and issued a new statement which appeared to soften the claim without entirely contradicting it. 

In his speech on the Assembly floor today, Mayes seemed to address Grove’s tweet specifically.

“We have colleagues that took to social media to deflect blame, but the images of Confederate flags, MAGA hats and the ubiquitous QAnon symbol leaves no doubt whose mob it was,” he said. Quoting back a line from Trump’s 2017 inaugural address, Mayes declared: “This American carnage lays at the feet of only one person.”

In the California Senate — also facing a legislative plate full of COVID relief bills, a coming eviction wave and upcoming confirmation hearings for secretary of state and attorney general — there are no plans yet to pass a similar resolution. 

But some Democrats have responded to the violence in Washington in their own way. Two Southern California senators — Henry Stern of Calabasas and Tom Umberg of Santa Ana — say they will introduce bills requiring state law enforcement to redouble its efforts investigating and prosecuting white nationalist gangs and anti-government militias, many of which were well-represented in last week’s Capitol riot.

What the disorder in Washington showed is that “we are not doing enough — whether it’s at the federal, state or local level — to address these threats,” said Umberg. “I hope we never have another day like this again. I hope it’s memorable.

“If it’s not memorable, shame on us.”

   CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. 

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