WASHINGTON — As Iowa turned the page on a year brimming with hardship, from a deadly pandemic and economic fallout, to civic unrest, a derecho and divisive presidential election, the New Year got off on the wrong foot.
Forty-six years ago this month, I swore an oath to the Constitution as a newly elected representative of Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District. Those were tumultuous times in our nation’s political history. President Richard M. Nixon resigned three months before the midterm elections that would determine representation in the 94th Congress. I was one of the few Republicans newly elected among the “Watergate babies.” Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and I are the only lawmakers from the class of 1974 still serving.
In those days, public confidence in government was badly shaken. It reinforced my approach to representative government: serve with integrity; hold open, honest dialogue; deliver accountable constituent service; lead with bipartisanship; and, root out wrongdoing to restore faith in our institutions of government.
Since 1976, I’ve participated in 11 joint sessions of Congress to count the Electoral College votes and affirm the duly elected president of the United States. My 12th opportunity is a date I’ll never forget.
On Jan. 6, 2021, our nation’s most sacred civic space came under siege, overtaken by a security breach at the U.S. Capitol. When a violent mob broke into the building, I was presiding in the Senate chamber. Less than 15 seconds after taking the chair vacated by the vice president, I was told there was a security concern and I struck the gavel to pause our proceedings. Before I knew what was happening, Capitol Police agents ushered me through back hallways and underground tunnels to get to a secure location. The urgency to whisk me out of harm’s way was because I’m in the presidential line of succession as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate. For the next few hours, I watched in disbelief as images of a disgraceful, violent insurrection overwhelmed law enforcement, disrupted the people’s business and led to five lives lost.
Anarchy at the U.S. Capitol sabotages our prized inheritance of citizenship. It profoundly dishonors those who sacrifice life and limb to protect our freedoms. Breaking and entering is unlawful, whether it’s your neighbor’s house or the people’s house. We are a nation of laws. Violence and vandalism aren’t protected freedoms in America. Recall that just last year shopkeepers from Portland to Kenosha and Minneapolis were horrified by looting and arson committed under pretext of racial justice. It’s inconceivable the heart of our republic was besieged by fellow Americans. Five hours after anarchists scaled the walls, desecrated public property, terrified young congressional staffers and put lawmakers and law enforcement officers in grave danger, Congress would not be intimidated. We returned to work to carry out the people’s business and complete the Electoral College count.
The Capitol riots and racial justice protests have delivered a wake-up call to our national conscience. It’s an inflection point for all Americans to examine the corrosion of civic life and political culture. Tragically, politics turned into a blood sport on the marble steps and grand staircases of the U.S. Capitol. Political violence and peaceful assembly are two very different things. We must preserve the rights of every American to peaceably assemble, associate and speak without fear of government reprisal. But violence and destruction of property should never be tolerated and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
As someone who endorsed and campaigned for President Trump, I share in the disappointment of 74 million Americans who voted for him and wanted him to succeed. But we can’t ignore the facts. Every state, every lawsuit and every investigation have delivered the same outcome. It is wrong for anyone in a position of public trust to mislead the public about the results of the presidential election, which despite some minor irregularities that we should investigate and address, produced a conclusive result.
National crisis calls for national unity, and in some ways for me that means business as usual. I’m focused on helping President Biden bring our country together, getting us through this pandemic and on the road to economic recovery. I’m ready to work with President Biden where we agree on issues that matter to Iowans, particularly lowering prescription drug costs.
America is an imperfect country. We must keep pushing to form a more perfect union, as stated in our Constitution’s preamble. Recall the prescient wisdom of Abraham Lincoln who sought to heal a nation divided at his first inaugural address. Let’s listen to the “better angels of our nature” and love our neighbors.
Although the twilight hours of Trump’s presidency have dimmed his record of achievements, from Operation Warp Speed to historic economic expansion, America’s promise shines bright.
On Jan. 20, Joe Biden became the nation’s next commander-in-chief. I’ll work as hard as ever on behalf of Iowans to ensure rural America has a seat the table. If the 46th president uses his bully pulpit to unite Americans and embraces bipartisanship, he can make a difference as the nation’s healer-in-chief.