There’s a tendency to lump the vote by the House on Tuesday night to recommend criminal contempt charges against former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in the same pile as a previous House vote to do the same to former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon.
After all, both men refused to cooperate with the House committee investigating the January 6 riot at the US Capitol. And, for that refusal, the House recommended they be held in criminal contempt by the Department of Justice. (The DOJ has charged Bannon; it remains to be seen whether they will do the same with Meadows.)
But, while the move by the House is the same, the difference between Meadows and Bannon is vast – and important.
Consider Bannon. This is a man who built a career by lobbing rhetorical bombs at the Republican establishment. He was – and is – a self confessed political provocateur, focused primarily on stirring things up and making the seat of power uncomfortable for whoever holds it. Yes, Bannon became part of Trump’s administration but it was short-lived and – as most things do involving Trump and Bannon – ended badly. (On the day he was removed from office, Bannon pledged that “We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over. It’ll be something else.”)
It’s not surprising then that a guy who has contempt for established Washington institutions at the heart of his belief system thumbed his nose at a subpoena from Congress and is willing to risk criminal penalties to keep from testifying in front of the January 6 committee.
Meadows, well, isn’t that.
This is a man who prior to his work with Trump in the White House spent four terms representing North Carolina in the House. While Meadows always fashioned himself as something of a renegade in Congress, he was, nonetheless, a sitting member of Congress. Which makes what has transpired over the last few weeks – culminating in Tuesday’s vote – all the more important.
First, consider Meadows. His decision to first cooperate and then cease cooperation – and sue the January 6 committee – is a far bigger deal than most people seem to think. Meadows knows, intimately, the House’s role in oversight. He himself was often pushing for just that oversight during the Obama years. To not only reverse course on cooperation with the committee but then to also sue it represents a massive betrayal of the institution he once served in.
Now consider this all from the perspective of the House. Like him or hate him, Meadows is someone that the vast majority of these Members know personally. It’s not at all like Bannon – a guy who they likely have only seen on TV and who they know holds nothing but disdain for them. Meadows was in the club once and, well, it’s a relatively exclusive club.
While that reality likely explains why just 2 Republicans – Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger – voted to refer the Meadows’ contempt charge to the Justice Department, the reality is that a majority of the House (yes, a Democratic-controlled one) just said that one of their own needs to be indicted for a lack of cooperation.
That aggressiveness by the January 6 committee – and the full House’s approval of it on Tuesday night – is telling. It speaks to how central they believe Meadows is to understanding what happened that day – and just how far the select committee will go to get him to talk.