Editor’s Note: Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Remember that time a violent mob smashed its way into the Capitol, killed a police officer and occupied the Senate chambers, hunting for terrified members of Congress who were forced to hide?
Remember how some in the mob constructed a gallows with a hangman’s noose outside the Capitol, then rampaged through the halls searching for the vice president and the speaker of the house – the officials second and third in line of succession to the President – chanting “Hang Pence!” and “Where’s Nancy?”
And remember how the specific goal of the violent attack – overturning the election of President Joe Biden – was being advanced by sycophantic lawmakers who shamefully tried to invalidate the votes of an estimated 10 million Americans in Arizona and Pennsylvania and declare Donald Trump the winner?
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri apparently hope you don’t remember any of that. Or that you’ll treat it like one more bit of the normal back-and-forth of politics.
Not this time.
Cruz and Hawley, like others who endorsed and/or sought political benefit from the lies that brought chaos at the Capitol, are up against an enraged public. A public that will never forget one of the most vicious and serious attacks ever launched against American democracy.
Law enforcement officials are diligently tracking down and arresting lots of people – nearly 100 as of this writing – suspected of participating in the mob attack. The probe is expanding to include members of far-right organizations like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
But what about the people who were attacking democracy from inside the Capitol building? What about the lawmakers who dishonestly pretended that, despite multiple recounts and dozens of legal rulings, the 2020 election was somehow so tainted that the outcome should be overturned?
What, in short, about Cruz and Hawley?
Seven senators filed an ethics complaint against Cruz and Hawley, calling their support for the wholesale overturning of election results “improper conduct reflecting on the Senate” that should result in an investigation and “recommendations for strong disciplinary action, including up to expulsion or censure, if warranted by the facts uncovered.”
That sentiment was echoed by members of the public, who made the phrase “As a Texan” trend on Twitter on the day the ethics complaint was filed, with one person tweeting, for example, “As a Texan, as an American, I’m outraged in the treasonous actions from @SenTedCruz to incite an armed insurrection at the Capitol. @tedcruz resigning is an easy out, he must be expelled.”
Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group, tweeted: “There is no room in Congress for people who incited the January 6th insurrection like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley. They must go.”
Predictably, the opportunists Hawley and Cruz have struck a defiant tone, with Hawley vowing to “never apologize” for trying to overturn election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania, and Cruz telling a Texas radio station: “What I was doing and what the other senators were doing is what we were elected to do, which is debating matters of great import in the chamber of the United States Senate.”
What the senators may not understand is that there’s a very big difference between debating matters of legitimate dispute – like where to set tax rates or how to fund bridges, roads and schools – and giving credence and political support to dangerous, fact-free conspiracy theories.
It’s unlikely that the Senate will expel Cruz and Hawley from their ranks: Such strong measures haven’t been taken since the 1860s, when a raft of traitorous lawmakers – including two each from Texas and Missouri – were kicked out for supporting the Confederacy against the United States.
But Cruz and Hawley now stand exposed as the kind of cynical politicians whose misleading statements, phony outrage and outright lies contributed to the attack on the Capitol, and on the recently concluded election.
Their colleagues in Congress and the public at large have been put on notice that some leaders have been playing with political dynamite – and that we must not risk letting them do so ever again.