Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska was in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday when rioters attacked. As Congress was preparing to reconvene, Sasse issued remarks saying that “lies have consequences” and that the attack on the Capitol was “the inevitable and ugly outcome of the President’s addiction to constantly stoking division.” And then Sasse voted to affirm the election results.
“I think it’s obvious that the president’s conduct wasn’t merely reckless and destructive. It was a flagrant dereliction of his duty to uphold and defend the Constitution,” Sasse said in an interview Friday with NPR’s Morning Edition.
Sasse also criticized Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who was the first Senate Republican to announce publicly that he would vote to object to the Electoral College results. “Sen. Hawley was doing something that was really dumbass” that helped incite the crowd that mobbed the Capitol, Sasse said.
Below are highlights of the interview, edited for length and clarity.
What did this week’s events say about the state of democracy?
Well, we’re not very healthy right now, but I want us to be sure we focus on the fact that we’re going to get healthy again. But obviously, Americans are angry right now and our country is mourning. … The loss of life is gut-wrenching. But on Wednesday, the people’s Capitol, which is the greatest symbol of freedom and liberty and representative self-government anywhere in the world … was ransacked by a mob that was incited by the president of the United States.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri. He was the first senator to say that he would join the objections to the election results. He raised his fist to the mob before they stormed the building. He continued his objections afterward and said he was just raising some concerns about ballot security. Is there any doubt, though, that your colleague knew what he was inciting?
Well, let’s begin by laying the blame first and foremost on those who actually committed the acts of violence at the Capitol and then on the president of the United States as well, because he was the one pouring gasoline on these fires of division.
But a big part of the problem with our polarized politics at this moment is that there’s a massive demand for it. This isn’t just a supply problem. We have a big chunk of voters. They’re not a majority, but they’re really loud and they’re growing. There is a large group that is hopped up on on rage-clicks and they’re demanding nonsense stunts like the objection to the Electoral College vote.
So Sen. Hawley was doing something that was really dumbass. And I have been clear about that in public and in private since long before he announced that he was going to do this. This was a stunt. It was a terrible, terrible idea. And you don’t lie to the American people. And that’s what’s been going on. The American people have been lied to chiefly by Donald Trump. And lies have consequences. And those consequences are now found in five dead Americans in a Capitol building that’s in shambles. And there’s a lot of work that has to be done to rebuild, and legislators should not be aiding and abetting those kinds of lies.
David Humphreys, who’s a Missouri businessman who spent $2 million to support Hawley’s election in 2018, now tells the Missouri Independent that Hawley is “a political opportunist willing to subvert the Constitution.” And he would like the Senate to censure Sen. Hawley, which would take a simple majority vote. Would you vote for that?
I have not been shy in my criticisms of Josh Hawley, either in public or in private. This was a terrible, terrible idea. The mechanism of how the Senate handles it next is something that we’ll obviously need to talk about. But the most fundamental issue for any individual senator is their conscience to their oath of office, to the Constitution and their relationship with citizens of the state that they serve. So Missourians are the most important people in that conversation.
But obviously, I think lots of deliberation needs to be had on the perverse incentives inside [Congress] right now. The way people raise funds, the way they raise money during legislative debates is disgusting. … We have somewhere between 4% and 14% of Americans who are identifying their political tribe as their most important community. And it’s not a community of love, they’re anti-communities, they’re communities of hate.
Hawley sent out a fundraising message shortly before the storming of the Capitol, according to The Kansas City Star. Should the Senate be disciplining its own members for doing this sort of thing?
I think we need to change rules that allow people to be fundraising while the Senate is in session. You know, I’m a fan of term limits. I don’t think the idea of constantly trying to get these feedback loops and make politics the center of kind of horse race rage, addiction, social media stuff, I don’t think any of that is healthy. So the fundraising is gross. I want to ban cameras in committee rooms. Not audio — I want the American people to have transparency. But I want to end the constant grandstanding that drives so much of our politics at present.
I want to ask about the president of the United States and what happens to him now. I know there’s talk of urging the 25th Amendment. There is talk in the House of impeachment, which would take a while. And we had Jeh Johnson on this program, the former homeland security secretary, who said he thought the best option was for people around the president to urge him to leave town. What would you have the president do in the final 12 days of his term?
I think that the less the president does over the next 12 days, the better. Mike Pence fulfilled his obligations on Wednesday while blood was being shed at the people’s Capitol. The president was actively rage-tweeting against his vice president because the vice president was fulfilling his oath of office to the Constitution to affirm the fact that Joe Biden won. … We were in the Senate chamber and the Secret Service had to rush in and grab the vice president from the dais and rush him out of the room and the president of the United States was rage tweeting against him at the same time.
So, frankly, I think it’s obvious that the president’s conduct wasn’t merely reckless and destructive. It was a flagrant dereliction of his duty to uphold and defend the Constitution. And we need to know more about why the National Guard wasn’t deployed when calls were sent out for it.