The Columbus Congressman discusses the Capitol riot, moving on from Trump and why impeachment isn't realistic.
Just like most of us, Steve Stivers watched the storming of the U.S. Capitol on television. On Wednesday last week during the joint session of Congress, the Republican U.S. representative from Columbus walked across Independence Avenue to his offices at the Rayburn House Office Building for a quick errand. While there, he got the first security alert about the dangerous situation and quickly discovered that a pro-Trump mob had overtaken the country’s citadel of democracy, forcing lawmakers to evacuate their chambers and hunker down in their barricaded offices. He stayed in place and watched the horrifying events unfold on live television.
“It was kind of surreal,” he says. “That’s where I work every day. And the last time folks breached the Capitol was in 1814, and it was British troops. We were at war with the British in the War of 1812.”
Now, it seems, Americans are at war with each other. “This should be a wake-up call for our country, for every Republican, Democrat, independent, conservative, liberal,” says Stivers, who along with his Democratic Columbus colleague, U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, started a Civility and Respect Caucus in 2018 to promote more constructive political discourse. “This was the most un-American day I’ve ever seen.”
Columbus Monthly spoke on Friday with Stivers, a brigadier general in the Ohio National Guard, about the fallout from the riot, moving on from Donald Trump and what consequences the president should suffer for his role in inciting the violence. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
As a member of National Guard, do you have some concerns about the delay that occurred before the Guard was called in?
The D.C. Guard is a very unique National Guard. They don't have a governor in D.C., so the secretary of the army acts as the default governor. I don't have any inside knowledge of how the delay happened, but I saw on a news channel—and I don't remember which one—that the concern was that they didn't want to have uniformed soldiers on the steps of the Capitol. That's a reasonable, thoughtful concern, but it's a little too late once the Capitol has been overrun. And so the real concern I've got as a military planner and strategist is what happened? Why did people not anticipate things ahead of time? Why was there not a bigger reserve? Why didn't they call in mutual aid of the Maryland and Virginia police ahead of this—the National Guard and our civilian agencies?
This was a march of thousands of people on the Capitol, people who had shown their willingness to be angry. You have to anticipate when there's that many people that they can do something. I didn't anticipate the violence myself, so I'm not asking people to anticipate things that I didn't. But they should have at least anticipated the size of the crowd.
Does the Republican Party need to break from president Trump at this point?
I think it's a great time to turn the page, and it's a natural time to turn the page. It's going to happen in—what is it now?—12 days anyway. And so it's a very natural time to turn the page and look forward. We all should always be looking forward, not backwards.
You’ve said that you’re “open” to the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office. Could you elaborate on what you mean by that?
I want to be very clear about what I said about the 25th Amendment. With the 25th Amendment, Congress has no role. It is the cabinet that makes that decision. And what I said in my previous interview is the cabinet knows the president's mental state. They know him day to day. They interact with him much more day to day than I do. I don't claim to have any knowledge about his mental state or capacity or ability to do the job for the next 12 days. But if the cabinet decided that they wanted to invoke the 25th Amendment, I would not oppose it. And frankly, it wouldn't matter if I did because Congress tends to have no role the 25th Amendment.
And by the way, my 25th Amendment comments were in the context of saying I do not believe that the cabinet members should resign. So while people should make their own forceful statements about whatever they personally believe, cabinet officials stepping down right now might do a disservice if there is a need for a 25th Amendment. The people who are going to resign are the ones who would obviously be independent enough to potentially invoke the 25th Amendment if you needed it. So then you're left with only the loyalists, and there's no way to invoke the 25th Amendment.
Are you in favor of impeachment?
I do not believe impeachment is realistic or smart with 12 days to go. That would divide our country again, and that's not healthy. And we're talking about 12 days. He can be held accountable for his actions in other ways.
In 2018, you and Joyce Beatty launched a Civility and Respect Caucus. Could you give me an update on what’s happened with that?
We had at the end of last Congress 46 or 48 members of Congress who had joined. That's a good start. I think we'll work on it a lot this Congress. I think civility is more important now than ever when people have turned to violence in a political forum. We need to understand that we can disagree without attacking each other verbally or physically. I think it's time to redouble the efforts on civility. It's super important.
Back in 2018, when this magazine wrote about your civility initiative, you said, “What’s likely to happen is people will get even more radicalized and decide violence is the way. That’s the ultimate destination of incivility. It’s unacceptable, and it undermines our republic.” As Wednesday’s riot made clear, the situation has gotten worse. What can we do to bring the country together?
I think it starts with every American looking at themselves in the mirror and saying, “Am I part of the solution, or am I part of the problem?” Do I either vilify people that disagree with me or marginalize their views, or do I listen and respect other people's views, even if I don't agree with them?
During the past four years, there have been many so-called inflection points: Charlottesville, the impeachment proceedings and so on. Yet it none have really changed our politics dramatically. Why do you think this time will be different?
Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom. We've seen that with people in their personal lives. We've now seen that with our politics. And I believe we are pretty close to rock bottom with this. This was an attack on the republic itself.