WASHINGTON — Hawaii Congressman Kai Kahele couldn’t help but think of his time at war Wednesday as he prepared to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting violence at the U.S. Capitol.
Thousands of National Guard troops had descended on Washington to protect its institutions from Trump’s supporters, who last week launched a violent assault on the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election won by former Vice President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
The soldiers, many of them armed with assault rifles, patrolled the halls of Congress and stood watch behind newly erected metal barriers designed to keep insurrectionists at bay.
To Kahele, who’s a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Air National Guard, the formations reminded him of his deployments to combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They’re here to protect democracy,” Kahele said. “We all swore an oath to uphold the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and I truly believe they are here to ensure our democracy lives and is strong.
“The world is watching us right now,” he added, “and we need to demonstrate strength and resolve.”
On Wednesday, Trump became the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice by the House of Representatives.
The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with only a handful of Republicans crossing the aisle to condemn the leader of their party, who has spun countless lies and conspiracies about widespread voter fraud without providing any evidence to back up the claim.
Representatives voted 232-197 to impeach the president. Only 10 Republicans sided with the Democrats in the effort but analysts noted it was the first time in history an impeachment was bipartisan.
The impeachment process now moves to the U.S. Senate, which is currently under Republican control.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he does not intend to bring senators back from recess early for an impeachment trial, meaning a vote would likely not occur until well after Trump has left office.
The New York Times has reported that McConnell does believe Trump has committed impeachable offenses, but it is still unclear whether he and other Republicans would vote to convict him.
Both Kahele and U.S. Rep. Ed Case voted with their fellow Democrats to impeach Trump.
For Case, it was his second time trying to oust the president from office. His first attempt came in December 2019 when Trump was impeached for trying to get Ukraine to investigate Biden while he was trying to secure the Democratic nomination.
“I never expected or wanted to come back to Congress to impeach this president or any other president,” Case said, referencing the fact that he’s served in Washington on two separate occasions.
“There have been somewhere in the range of 11,000 citizens of the United States who have served in the U.S. House of Representatives throughout our history and very few have been asked to vote on an impeachment resolution, and only a handful have been asked to do it twice. I certainly didn’t want to be one of them.”
On both occasions, Case was deliberate in making up his mind to impeach the president.
Shortly after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol Case called on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to have Trump declared unfit for office, but he had not yet declared his intentions on impeachment.
Case said he reached out to his constituents to gauge how they felt about the attack that left at least five dead, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
While a majority of the responses told him he was doing the right thing by voting to impeach the president, he still understood he represented a state where 34% of voters backed the president. Included in that group, he said, are people who truly believe — again without any basis in fact or reality — that the election was somehow “stolen” from Trump.
“We have to show strength and we have to show resolve.” — Hawaii Congressman Kai Kahele
The easy thing to do, Case said, would be to turn his back on those constituents, but he said that’s the opposite of what needs to be done if there’s any hope of saving the republic from the divisiveness and incendiary rhetoric that led to last week’s violence.
“I have to leave my door open,” Case said. “I still have to engage them. I still have to listen. I still have to try to understand, and I still have to look for common ground.”
Case was not in the House chamber when the pro-Trump mob attacked police, overran the barricades and smashed their way into the Capitol. The raid, however, shifted his perspective on his own personal safety.
Members of Congress, including Case and Kahele, received security briefings Wednesday about the potential for future attacks in Washington as well as across the country.
Case himself has already been threatened by a Hawaii constituent, a situation that he said he has already reported to the authorities.
“The objective reality is that I’m likely not as safe as I was,” Case said. “It’s an uncomfortable time and I don’t think it’s going to change. I think it’s going to continue.”
Biden’s inauguration is scheduled for next week and Case says he plans to attend despite Trump supporters and other far right extremists promising armed protests across the country.
Kahele, who has a young family, similarly plans to participate.
Both of Hawaii’s congressmen used a variation of the same word when describing their reasoning — resolute.
Kahele in particular said he worried in the immediate aftermath of the Trump riot about whether he should move his kids from the islands to a place now prone to political violence. If anything, the attacks have only strengthened his own convictions.
“I don’t want to show fear,” Kahele said. “We have to show strength and we have to show resolve.”
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom that provides free content with no paywall. That means readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism.
The truth is that less than 1% of our monthly readers are financial supporters. To remain a viable business model for local news, we need a higher percentage of readers-turned-donors.
Will you consider becoming a new donor today?